There are five freedoms guaranteed under the first amendment of the constitution to all citizens of the United States. Freedom of religion, assembly, petition, speech and the press are supposedly rights that were previously thought untouchable. However, today what is deemed as improper expression can have ramifications for your livelihood.
Freedoms of the press and speech are under attack. One of America’s prominent sports journalism personalities was victimized by the worldwide leader of sports. ESPN suspended anchor Jemele Hill Oct. 9 for tweets on her personal account that encouraged fans not to patronize sponsors of the Dallas Cowboys or their owner Jerry Jones after he ordered his players to stand during the national anthem.
Hill came under fire several weeks ago after referring to President Donald J. Trump as a “white supremacist” during a heated exchange on the social media platform. Hill was admonished by White House Communications Director Sarah Huckabee Sanders who called it a “fireable” offense. Then the network directed its employees to no longer speak on politics on their social media platforms because it put “the worldwide leader in sports” in the uncomfortable position of having its conscious clash with its clients.
Perish the thought of a network hemorrhaging money after bad business deals – including the rights fees being paid to the NFL – to allow their personalities who have strong opinions to drive ratings while on air and muzzle them during their free time off it. In a time of American history where defiance stands as the only way for the nation to regain its moral compass those with the talent to eloquently take up the cause are being forced into the darkness of silence if they want to keep their jobs.
While the network stood behind Hill the first time it fired back swiftly the second she “violated” the new social media policy with a position that was far less incendiary than the one created by the initial fire storm.
That she chose to encourage fans to boycott sponsors of an NFL team or its owner was far less egregious than her initial pejorative which was a blatant assault on Potus 45’s character. That she was suspended for expressing a cause to action was a window into the soul of ESPN.
The NFL and its broadcast rights holders such as ESPN hide behind the veil of their perception as liberal media. Clashes of liberal and conservative viewpoints dominate this generation of “scream TV” – the new debate television format born in sports talk radio – that allows yelling across the desk or in some cases across the country. You can talk about controversial subjects from the locker room, the field, or athlete’s personal life but once you start campaigning for social justice take a seat on the bench.
Employers have the right to demand their employees follow certain protocols while at work. If the NFL says either stand for the national anthem or stay in the locker room they are well within their right. When the leagues tell players they can’t use social media during games that’s understandable. However, if reporters aren’t allowed to tweet opinions on their time the wrath of big brother is out of control.
Hill’s suspension is the cautionary tale of how President Trump’s social media bully pulpit is adversely affecting the rights that we have taken for granted. This ESPN precedent lives up to Shannon Sharpe’s mantra that NFL now stands for Negroes Fall in Line if you want to keep your job. The same holds true for journalists exercising free speech on social media.