Los Angeles civil rights activists are targeting ESPN, owned by Burbank-based Disney, for suspending sports commentator Jemele Hill over her Twitter remarks about the ongoing national anthem protests in the NFL. A demonstration outside ESPN's studios at L.A. Live was planned for later this week.
The co-host of the cable network's SC6 With Michael and Jemele twice waded into the controversy and was suspended for "a second violation of our social media policy," according to an ESPN statement. Local civil rights leaders aren't happy with that explanation, given that Hill's job is to comment on hot topics in sports. None is hotter than the national anthem protests sparked by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his pregame kneeling last season
This year Kaepernick finds himself without a job in the NFL, and many folks are saying that his political demonstrations against police shootings of unarmed black men are the reason. Apparently in response to Trump's criticism of pros who kneel this season in support of Kaepernick, Hill last month tweeted that the president is a "white supremacist."
The president's spokeswoman, in turn, called for ESPN to fire her. Then, over the weekend, Hill tweeted her displeasure with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' vow to bench any player who "disrespects the flag." Jones recently kneeled with the entire team in solidarity with the concept of Black Lives Matter. But he's also received pressure from President Trump to fire team members who participate in further on-field demonstrations. Over the weekend, Trump took credit for a publicity stunt in which Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game as kneeling began.
On Sunday, Hill suggested that any action against Hill and the NFL should aim at their pocketbooks. "If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers," she tweeted.
Of course, those advertisers are often ESPN's advertisers. The network airs Monday Night Football.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, has urged the network to reinstate her and has reached out to ESPN executives in hopes of getting a meeting. He argues that Hill is a commentator who made the remarks on her own time. He believes ESPN is simply placating the Trump administration, which has already called for Hill's ouster.
"It's a dangerous precedent if you're employed by a company and you're on your own time and you're disciplined for exercising your point of view, your freedom of speech," he says.
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Hill's suspension has prompted outcry nationwide, with the Rev. Al Sharpton aiming for a boycott of ESPN's advertisers in the absence of Hill's reinstatement. Hutchinson says such a boycott is possible locally, but that demonstrators here will take it one step at a time and see if the network responds to calls for her reinstatement first. "If you're going to send a message about Hill, you start in L.A. because Disney is here," Hutchinson says.
Najee Ali, political director of the L.A. chapter of Sharpton's National Action Network, is organizing a demonstration outside ESPN's L.A. Live studios Friday at 6 p.m. Hill's suspension "has caused outrage," he says.
"This is clearly about ESPN trying to placate Trump," he says.
Tuesday morning Trump appeared to respond to the situation. "With Jemele Hill at the mike [sic]," he tweeted, "it is no wonder ESPN ratings have tanked."