ESPN, beset for months over conflicts sparked by its on-air staffers’ social-media comments on political and cultural issues, unveiled new policies aimed at tamping down future outbreaks.
The new rules, issued Thursday, tell employees to confer with producers and editors before posting commentary on social or political issues “to manage volume and ensure a fair and effective
presentation.” The policies also mandate that when employees to post comments online, they “should be related to a current issue impacting sports, unless otherwise
approved by senior editorial management.”
The new policies emerge after months of controversies erupting over ESPN anchors talking about everything from President Trump to matters of race and crime. ESPN recently suspended “Sports Center” anchor Jemele Hill after she used social media to suggest followers boycott advertisers and sponsors of the Dallas Cowboys in the wake of comments by team owner Jerry Jones. The executive had made comments suggesting Cowboys players who took a knee as part of an ongoing protest against treatment of people of color during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” would not be able to play.
“If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers. Don’t place the burden squarely on the players,” Hill tweeted. ESPN suspended her for two weeks. A few weeks earlier, Hill prompted comments from President Donald Trump after she called him a “white supremacist” on Twitter.
But ESPN has for years had to deal with fallout from various on-air personalities expressing themselves on social media. In 2009, for example, former staffer Bill Simmons was suspended from tweeting for two weeks after he suggested a Boston radio affiliate of ESPN employed “deceitful scumbags” after the station made derogatory comments about Simmons on its website. In 2015, ESPN suspended Keith Olbermann from hosting an ESPN2 program after he took to Twitter to tangle with students and alumni of Penn State over a charity fundraiser. Former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling in 2015 was suspended from his role as a baseball analyst at ESPN after tweeting a meme that used Nazi imagery.
“Everything we post or comment on in social media is public,” the new ESPN guidelines state. ” And everything we do in public is associated with ESPN.”
Employees were also told not to break news online that should first be disseminated on ESPN’s own outlets. Staffers are allowed to pass along information that is being spread publicly, such as during press conferences and the like.
“Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy,” the new guidelines stated. Employees may post less given the new rules and one sentence in particular: “Think before you tweet, post or otherwise engage on social platforms.”