Jemele Hill Controversy Magnifies Troubles at ESPN

Jemele Hill
John Salangsang/Invision/AP

UPDATED: Hours after the White House called for her to be fired Wednesday, Jemele Hill was in her regular seat on the 6 p.m. ET edition of ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” She made no reference to the controversy that a day earlier had compelled her own network to publicly censure her. She and co-host Michael Smith led off the show with a report on the Cleveland Indians’ 21-game winning streak.

That Hill was on the air with Smith as usual was an indicator of the line that ESPN is attempting to walk after the host took to Twitter Monday to call President Donald Trump “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” Right-leaning critics have become increasingly outspoken about a perceived liberal bias at the cable channel at the same time that ESPN faces significant declines in ratings and subscriber numbers. Those losses have far more to do with shifts in television viewing habits than with ESPN employees’ Twitter accounts. But the channel’s handling of the Hill controversy indicates that it is wary of alienating viewers anywhere on the cultural spectrum as it attempts to evolve.

“They’re nervous,” says Windy Dees, a sports-administration professor at the University of Miami. “They have to be. They’re hemorrhaging viewers left and right.”


ESPN’s Sergio Dipp ‘Meant No Disrespect’ With Weird ‘Monday Night Football’ Report

From 2015 to 2017, ESPN has seen its number of subscribers fall 7.4% to fewer than 88 million. Its ratings have faced an even steeper decline, with average total viewers falling 19.2% from 2014 to 2016. Wall Street has noticed. After Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged this week that affiliate deals covering more than half of ESPN’s subscriber base are set to expire in 2019, analyst Michael Nathanson wrote, “We are concerned about the poor ratings trends at ESPN and ABC,” the company’s broadcast network. John Janedis of Jefferies similarly wrote, “weak ratings at ABC and ESPN’s non-live-sports programming continue to weigh on [advertising].”

Hill and Smith haven’t helped reverse those weak ratings. In February, the hosts of ESPN2’s “His and Hers” migrated to the core channel, taking over the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” broadcast and reinventing it as a hybrid news-debate show in which the hosts argue sports opinions and the occasional non-sports opinion. Sports Media Watch reported in March that viewership three months after the launch of “SC6” — as the 6 p.m. show was rebranded — was down 4%.

“They are in a state of decline,” Dees says of ESPN. “So any situation that happens in the future, whether it’s the Jemele Hill situation or something else, is going to have its impact magnified.”

Hill and Smith have not provided ESPN the same ratings boost that colleague Scott Van Pelt has since being installed in the 12 a.m. ET “SportsCenter” last year, but they have seen their profiles increase dramatically. They have become frequent targets on social media and in the conservative press of complaints (often on Twitter employing vulgar or offensive language) that ESPN has allowed a left-leaning social and political stance to creep into its programming. Being interviewed in April on WABC New York — shortly after ESPN initiated a round of job cuts that affected more than 100 employees — veteran “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn was asked if the injection of non-sports issues into ESPN’s coverage had negatively affected ratings.

“That is definitely a percentage of it,” she said. “I don’t know how big a percentage. But if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

But in an era in which the President of the United States equates Nazis with the counter-protestors opposing Nazis, and in which athletes from Colin Kaepernick to LeBron James have brought protests of violence against African-Americans into the playing arena, ignoring politics and social issues may not be a reasonable expectation for ESPN or any other sports broadcaster.

“ESPN has been criticized since long before [the Hill incident] for being too political as a sports network,” says Dees. “Sports and politics are always going to intertwine. You’re not going to dissect politics from sports. Sports have been a part of politics since the creation of the Olympics.”

ESPN on Tuesday issued a statement distancing itself from Hill’s tweets and saying that the anchor “recognized that her actions were inappropriate.” But the Trump tweets remain undeleted on Hill’s feed. There is no indication that she faced any discipline from ESPN besides the statement.

An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on what if any disciplinary action the network had taken. Hill, through a representative, also declined to comment. On Wednesday night, after this story was initially published, Hill issued a statement on Twitter: “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”

If ESPN was attempting to stake out a middle ground on the Hill controversy — one where it could avoid alienating viewers on either side — that is understandable, given its current troubles. But it does not appear to have managed that feat. On Tuesday night, in a Fox News segment devoted to the Hill controversy, Fox Sports’ Clay Travis told Tucker Carlson, “It means that nothing actually happened, because Hill is saying what the higher ups at ESPN believe. I think this goes all the way to the top.” Deadspin hours earlier had posted a report on the ESPN statement headlined, “ESPN Issues Craven Apology For Jemele Hill’s Accurate Descriptions Of Donald Trump.”

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 138

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Chas says:

    I’m still waiting for my offer from ESPN so I can do shitty sports analysis and call out some of you losers.

  2. Luis s says:

    Even us mexicans won’t watch espn cuz we’re not black and all they talk about are black issues. We know who are the real racist

  3. They just don’t get it. And as for Trump calling these Quacks Nazi’s he’s exactly right. They are imploring the exact methods Hitler did in 1938. Staged protest violence to make it look like the peaceful people were violent. Drowned out voices, media was a huge factor. Propaganda was the weapon of choice. Vilifying people that don’t agree. Naive to the real world. And of course antifa or whatever it’s called. They and the Brown Shirts are the same thing. And they call Trump Nazi. A son in law and daughter in law both Jewish. Yeah Hitler.

  4. Henry Otero says:

    I will never watch sport center as long as ms. Hill is employed by espn

  5. Miss Thing says:

    Do what you gotta do and save your career.

  6. Dennis says:

    Thank you, ESPN, for making it easy for me to never watch your program again.

  7. Tennessee says:

    It’s one thing to disagree with the president, another to call him a white supremacist. It’s unbelievable that she’s still got a job.

  8. Roberto Mann says:

    Cut your cable… ESPN is getting killed in the marketplace. 13m down in last few years. More to come….

  9. Strike 3, ESPN. GOOD BYE!

  10. Troy says:

    Stay off of Twitter!!!!

  11. BillyDe says:

    Fire her. Of course she will sue for RACISM, of course. I’ve worked for companies from coast to coast and every time a black person gets fired they always sue for racism. WTF

  12. Julie says:

    What Ms Hill is doing is very disrespectful to use the media to provide her personal opinion. I hope she gets fired.
    ESPN is on fault to allow her do comments like that. is so much garbage on the media, Im not watching anymore , This is not what America that I know is. There is no respect

  13. blackie says:

    boycott ESPN for their pro-black, biased agenda

    • j.denino says:

      I boycotted all football for years, it’s a stupid game which results in permanent brain damage for the players. Why would I watch that? There are better things to do.

  14. Ted Peters says:

    It’s not the mentioning of politics that causes viewers to flee ESPN,,, it’s the one sided positions. They kick off anyone who says anything political that is not “progressive.”

  15. ian says:

    After watching espn for over 30 years I’m done….I watch for the sports not to be lectured on liberal views…# notenjoyable

  16. Michael Miedlar says:

    This is the same network that reassigned an Asian-American to a different football game just because of his name, Robert Lee. If they are to be consistent in fighting against bias, they must fire Hill. If they do not, they display their own bias.

  17. Russell says:

    I’m done with ESPN, He is the President of the greatest country in the world and you allowed this by doing nothing.

  18. Kevin squier says:

    No more ESPN for me they are overrated anyway

  19. David says:

    Never heard of her before this incident so it could have been a deliberate move on her part to gain some attention.

  20. Her comments were on her twitter account, not on ESPN. That man tweets more derogatory comments, never apologizes, and yet he demands an apology? ESPN you’d be wrong to react at all.

    • You’re right. She absolutely has the right to be an idiot on twitter by making ignorant statements like “Trump is a white supremacist”.

      A man who’s created more jobs, including jobs for blacks, than Jemele could ever imagine. A man who’s finally addressing our national security and border control by keeping Islamic radicals out and dealing with millions of illegals aliens for the first time in years, and dopey Libs call him a racist.

      • Charlotte Hanigan says:

        Wrong. The level of ignorance among the comments on this thread is truly astonishing. Appears that the fearful bigoted deplorables are out in full force. Look at employment trends since the recession. Trump has absolutely nothing to do with any employment gains. Repeat after me: “If I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, I will not read or listen to right wing propaganda to obtain information. I will, instead, seek out economic reports from peer-reviewed, science-based research.” Stupid is as stupid does. Geesh.

  21. steve stricker says:

    boycott espn

  22. John Glennon says:

    I did not vote for Trump (went 3rd party.) After that I only voted for Dems (just how it worked this time.) So I am far, very far, from being a right wing person. But I hate hypocrites. Be it the far right, family first, politician who is having many affairs, or be it ESPN being hypocrites with their liberal stance.

    Disney is about to start a streaming service. Good luck with that. You ticked off too many people ONCE again.

  23. Dana L Aman says:

    ESPN will eventually run out of air. They will find out the hard way who pays for cable tv. Another company will take all those viewers that left ESPN. Dont hate on the white guys too much people, they still have the power of actually being organized enough to go vote, go to work, and have supper with their family every night. Minorities can suck it. If they dont like being minor then get off your lazy welfare ass and become a major. No more free rides for monkeys.

    • Seun says:

      You Americans though, you make me laugh. That said, Dana, your comment is really unwarranted. My one rule is to never generalise, so you want to say something, take it out on Jemele or whichever minority got you worked up. It’s really not fair. You might have other strong words to get off your chest concerning minorities, you’re free, but know this, many people are actually working hard and not just depending on welfare. It seems your greatest accomplishment in life is being born white. Congratulations, you have made it.

  24. HenryC says:

    One of the problems for ESPN is most sports fans are conservative, not progressive, and the network is portraying progressive opinions.

    • RJB says:

      well said Dana.

    • John Glennon says:

      I think most sports fans are like me. Middle of the road types. I did not vote for Trump (3rd party) and after that I voted for 3 Dems. But I don’t like hypocrites. That is one reason why I only watch ESPN when my team is on Sunday Night Baseball. Another reason is that the 6:00 sportscenter is not good.

      I have two local cable sports shows that are better.

  25. Espn is a business and it needs to start being run like business if its going to stop the bleeding of profits. Even before this fiasco, they had problems. They need to make it clear to their personnel, that a lot of people are sick and tired of politics saturating into everything, espn should be a political free asylum for viewers, anything else is a threat to their profits, period. You can only maximize viewers by sticking to sports topics that does not alienate viewers.

    • I believe that ESPN thought they were being cutting edge by delving into controversial identity politics subject matter. What they missed was that by taking the PC liberal stance on virtually every issue, they’ve alienated a large segment of sports watching American society. This whole “teachable moment” approach of lecturing the average American has backfired. They should have learned this lesson from Obama’s failure to understand the American public when he made the infamous statement regarding those stupid Americans clinging to their guns and God. A complete disconnect exists, and they just don’t get it. That’s a big reason Trump got elected.

  26. chaburchak says:

    “But in an era in which the President of the United States equates Nazis with the counter-protestors opposing Nazis…” Way to twist his words, pal. He equated them as equally to blame for the violence that erupted that day. And when those angelic counter-protestors showed up in masks with weapons and pepperspray, how can you deny it? To do otherwise would be to condone violence as long as it’s against someone you don’t like or agree with.

    • Dwstick says:

      Agreed. This entire article is just dripping with leftist snark! When addressing the fact that ESPN has lost millions of viewers over the past few years, the writer says “this has more to do with shifts in television viewing habits than with ESPN employees’ private Twitter accounts”!
      Keep living in denial, ESPN! There are plenty of other channels waiting to entertain me.

  27. Jormele Hill says:

    fuck jemele hill. IF she was white and said this about obummer she would of been ran of the tv. Such a sad double standard…ESPN will pay, because I am avoiding the channel and all of the advertisers who continue to advertise on “the 6”. The left did it to Conservative news hosts, now lets turn the tables and let them choke on their own medicine. Bye Espn!!!

  28. ata777 says:

    Anyone remember CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord getting fired for using the phrase Sieg Heil in a twitter exchange? The double-standard is nauseating.

  29. Ivan Peck says:

    I was with the author of this piece right up to the point that he started in on ‘the people who were protesting the supremacists…’

    At that point I decided he was another hack spewing bullshit in an attempt to justify acts in ‘good guys’ that he would find ‘intolerable’ in ‘bad’ ones

  30. Mike says:

    I can not watch the 6pm SportsCenter. It may be the worst thing on the network. Between her and Stephen A Smith( angry yelling black man )and when they hired a killer( Ray Lewis) it shows what demographic they want. I work at a company that is a Top 10 US Based Company and if anyone here made those comments in public they would be suspended if not fired. Calling someone what she did is the equal of calling someone the N- word.

  31. chenker says:

    Jamele hill should be fired, plain and simple. Any employee who would rather espouse political criticism than do what they’re being paid for would be fired but political correctness is looming above.ESPN Disney would rather become political vessels for slanted extremist political views than do what gave them their reputations in the first place… sports and movies. The medium of escapism is being infected with uncreative political groupthink. I won’t be watching ESPN anymore and think anyone who just wants to see sports journalism boycott it as well as Disney

  32. Jillianne says:

    A white supremacist???
    That makes her a jungle bunny, monkey.
    Orangutang hitler?? ape face.

  33. Jaxk mekoff says:

    Su mi balls hard

  34. It’s a weird feeling right now realizing how many thousands of hours I wasted growing up watching this garbage. Think about it for a second… What did you gain other than distraction? Was wasting so much energy on fantasy football each week worth the $400 you made at the end of the year? The bottom line does not match the equity.

    The embarrassment I feel watching grown men (usually baby boomer whites) screaming in public at television sets, wearing their favorite black buck’s uniform, and even getting into fights with other likeminded people quickly turns to anger. This isn’t normal. Sorry.

    It’s worse than childishness. It’s voyeurism and cuckoldry. White men getting excited sitting in a chair watching sweaty thugs running around with white voluptuous cheerleaders. It’s sickening. Get a life people. There is so much more out there in the world than this vomit.

  35. What ESPN and pro sports have done is a replay of white McDonalds did… Transforming their public image to the lowest common denominator: violent nonwhites, just because they are the most visible. They assumed that the white majority consumerism would continue unimpeded, which is partially true, because whites are disgustingly obsessed with sports voyeurism, but a large percentage do indeed have a breaking point.

    McDonalds gets EBT credits anyway, and ESPN gets airport, hotel/hospital lobby and fitness center airing no matter what. But it’s not enough to offset the burgeoning consciousness culture in an infinite growth business model.

    Thank God for the deplorables boycotting the NFL. I admit I doubted your jock-sniffery could withstand it, but you have made it a permanent boycott and are changing society with your vocalism and sports fatigue. Well done.

    We are more powerful than Antifa, BLM and the rest of them combined if you think about it. Just imagine the economic/cultural impact we could have.

  36. Christian Courtland Culpepper says:

    I don’t believe your comments are moderated – this is a shame (on you Variety) – all of the racist comments, and you could give a f*ck. I will never visit your website again. Here’s to hoping that you go out of business soon.

  37. Joe Foran says:

    Get rid of the no talent, affirmative action hire & bum Hill. She is only there because she is Black

    • Christian Courtland Culpepper says:

      She obviously has more talent than you, since she gets paid t be on television and you don’t – you racist loser.

      • LOL I guess you missed the part about Affirmative Action. Why in the world should any white person not believe that seeing a minority in any privileged position was not from affirmative action? The angrier you are, the more obvious it is that y’all know it too.

  38. Tom says:

    ………During the 2008 NBA Playoffs, Hill was suspended from her post after referencing Adolf Hitler in an article about the then-NBA champion Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons. In an editorial describing why she could not support the Celtics, Hill wrote: “Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It’s like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan. Deserving or not, I still hate the Celtics.” The comments generated a negative response and ………..

    • RJB says:

      Christian, until all of you recognize the urban ghetto black culture, own it and try to change it your position in life will remain in a cesspool. The only things that come out of the black community’s mouth are racist, white privilege( still can’t figure that one out ), discrimination, and so on. All the while creating most all of your own problems and remaining too STUPID to realize it as you sit back on your lazy asses, make babies and believe the taxpayer’s and the white devil are supposed to pay for your urban black culture ghetto mentality.

  39. Dan says:

    She’s s female kaperneak. Scum.

  40. Deacon Boozer says:

    I used to love espn and disliked Trump. Now I’m liking Trump more these ignorant racist.

    • John Glennon says:

      The Liberal Loons don’t realize they are driving people to vote for Trump. Especially the Hollywood crowd.

      Let’s take Lena Dunham for example. When she said she would leave the country if Trump won do you that inspired more people to go vote for Hillary or Trump?

      Do you think many people said “Oh my god, Lena Dunham will leave the country if Hillary loses, we can’t let this gem, who molested her sister leave the country. We must vote for Hillary.”

  41. Rex says:

    The guy got fired for saying guerilla.

  42. RMedeiros says:

    I will boycot that show that Jemele Hill hosts, never to watch her again..Racisim has no place in our society…

    • Tom says:

      Take the show off the air. The blm people f d espn when they tried to replace her. The other replacements refused to go on the show and the other guy on the show refused to do the show without this scum.
      Another kaepernick scum. Blm scum.
      The tennis white guy gets fired for saying guerilla.
      This action is totally racist.
      The Blm group is racist.
      Racist hatred.

  43. Greg says:

    She could easily be replaced by the next most qualified person at ESPN — Sergio Dipp!

  44. MovieBabble says:

    Regardless of political ideology, I miss the old ESPN. I used to be so excited to wake up early on weekends and watch Scott Anderson and Kenny Maine crack jokes while I ate my breakfast. ESPN used to be an escape where I could just listen to sports talk, but it’s clear that they have other agendas now.

  45. CHILI DIP says:

    It’s a clear cut double standard. She gets away with it because, if they fired her, she and others would scream racism or sexism. I think they should fire her and replace her with another black woman. She’s really not “all that” to begin with, highly replaceable. The irony is that she screams about white privilege when in reality she is the one enjoying any degree of privilege. Total hypocrisy. And yes, I no longer watch ESPN because it has become less about sports and more about politics.

  46. labron clark says:

    Fuck espn from now on. Fire that racist bitch. Im BLACK!! White people are just trying to get along
    21st centry style. White folks today didnt Enslave you, they freed you (im intilted to free shit) you lazy fucking
    give me shit for free assholes. Cleanup your life your home your communities and stop the
    i was a slave cry baby bullshit. Hell you take abuse within your own race and still blame white people.
    Stop being a what you call each other and do right or YOUR FUCKED.

    • Jillianne says:

      Best comment here 5 stars.

    • It’s getting harder and harder not to dislike black people. I’m sorry, but at the end of the day, a white person must have situation awareness.. And I say this as somebody who gets along with nonwhites better than whites even though I am ‘alt-right.’

      I see blacks making comments the last few years where they LEARNED how to be oppressed and angry only since the Obama years. They never experienced ‘racism’ or anything. They are just faking it, just like they feign outrage at that magic word that they call each other as a term of endearment. You can’t use it as a show of respect one minute and then pretend to be offended by it the next, regardless of the context. Something is being faked. Cannot be both.

      I am glad you are awakened to the nonsense, but I think it’s too late. Not enough blacks will stand up to their fellow racist blacks in person or behind the scenes. I guess I can’t blame thing when it comes to the violence, but then again, I shouldn’t be blamed for being hostile to ‘diversity’ when it so reviles me.

  47. Donald says:

    Fire her.

  48. Ted Faraone says:

    “From 2015 to 2017, ESPN has seen its number of subscribers fall 7.4% to fewer than 88 million. Its ratings have faced an even steeper decline, with average total viewers falling 19.2% from 2014 to 2016.”

    A structural shift in the business is no reason for ESPN to run scared of the administration in office at the White House. If I were in Bob Iger’s place and if I were committed to ESPN as a business (please note the issue of commitment) I’d make some deals the like of which Dennis Swanson (how soon we forget) did for NBC. Stump up the money (which Disney ABC has in spades) and own everything that matters. Then force those who are interested in everything that matters to go to Disney ABC. Put the best stuff on ESPN as an exclusive service.

    This is far better than trying to fight a defensive action against a natural shift in the biz brought about by technology and egged on by a White House which monitors the Twitter feeds of D-list sports anchors.

  49. sarah says:

    If it was a white person saying this the ESPN would go crazy! Look what happened to Curt Schilling!!! Fire her now.

More TV News from Variety