Perhaps the biggest irony surrounding ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, and the subsequent missive from higher-ups that she “violated” company standards, comes for having a point of view.
For a long time, ESPN has promoted its anchors, hosts and analysts as having strong opinions — hardcore viewers could either reject or embrace them. For example, NFL analysts' criticism of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Or going back further, former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann's comments, around a host of issues — more on-the-air than off.
The queasy side for ESPN comes as political content is filtering its way to all things sport — most recently around former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick. As a silent protest, Kaepernick kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem last season.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said in August 2016.
ESPN’s anchor Hill’s remarks — calling President Trump a “white supremacist” — went over the line for ESPN higher-ups — who first called her remarks “inappropriate.” Afterwards, Hill regretted that her personal remarks painted ESPN in an unfavorable light.
With regard to regular TV news networks and programming, much the same can be said of their anchors and hosts — the more out-there, the better. They try to balance their views with actual reporting.
It's no secret: TV news networks want opinions to attract strong TV viewership. But ESPN felt — although not referring to the tweet directly — that it was a “violation of standards.” In a memo, ESPN president John Skipper said employees should avoid “inflammatory” comments on social media.
Remember, we have a president who also speaks his mind — so-called “honest speech.” Others think it’s barely honest and inflammatory. Seems he likes a good fight — especially on TV. Everyone wants a piece of the action. Personal brands rise and viewership engagement gets stronger.
As far as TV networks are concerned, controversial opinions accompany the box scores, NFL analysis, college football predictions —or, yes, even mainstream political or general news reporting.
Nothing wrong with that — as long as you also tend to your main business. Maybe a style network, home-shopping program, or a food channel might have some non-endemic issues to settle as well. Watch that hot water!