President Donald Trump weighed in on ESPN’s decision to suspend anchor Jemele Hill, resorting to one of his favorite jabs about television networks when he’s unhappy with their coverage: their ratings.
Hill was suspended for two weeks for twice violating the sports network’s social media guidelines, according to a company statement. The first infraction was when she called Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter. The second came when she suggested a boycott of advertisers associated with the Dallas Cowboys after team owner Jerry Jones told players he would bench them if they refused to stand during the national anthem.
“Jerry Jones also has created a problem for his players, specifically the black ones. If they don’t kneel, some will see them as sellouts,” Hill tweeted on Sunday. She later added, “Change happens when advertisers are impacted ... If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers.”
Advocates have since denounced the network’s suspension of Hill. “ESPN’s decision to suspend Jemele Hill is a flagrant suppression of Black voices in sports,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, said in a statement. “The company’s new social media guidelines were not created until Black employees and athletes began to prominently speak out against our country’s racial injustices. By choosing to ban its reporters’ opinions, ESPN is making an explicitly political decision to side with the Trump administration on the wrong side of history.”
Players like former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick have said they are kneeling to protest racism and police violence against African-Americans.
Vice President Mike Pence waded into the controversy on Sunday by walking out of a football game after several players knelt during the national anthem. Pence’s move, which some believe was pre-planned, may have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
Trump also “saluted” Jones on Twitter Monday night for the ultimatum he gave his players.
Meanwhile, ESPN seems unconvinced that politics are substantially affecting its ratings, citing a study by an outside research firm in June that found it’s the “highest-rated full-time cable network among Men and Adults aged 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.” Last week, ratings for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” were up again, and it was the night’s top-rated show for the fourth straight week.
This story has been updated with a statement from Rashad Robinson.