Dan Le Batard, in many ways, is ESPN’s unofficial ombudsman, and is way more effective in the role than the one they officially employ. In tackling the news of Jemele Hill’s two-week suspension from ESPN, he had the following to say:
- Hill was not suspended for what she said, but where she said it. ESPN does not want its talents wading into politics on social media. “Curt Schilling got fired not because of his politics, but it was that he kept doing it — kept giving his opinion on things that were outside of sports — outside of ESPN.”
- Though she did not explicitly call for a boycott, venturing into the waters of even bringing it up put ESPN in the precarious conflict between journalism and commerce. He said he learned about this conflict “the hard way” when he called for a Marlins boycott back in his days at the Miami Herald. “You’ve gotta be careful throwing around [the word] boycott, not because of what your race is, but because of the green, not because of the black and white.”
After talking about getting suspended for insubordination “in private” over the LeBron billboards he bought around Ohio, he said he’d “never been more popular” with the public, and brought it back to Jemele Hill.
“This is great for the career of Jemele Hill, it’s just not great for ESPN,” Le Batard said. “And we can’t keep putting ESPN in those positions. But now the President is forcing us into those positions! And we’ve gotta make decisions about whether our livelihood or suspension [is worth it]. This suspension is not bad for the career of Jemele Hill. That suspension was not bad for me. It was good for my career. But it’s not good for the company to have it look like they’re squashing creativity and free thought when I KNOW I was insubordinate in private. … I’m telling you that what’s happening here is not clearly black and white, even as people with agendas will make it clearly black and white.”
Answering his co-host Stugotz’s question about how this is a tricky spot for the personalities, Le Batard said, “Yes, it’s a tricky spot for everyone, and it’s a little bit un-winnable for ESPN, but I would ask you this: In terms of concessions, and maybe you think that free speech should be absolute in all spaces and all work spaces, but I will ask you this. As Al Sharpton and Donald Trump head into making this about something else, I would ask you this question: What is more powerful and empowering, that Jemele Hill has been given a platform at 6pm on ESPN, in a place where minorities have never been given that kind of platform across sports media, to voice largely what she thinks about everything, including these boycotts, or her right to say this stuff on Twitter, which doesn’t serve anybody but her?”
Le Batard acknowledged that he’s biased because he a) wants to be able to say whatever he wants, and b) loves and supports Jemele Hill, but that he gets the complications on behalf of the company. It’s advisable to watch the whole clip for full context.