The simple explanation for why ESPN did not fire Jemele Hill but did fire Curt Schilling

  • Many are calling ESPN hypocritical for not firing Jemele Hill over her comments on social media after the network did fire Curt Schilling over his.
  • But Schilling was warned several times to stop, and he did not.
  • ESPN is again being accused of having a liberal bias, though it has made concerted efforts to be apolitical.

ESPN has found itself in the middle of another political firestorm as people are accusing it of being hypocritical for not firing “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill for her comments on social media.

Many are saying that this latest incident is just another example of ESPN’s liberal bias — that it fired Curt Schilling, the conservative-leaning baseball analyst, for something he did on social media but gave Hill something akin to a public scolding for calling President Donald Trump a white supremacist.

“The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the president do not represent the position of ESPN,” the network wrote in a statement. “We have addressed this with Jemele, and she recognises her actions were inappropriate.”

However, there is a simple reason Hill was not fired and Schilling was, and it only marginally has to do with politics.

Hill was not fired because this was the first time she violated ESPN’s rules on discussing politics. Schilling was fired because he had repeatedly been warned to stop and did not.

In 2015, Schilling was suspended from the network for posting a meme on Twitter comparing Muslim extremists to Nazis. Schilling later apologised for the tweet and called it a “bad decision” and “100% my fault.”

Six months later, Schilling said during an interview that Hillary Clinton, then a Democratic presidential candidate, should be “buried under a jail somewhere” regarding her email scandal.

That came shortly after ESPN issued a companywide directive telling employees to refrain from “political editorializing, personal attacks or ‘drive-by’ comments regarding the candidates and their campaigns.” ESPN said it looked into the comments, but it did not discipline Schilling. He later said the email had ended up in his spam folder.

In April 2016, Schilling was fired after he shared a Facebook post in response to the North Carolina law that barred transgender people from using bathrooms that did not correspond to their gender assigned at birth.

If Hill does not heed the warning from ESPN, presumably she will suffer the same fate as Schilling. But until she shows that she is a recidivist like Schilling, it is an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Keith Olbermann on Comedy Central's 'The President Show'Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy CentralKeith Olbermann during a recent appearance on Comedy Central’s ‘The President Show.’

Still, Hill will continue to be used as more evidence that ESPN has a liberal bias — though the network has also, among other things, twice divorced from frequent Trump-basher Keith Olbermann, increased the on-air presence of the conservative columnist Will Cain, made Sage Steele the face of “SportsCenter,” and rehired Hank Williams Jr. to perform the opening song for “Monday Night Football.”

The truth is the opposite. ESPN tries hard to be apolitical — the email Schilling says he never saw is just one example — and this latest incident is why: ESPN can’t win when its faces dive headfirst into political discussions.

Not only is ESPN being slammed for not firing Hill — it’s being criticised by people on the other side for scolding her at all. A quick scan of the Twitter hashtag #StandWithJemele shows that plenty of people feel that she did nothing wrong and that the network should be supporting her instead of distancing itself.

In the end, ESPN’s problems are not political — though nonpolitical things are often labelled “political” simply because they are something that some do not like. Rather, ESPN’s problem is one of diversity.

ESPN used to be a network dominated by white, male voices. In recent years, it has made a concerted effort to offer a bigger variety of voices and appearances that more people can relate to.

ESPN did move to the left. But that move was not an effort to be on the left as much as it was to be in the middle and not so far on the right. But, of course, for a few people on the right, all they see is ESPN is moving away from them.

Clarification: This article previously referred to Hill’s comments as her “first offence.” Hill had never been disciplined for disobeying ESPN’s rules on discussing politics, but she was suspended in 2008 while she was an ESPN columnist for a joke comparing rooting for the Boston Celtics to rooting for Adolf Hitler.

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