ESPN has made an exception to its Twitter policy for the Trayvon Martin case, permitting employees to wear hoodies in their online avatars (the picture by your name) after initially warning them not to take a political stance.
Martin, a 17-year old teenager from Sanford, Fla., was gunned down by George Zimmerman in late February, sparking a national controversy and making the hoodie, which Martin was wearing at the time, a national symbol.
A few ESPN employees, such as NFL reporter and senior writer Michael Smith and Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams, changed their avatars to a picture of them wearing a hoodie. It was meant as a sign of support for Martin, whose death has prompted "Million Hoodie" marches in New York, Philadelphia and other cities.
ESPN sent out a memo on Friday reminding its employees not to take political stances on Twitter, explicitly mentioning the hoodie, according to Big Lead Sports.
Yet after news of the memo leaked, ESPN changed its position over the weekend, issuing this statement: "It's a tragic situation that has led to much thoughtful discussion throughout the company. As a result, in this circumstance, we have decided to allow this particular expression of human sympathy."
That last clause is the crucial one, because ESPN views this as a matter of human interest rather than a specifically political issue.
Abrams tweeted about the subject on Sunday, writing “I wear hoodies. I’ve also written for the LA Times, NY Times and ESPN. What would Trayvon have been if he were allowed to live as long?”
The hoodie has become a nationwide symbol both in the media and in the world of sports.
Geraldo Rivera caused a stir when he claimed the hoodie was as responsible for his death as the shooter.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat, the team located closest to Sanford and one of the most popular teams in the league, took pictures of themselves last week wearing hoodies and posted them on Twitter.
Both Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, the team’s biggest stars, have also posted about the tragedy.
ESPN, an NBA partner, keeps a close watch on its employees’ Twitter activity, discouraging their reporters from breaking news, making political statements and drawing unwanted attention to themselves so as not to damage the ESPN brand.
This particular case has proved the exception, and at the moment the explanation is the extent of "thoughtful discussion throughout the company."