ESPN Chief John Skipper Says Network ‘Is Not a Political Organization’

Cable network boss weighed in on comments made by SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill that got the attention of the White House

ESPN John Skipper
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ESPN president John Skipper sent a company-wide memo Friday reminding staffers that “ESPN is not a political organization” and that overly political social media posts like the one Jemele Hill offered about President Donald Trump “can create a conflict for our public facing talent between their work and their personal points of view.”

SportsCenter host Hill called Trump a “white supremacist” in a Monday tweet. She was not suspended, prompting widespread outcry from ESPN observers like Clay Travis who have repeatedly pushed back against their perception that the network has a liberal point of view and treats conservative staffers unfairly.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders even weighed in — twice — calling Hill’s comment a “fireable offense,” and the president himself weighed in on Twitter.

Here’s Skipper’s full memo:

I want to remind everyone about fundamental principles at ESPN.

ESPN is about sports. Last year, we broadcast over 16,000 sports events. We show highlights and report scores and tell stories and break down plays.

And we talk about sports all day every day. Of course, sports is intertwined with society and culture, so “sticking to sports” is not so simple. When athletes engage on issues or when protests happen in games, we cover, report and comment on that. We are, among other things, the largest, most accomplished and highly resourced sports news organization. We take great pride in our news organization.

We have programs on which we discuss and even debate sports, as well as the issues that intersect with sports. Fans themselves love to debate and discuss sports.

ESPN is not a political organization. Where sports and politics intersect, no one is told what view they must express.

At the same time, ESPN has values. We are committed to inclusion and an environment of tolerance where everyone in a diverse work force has the equal opportunity to succeed. We consider this human, not political. Consequently, we insist that no one be denigrated for who they are including their gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual identity.

We have issues of significant debate in our country at this time. Our employees are citizens and appropriately want to participate in the public discussion. That can create a conflict for our public facing talent between their work and their personal points of view. Given this reality, we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN. At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.

We had a violation of those standards in recent days and our handling of this is a private matter. As always, in each circumstance we look to do what is best for our business.

In light of recent events, we need to remind ourselves that we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position.

We also know that ESPN is a special place and that our success is based on you and your colleagues’ work. Let’s not let the public narrative re-write who we are or what we stand for. Let’s not be divided in that pursuit. I will need your support if we are to succeed.