Jemele Hill, an ESPN personality and the face of Sportscenter alongside Michael Smith, was suspended for two weeks from her post as anchor on Oct. 9. The suspension came in response to a tweet suggesting followers boycott Dallas Cowboys games after the team’s owner Jerry Jones announced that players who did not stand for the national anthem would not play.
Jones’s statement came after the Cowboy’s Sept. 25 game against the Arizona Cardinals, when he knelt at midfield alongside his players during the national anthem in solidarity with the rest of the NFL in response to threats by President Donald Trump. Jones stood up once the banner was displayed, hijacking the original protester’s goal of drawing attention to police brutality.
This was hardly the first time Jemele Hill has come under fire. Hill, only a few weeks prior to her suspension, received a slap on the wrist from ESPN after a series of tweets stating President Trump was complicit with white supremacy and has enabled the recent surge of the alt-right.
However, after Trump’s inability to unilaterally condemn neo Nazis, this is hardly a contestable statement.
Hill was also the subject of controversy during the 2008 NBA Playoffs, during which she compared routing for the powerhouse Boston Celtics to sympathizing with Adolf Hitler.
Hill has become the target of the typical “politics-don’t-in-sports” mantra that plenty of activists have been subjected to. People naturally look to sports as a hobby in which they can avoid our country’s current political climate.
But sports and politics have been directly intertwined for decades, and athletes and sportscasters have long used their platform to advocate for the disenfranchised; Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Curt Flood, the University of Wyoming’s Black 14 and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf come to mind. They were not only extraordinarily brave, but their experiences have grim parallels to the treatment of protesters today.
Muhammad Ali’s refusal to enlist in the military eventually earned him sympathy and the right to return to the ring. Curt Flood’s fight against Major League Baseball’s archaic reserve clause gave birth to the modern free agency system of the MLB, NFL, NBA and others. The Black 14’s protest led to the punishment of head coach Lloyd Eaton by the state of Wyoming and legislation that protected the rights of student athletes.
Kaepernick’s protest, despite its misuse by Jones, shed light on a law enforcement system that leaves young black men dead and protects the assailants. Whether Ali, Kaepernick or Hill, each of these individuals were decried as un-American, yet they led protest movements that raised awareness of grave injustices.
Muhammad Ali lost four years of his prime after he was systematically denied a boxing license in every state until 1970. Curt Flood, only one year after finishing fourth in MVP voting, was blackballed out of the league. Smith and Carlos were expelled from the U.S. national team and were both out of professional track two years after the protest. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, one of the most lauded three-point shooters of all time and the Denver Nuggets’ leading scorer at the time, was traded away for a 32 year old injured Sarunas Marciulionis (who was subsequently released a month later) and a second round pick, before getting benched, released, and exiled to European leagues at the age of 28.
There are too many outspoken fans and sports personalities who are willingly ignorant and dogmatic. To see the United States’ distaste for justified protesters fifty years after the Civil Rights Era is disgraceful and unworthy of anyone who strives for social justice.
It doesn’t have to be like this.