Jemele Hill: A Closer Look at Free Speech

Jordan Benefiel | Staff Writer

Jemele Hill_ESPN statement

The contentious contrast between censorship and brand preservation is not a new problem. Deciding what power companies have over their employee’s abilities to express their opinions is a thorny topic. On the one hand, the first amendment guarantees us free speech, but on the other, people knowingly sign contracts that detail what they can and cannot say if they are to keep their jobs. The question then must be, if the topic is important enough, should one speak out anyway?

Recently, ESPN host Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks due to breaching her contracts “social media guidelines.” The story starts a couple weeks ago when Hill took to twitter to call Donald Trump a white supremacist. ESPN did not take action against her that time, but issued her a warning and sent out a memo detailing how ESPN “is about sports” and “is not a political organization.” In the most recent controversy, she ostensibly advocated for boycotting the NFL in response to Jerry Jones stating that players kneeling during the anthem will not play during the game.

In the tweet she said, “If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is advertisers. Don’t place the burden squarely on the players.” She followed that with, “Just so we’re clear: I’m not advocating a NFL boycott.” These comments, in addition to her previous comments about Trump, led ESPN to give her a two-week suspension. Shortly afterword, Trump took to twitter to trash Jemele, “With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have tanked, in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!”

In response to the question, do you think companies should be able to fire or suspend employees for sharing their opinions even if it may make their brand look bad, Kennedy Peace, a first year journalism major at Hampton University said, “Unless the remark is racist, sexist, anti-semetic, heretical or anything that can be deemed as hate speech or offensive I believe that they should be able to keep their job.” Another first year journalism major, Nylah Powell, said, “I think that suspension is acceptable, because when you step into a professional position your main priority is representing your brand. Completely losing your job for stating an opinion, however, is unfair.”

It seems that one thing that unites Americans is our belief in freedom of speech. Jemele Hill spoke up for what she believed in, but didn’t go far enough. When I look at her twitter comments advocating a boycott, then her saying right after that she did not, I see someone who is afraid of a system that routinely punishes individuals in the workforce for exercising their first amendment rights. In the sage words of Peter Kropkin, “the worker is forced, under the name of free contract, to accept feudal obligations. For, turn where he will, he can find no better conditions.” Jemele Hill, and workers all over America, are forced to accept restrictions to our first amendment rights because, as Kropkin says, they “must accept, or die of hunger.”

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