ESPN Prez Wades Into Employee Political Identities with Jemele Hill Memo…

If you follow the media game (and in today’s political environment where every outlet has a slant, it’s hard not to), you might have seen that ESPN’s Jemele Hill was out on her personal Twitter account calling the current POTUS a “white supremacist”.

Here’s the tweet (click through it you don’t see it below, email subscribers):

Of course, that led to a bunch of posturing, including conservatives wondering why someone like Linda Cohn (another ESPN anchor) was sent home/suspended for merely stating she thought the media outlet should be less focused on politics, while the Hill tweets were largely unaddressed by ESPN.  

From an HR perspective, I’m most interested in the intersection of someone’s professional life and personal views, and how an organization navigates that.  Could Jemele Hill have been suspended or even fired?  Sure – but good luck with that with Trump as the target of her controversial comments. 

So ESPN is in a rough spot – highly visible employee makes comments sure to frustrate some of the base, but what can they do?  Well, ESPN did their best to continue to try and get in front of it with an internal memo.  More from the NY Post:

“ESPN president John Skipper sent a memo to all of the company’s employees late Friday afternoon (9/15/17), outlining his wish that ESPN remain an apolitical organization, regardless of outside perception.

“I want to remind everyone about fundamental principles at ESPN. ESPN is about sports. … We show highlights and report scores and tell stories and break down plays.”

“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,” Skipper wrote in a memo obtained by Sports Illustrated. “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.”

Translation – your public views, even as a private citizen, can impact our success as a business.  And hey, I’m asking now – maybe next time I don’t ask.  #stopplease

It’s a well known fact of life that freedom of speech is alive and well – but just because that right is protected constitutionally doesn’t mean your employer can’t fire you if your stated views cause them problems with their client/customer base.

But as this column from former ESPN columnist Bill Simmons notes (once suspended himself for comments made publicly), the crazier the political environment gets, the harder it is to suspend/fire individuals for comments that might harm the business.

Interesting times.  Hit me in the comments with any craziness from employees you’re seeing related to what I’ll kindly call “this Trump thing”….

This post originally appeared on The HR Capitalist
Author: Kris Dunn