It is by no means a requirement for NBA players to comment publicly on ESPN’s seemingly forced apology from Jemele Hill, a SportsCenter anchor whose criticism of President Donald Trump reached the White House press room this week, but Dwyane Wade was one of few who offered his support.
After a Twitter follower suggested that the media was responsible for unfairly framing Trump as a white supremacist, Hill tweeted the following response in a series of messages on Monday:
“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists. The height of white privilege is being able to ‘ignore’ his white supremacy, because it’s of no threat to you. Well, it’s a threat to me. Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period. No the media doesn’t make it a threat. It IS a threat. He has empowered white supremacists (see: Charlottesville). He is unqualified and unfit to be president. He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected. Donald Trump is a bigot. Glad you could live with voting for him. I couldn’t, because I cared about more than just myself.”
Racism has plagued Trump’s politics from the start. The son of a man who was arrested after a Klu Klux Klan riot, he entered the political fray behind the birther movement and announced his candidacy for president by generalizing Mexican-Americans as “rapists.” Twice sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent to black people, Trump campaigned around the ideas of restoring historical American values and building a wall to prevent immigrants from entering the country.
Upon being elected, with the full support of the KKK’s official newspaper and former grand wizard David Duke, Trump filled his cabinet with a handful of people with histories of racial discrimination, including Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka. One of Trump’s first orders of business as president was to ban refugees from seven mostly Muslim nations from entering the U.S.
In between, he retweeted white supremacist memes, told rally-goers to, “Look at my African-American over here,” and condoned beatings of a homeless Latino man and a Black Lives Matter protester by offering this response at another campaign stop: “People who are following me are very passionate.”
All this from a man who was unapologetic after taking out full-page newspapers ads calling for the execution of five black teenagers imprisoned between six and 13 years for a crime they didn’t commit.
The racial undertones of Trump’s presidency came to a surface last month in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists marched in protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, killing an innocent 32-year-old woman named Heather Heyer in the process.
In the aftermath of an incident that drew heavy criticism from NBA stars, including Wade’s former Miami Heat teammate LeBron James, Trump condemned the violence “on many sides,” amended that statement to include white supremacists, and then clarified, “but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.” He then praised the protesters who supported the confederate statue.
Given this sequence of events, it is perhaps unsurprising that David Duke told reporters in Charlottesville, “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believe in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”
And given this sequence of events, it is equally unsurprising that Hill described the sitting president as “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists.”
Still, ESPN has a policy outlawing news reporters “from taking positions on political and social issues, candidates or office holders,” although there is some leeway for commentators to address those topics if they are “related to a current issue impacting sports.” Where Hill and her comments fell on that spectrum was reflected by separate statements from the SportsCenter anchor and ESPN itself:
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 14, 2017
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 14, 2017
It is hard to believe that anyone interpreted a reply to a follower from Hill’s personal Twitter account as any sort of statement on behalf of ESPN, although Trump supporters were quick to point out the hypocrisy of a company policy that led to Major League Baseball analyst Curt Schilling’s firing in 2016:
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) September 14, 2017
Of course, Schilling’s firing came before ESPN’s policy was amended and after the All-Star pitcher received multiple warnings about posting controversial conservative commentary on social media.
At any rate, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also said on Wednesday of Hill’s “white supremacist” accusations against Trump, “That’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.”
The story then took on a life of its own, taking a SportsCenter anchor’s Twitter replies to the White House press room. Instead of a conversation about why a prominent black woman feels threatened in Trump’s America, the president’s mouthpiece instead emboldened the “stick to sports” crowd and anyone who chooses to ignore the president’s sordid racial past and present by calling for Hill’s job.
As ESPN wasn’t willing to come to her defense, Reggie Miller and Dwyane Wade did. What’s surprising here is that more members of a league that has spent the past year raging against Trump’s “xenophic, homophobic, racist, mysoginistic” remarks didn’t come to the defense of a woman who has covered basketball for almost two decades, spends most nights discussing the NBA on one of the league’s TV partners and vocalized may of the same opinions its members have also expressed unapologetically.
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