Jemele Hill: He suspended me from ESPN, but we’re still friends
I’ll be candid: The policy that Le Batard criticized was instituted in part because of the drama that ensued after I called Trump a white supremacist on Twitter in 2017. But Le Batard’s situation only crystallized how unreasonable—and ultimately untenable—the network’s position is. A personality like Le Batard, who has spent his career assessing the messy intersections among sports, politics, race, and gender, can never just ignore the racism and bigotry flowing out of the White House.
ESPN, like any major network, hires commentators who have big personalities and bold opinions. And yet the executives often seem more concerned with placating some white fans than respecting the fact that so many men and women of color are profoundly appalled by the Trump administration’s policies and the president’s hurtful rhetoric. Besides, while ESPN isn’t a purely journalistic operation—it’s partly in the entertainment business too—it does practice journalism. And that means there are times when the audience has to be challenged to think critically, rather than appeased.
A no-politics-unless-it’s-sports-related policy seems especially naive and tricky to navigate when the president of the United States not only makes overtly racist comments, but also lays into women’s-soccer players, NBA owners, and other sports figures who disagree with him. ESPN’s policy also backs the network itself into a corner, and asks TV and radio commentators to do something impossible: ignore anything and everything happening outside the four corners of the playing field, no matter how much it offends their basic sense of humanity.
Not surprisingly, some commentators just aren’t able to abide by such a mandate.
Consider how challenging it is for someone with Le Batard’s background to separate sports from everything else happening in this country. He is the son of immigrants. Both of his parents fled Cuba when they were teenagers. Le Batard has written passionately many times about the sacrifices his parents made to provide for their children and to be accepted in this country.
Ibram X. Kendi: Am I an American?
Trump is pushing the dangerous narrative that only certain people in this country are fully American. His repeated attacks on Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib are just the latest example. At a North Carolina rally last week, Trump escalated the controversy by singling out Omar, after which the crowd began to chant, “Send her back.” Trump later claimed he disagreed with the chant—even though the video clearly shows Trump standing silently for several seconds and making no attempt to discourage the crowd.
Le Batard was unwilling to let these events slide. On his radio show last Thursday, he took aim at Trump—and his own network’s wariness about confronting him. “If you’re not calling it abhorrent, obviously racist, dangerous rhetoric, then you’re complicit,” Le Batard said on his show. “This is deeply offensive to me as somebody whose parents made all the sacrifices to get to this country. Send her back? How are you any more American than her? You’re more privileged? You’re whiter?”