Are they preparing for the storm? It’s coming. Last Thursday, ESPN released its revised social media guidelines for all employees, which states all social network use should be “civil,” “responsible,” and “without overt political biases.”While the network and its subsidiaries will not admit that this is a direct response to Jemele Hill’s tweets and consequent suspension, ESPN President John Skipper said this was a response to the “moment we are having right now […] the political polarization.”
The new restrictions allow for the editorial desk to assume a more active role in administering content produced by the network outside its television programing and corresponding websites. The new policy expressed its dedication to fluffy kumbaya buzzwords such as “inclusion” and “tolerance,” while also requesting that journalists not undermine the work of their colleagues or embroil the company in ominous controversy.
On the surface, these policies can lead to censorship; it’s a corporation attempting to make journalism fit inside a box. Unconventional wisdom could argue the new policies might encourage more accurate news coverage, thwarting Trumpian fake news.
But I see this differently, as ESPN now prepares itself and its entire sports discourse community for the next shoe to drop, the eye of the hurricane.
In the past few weeks, survivors of sexual harassment have united in the “#metoo” movement, opening a very unhinged but nuanced discussion regarding harassment. Specifically, Seattle Storm star forward Breanna Stewart and former Olympian McKayla Maroney, both revealed harrowing tales involving molestation from a family friend and a team doctor.
It is worth noting that Stewart’s account took place before her college career at UConn, at age 9, when basketball was first introduced to her. And while her situation doesn’t include a well-known predator from the sports world, or someone who influenced her career, her story still incites major questions.
The “Weinstein Effect” has spread from Hollywood, to journalism and even British politics. (Why it hasn’t been effective in Washington still beats me?) But in the sports world, the major connections have remained in the horrific stories of Stewart and Maroney.
The blackballing of Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and even former UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has made me wonder, what about the sports world? A world where dominance and power struggles are endemic.
Now shifting the story back to ESPN, why aren’t they focused on their sexual harassment policy? What have they been suppressing?
Many dissatisfied ESPN consumers claim the network is a hotbed for liberals and their ideology, but not so fast. Compared to its counterparts in Hollywood, the worldwide leader of sports hasn’t responded as many would expect it to.
In 2015, the network settled with Sue Baumann, a former makeup artist for media personality Chris Berman, after she contended that she received inappropriate comments and text messages from the ESPN star.
Also, this past July, Jamie Horowitz, a former ESPNer and the father of flagship program First Take, was ousted at Fox Sports amid a sexual harassment investigation. According to the Weinstein downfall, many are repeated offenders; they can potentially have a deeply rooted problem. It’s fair to question Horowitz’s past at ESPN.
Most recently, the network was involved in a messy situation with Barstool Sports, the satirical, but also rather sexist, men’s sports blog. Sunday NFL Countdown host Sam Ponder tweeted screenshots of her own online cyber harassment from the blog, calling Ponder a “bible-thumping freak.”
It was this tweet that enlightened former Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger to speak out regarding her own experience applying for a job with ESPN. She detailed a uncomfortable experience in which prospective employers took her to a strip club. Sterger was also the recipient of the nude photos and racy voicemails from retired NFL legend Brett Favre.
And speaking of Favre and athletes in general, what about the latest regarding “Nationwide Poster Boy” Peyton Manning. Six days ago, his sexual assault deposition video surfaced and I ask, why haven’t those athletes been blackballed from the sports community?
Why haven’t Favre, Manning, and Berman been blacklisted as Weinstein and Spacey have?
So while social media policy has been integral for the network, I believe there is a darker storm festering.
Are they ready? Are ESPN and countless other sports institutions prepared for what’s next? Stewart, Maroney, Baumann, and Sterger will be the judge of that.