On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife walked out of an Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game after several players kneeled during the national anthem. It quickly became clear that this was a publicity stunt meant to revive the issue of anthem protests, which had once again begun to fade out of the news. Pence had another engagement that evening and had a plane to catch; his traveling press pool was told to stay in the van. The whole debacle got the desired media coverage and likely cost $250,000 of public money.
Also on Sunday, Jemele Hill, a black anchor who has become the center of a largely meaningless and entirely disingenuous debate about whether or not ESPN should stick to sports, sent two tweets about a potential boycott of the Dallas Cowboys, whose owner Jerry Jones said he would bench players who protested during the anthem.
A day later, Hill clarified that she wasn’t endorsing boycotts, just noting that they’re an effective way for people to make their voice heard. But three hours after that clarification, ESPN announced that Hill was being suspended for two weeks “for a second violation of social media guidelines.” (The first was when Hill referred to the president as a white supremacist, citing his abhorrent response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.)
Trump, who praised Pence’s fake walkout on Sunday shortly after it happened, pounced on Tuesday morning:
The politics of ESPN’s employees, it’s worth pointing out, have nothing to do with ESPN’s ratings decline—that’s simply a backdoor for conservatives to bemoan the alleged scourge of political correctness in mainstream media. Similarly, whatever you think of the validity of Hill’s suspension, the idea that sports are being politicized solely by the left is laughable. Two weeks ago, the president of the United States made national anthem protests an issue again by tweeting about them; two days ago, the vice president of the United States made national anthem protests an issue again by traveling several hundred miles to leave a football game 90 seconds after it began.
Hill’s suspension is especially ridiculous given that all she did was point out that fans are able to exert influence over the teams they cover. Trump called for a boycott of the NFL; Hill did not. But ESPN has nevertheless caved (again) to right-wingers, suspending Hill in order to try to prove something that no one involved in this debate actually believes, which is that sports and politics are entirely separate. In doing so, they’ve handed a victory to Trump, essentially validating an argument that was never made in good faith to begin with.