“ESPN is about sports.” It is “not a political organization.” That’s what ESPN president John Skipper said in a memo to staffers on Friday afternoon, after a bruising week for the sports network.
Skipper’s memo came in the wake of anchor Jemele Hill’s calling President Trump a “white supremacist” in a series of tweets on Monday that triggered days of news coverage, criticism, and a presidential broadside against the network.
“We have issues of significant debate in our country at this time,” Skipper acknowledged. Yes, he said, ESPN upholds certain values about tolerance and diversity. Yes, ESPN’s employees are also citizens who have opinions about politics. But the network has social media policies for good reasons, Skipper said, because personal comments “will reflect on ESPN.”
“In light of recent events,” he said, “we need to remind ourselves that we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position.”
Skipper did not mention Trump’s criticism, but his message was clear: Let’s cover the news — sports and “the issues that intersect with sports” — and stop being the news.
“Let’s not let the public narrative re-write who we are or what we stand for,” he said. “Let’s not be divided in that pursuit. I will need your support if we are to succeed.”
Here is the full memo, obtained by CNN:
I want to remind everyone about fundamental principles at ESPN.
ESPN is about sports. Last year, we broadcast over 16,000 sports events….