College Blog Blog Network

ESPN still ignores apparent double-standard that resulted in Curt Schilling’s firing

02.14.17 at 4:12 pm ET
Curt Schilling was dismissed from ESPN last March. (David Manning/USA TODAY Sports)

Curt Schilling was dismissed from ESPN last March. (David Manning/USA TODAY Sports)

ESPN public editor Jim Brady published a column this week about the company’s policy when it comes to social media use and political discourse. He addresses a wide swath of controversies, including a recent string of comments from ESPN hosts who have insinuated Boston is a racist city. But he fails to mention Curt Schilling, who was fired from the network last year after sharing an anti-transgender post on Facebook.

The omission is significant, and it’s not just because Schilling is the most high-profile employee who’s ever been terminated for his behavior on social media. It also provides a glimpse into the apparent double-standard that exists at ESPN when it comes to who’s allowed to speak out, and who must stay silent.

In his piece, Brady says the WorldWide Leader should let its personalities express themselves with few restrictions.

“Barring something truly beyond the pale, it’s unlikely any ESPN personality would be terminated over a single comment or social media post,” he writes. “And, in a world where patience for opposing viewpoints seems to be evaporating, I think that’s a good position for the company to take.”

When asked why Schilling wasn’t included in the article, Brady said on Twitter it’s because he was a multiple time offender, having served a suspension in 2015 for comparing radical Muslim jihadism to Nazism. That’s fair, but several of his colleagues habitually make inflammatory statements, only to see their profiles rise.

Jemele Hill, who co-hosts the highly promoted “SC6″ with Michael Smith, was reprimanded in 2008 for saying rooting for the Celtics is akin to calling Adolf Hitler a victim.  Last summer, in the wake of the Orlando Massacre, she admonished Americans who condemn homophobia in Islamic cultures, because gay people face discrimination in the U.S. as well. While that may appear to be a nuanced take on the issue of LGBTQ rights, it’s mindless and insulting.  In at least 10 majority Muslim nations in the Middle East and Africa, homosexuality is punishable by death. It’s difficult to see how that equates to the U.S., where same-sex marriage is legal and federal contractors are barred from discriminating against LGBTQ workers.

While gay rights in the U.S. can still be expanded, and are in danger of being rolled back during Donald Trump’s administration, the comparison Hill made is invalid. Or, at the least, it’s not any less nonsensical than comparing Islamic jihadism to Nazism.

But Hill is now one of the most visible hosts on ESPN, free to label Boston as the “gold-standard of racism” during a recent podcast with NBA analyst Amin Elhassan. In that same episode, Elhassan called Boston the most bigoted city in the country north of the Mason-Dixon line.

It seems to be acceptable at ESPN to smear Bostonians and call them racist. When Celtics fans cheered Jazz forward Gordon Hayward last month, Bomani Jones implied on “Highly Questionable” that race may have been a factor in his warm reception. (Never mind that Celtics fans have also applauded Kevin Durant and other potential free agents in recent years, as an apparent effort to recruit them to Boston.)

“Is there another arena in the whole country that would get this charged about Gordon Hayward maybe coming as a free agent?,” he asked. “Clapping for Kevin Durant is one thing. But if you put Gordon Hayward on the same level as Kevin Durant, you might be the city that had the Kevin Love welcoming tour when he wasn’t even a free agent yet.”

On “Around the Horn,” Israel Gutierrez issued a similar statement.

“It’s Boston. They’re famous for having Larry Bird on their team. Gordon Hayward looks more like Larry Bird than other players in the league. So maybe there’s that Boston connection there,” he said.

In an interview with Brady, Jones said he was talking about how Boston has a “particular affection for white players.” But it’s unclear how that’s different than other cities that support talented white athletes. Skin color isn’t the barometer for Celtics fan appreciation, or else Kelly Olynyk would probably be the most popular player on the squad instead of Isaiah Thomas. Rather than clarify his remarks, Jones fired off another cheap shot.

At ESPN, there appear to be different sets of rules for each personality. Stephen A. Smith, for example, was welcomed back after hinting in 2014 that women sometimes bring domestic violence upon themselves. Last summer, he strongly hinted that Stephen Curry’s outspoken wife, Ayesha, should know her place and not bring any negative attention to herself.

In isolation, none of these comments should result in anybody’s firing. Opinionated personalities should be allowed to speak their minds both on- and off-air. But it remains difficult to see how Schilling’s statements crossed a line, while others are deemed acceptable.

Schilling was politically outspoken throughout his tenure at ESPN, including when he got into a spat with Keith Law about the theory of evolution and said Hillary Clinton should be “buried under a jail.” So it’s unlikely his political leanings were the ultimate reason he was fired. It’s more plausible Schilling was canned for his crassness. The anti-transgender meme he shared featured a burly man in drag, and below it, he said the “men’s room was designed for the penis.” Classy stuff.

But then again, it’s not all that classy to compare Celtics fans to Nazi sympathizers or label Boston racist with nothing more than decades-old anecdotal evidence –– such as citing the break-in at Bill Russell’s house during his playing days in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

When it comes to ESPN’s policies on social media use and political commentary, Schilling stands out as someone who may have fallen victim to a double-standard. But apparently, it’s easier for ESPN to ignore that instead of address it head-on.

Read More: Curt Schilling, ESPN,