SOUTHINGTON - Southington police had to ask protesters to leave the grounds of ESPN Monday night, after a group of six people gathered and blocked an entrance to the global sports TV network in support of a “SportsCenter” host who has been suspended by the company.
Police said they were called to the Middle Street entrance of ESPN around noon and told the small group that they were on private property and “should leave.” The protesters left without any further incident.
Mike Soltys, a spokesman for ESPN, issued a statement Tuesday about the incident, saying “We respect their right to protest peacefully. Our focus was ensuring ESPN’s normal business operations weren’t interrupted.”
On Monday, ESPN suspended Jemele Hill, a “SportsCenter” host who twice recently violated the company’s social media policy, for two weeks, ESPN said in a statement. Soltys confirmed that the protest on Monday was in support of Hill.
Hill used Twitter on Sunday as a platform to call for fans to boycott the advertisers of the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys, after the team’s owner, Jerry Jones, said his players would stand for the national anthem or be benched during the game Sunday. This came after Hill used Twitter last month to refer to President Donald Trump as a white supremacist.
ESPN warned Hill after her tweet about Trump last month, but she was not punished at that time. The company publicly said her comment about the president did not reflect its position.
Trump early Tuesday took to Twitter to criticize Hill, saying with her “at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!”
Trump last month called for fans to boycott the NFL because of players who kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. Additionally, he called for the players who take part in the demonstration during the Star-Spangled Banner to be fired, saying they are disrespecting the nation’s flag and the country.
“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” Trump also tweeted Tuesday. “Change tax law!”
Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game before the competition had finished, after seeing some players from the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the national anthem. Trump later confirmed via Twitter that he had asked Pence to leave the game if he saw any players kneel during the national anthem.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut on Tuesday issued a statement in which it condemned ESPN’s decision to suspend Hill.
“It is ironic and disheartening that ESPN decided to undermine its employee’s free speech rights because of tweets in which she stood up for athletes’ abilities to protest racial injustice,” the statement said.
“Under Connecticut law, employees of private companies have a right to express their views on matters of public concern,” the ACLU of Connecticut’s statement continued. “The protests that Jemele Hill referenced on Twitter were issues of public concern before the Vice President and President of the United States weighed in, and they will remain so. Racial injustice, and the protests that injustice has inspired, are some of the most critical issues of our time.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly wrote a letter and shared it with all 32 teams in the league on Tuesday, saying he believes players should stand during the national anthem.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” the letter said. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.”
“We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues.” Goodell continued. “The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or at email@example.com.