The organizers of the Women's March called ESPN's suspension of Jemele Hill the silencing of a black woman speaking out against systemic oppression in America and "proof of how deeply entrenched racism is within our institutions."
ESPN suspended Hill for two weeks on Monday, saying that she had violated the company's social media guidelines.
Hill had tweeted that if fans didn't like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' decision to bench players that kneel during the national anthem, they should boycott team advertisers. "If you feel strongly, about [Jones'] statement, boycott his advertisers," she tweeted.
Hill later clarified her comments, saying that she was not calling for a boycott.
The Women's March organized one of the largest protests in history beginning in January, a day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump; since then, the organizers have also protested the perceived blacklisting of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
"The suspension of Jemele Hill is a despicable attempt to silence a Black woman speaking out against systematic oppression in this country," the organizers wrote in a statement.
Hill has become a flash point this fall: Some critics say she should have been punished for calling the president a white nationalist, or that there should be no surprise ESPN objected to tweets about NFL advertisers. Her defenders, many with sizable Twitter followings, have expressed frustration with ESPN's sensitivity over the NFL, contend that the network doesn't really get the reality of including black voices, and say that Hill should be allowed to have her voice heard without fear of punishment — especially given that she's the host of an opinion program and paid to give an opinion.
To that end, the Women's March strongly characterized how they believed ESPN's actions should be interpreted Monday: "This suspension is proof of how deeply entrenched racism is within our institutions."
The statement continued, "Jemele’s comments to encourage consumers to let advertisers know how they feel, reflect the feelings of many of us. Millions of Americans understand the importance of protecting our first amendment right to free speech and of using this sacred right to express legitimate fear about the current climate of racism and bigotry."
In a statement, ESPN addressed its decision to suspend Hill by alluding to a piece she wrote for one of ESPN's properties focusing on the black experience in America. "Since my tweets criticizing President Donald Trump exploded into a national story," she wrote in that piece, "the most difficult part for me has been watching ESPN become a punching bag and seeing a dumb narrative kept alive about the company’s political leanings."
ESPN's statement appeared to reference that piece: "She previously acknowledged letting her colleagues and company down with an impulsive tweet. In the aftermath, all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences. Hence this decision."
Women's March organizers are finalizing plans for its first convention, to be held in Hill's hometown of Detroit.
Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Darren Sands at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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