A number of talent agents have been advising their sports clients to help themselves and their careers by sticking to sports when communicating via social media. Given the recent events at ESPN involving Jemele Hill and Sam Ponder, agents are aware of the tensions caused by personalities using the social platforms to discuss other issues and are trying to keep their people in good standing to protect their professional and financial futures.
“My advice to my clients who work for a content company is that social media is not the right area to voice opinions other than ones that you’re paid to give,” Sandy Montag, president and CEO of The Montag Group told the Sports Business Journal.
A few agents told SBJ that they were frustrated with ESPN’s social media policy. Complicating the problem has been President Trump ramping up his opinions on sports and specific on-air talent, which they feel blurs the lines between politics and sports.
Some ESPN executives agree that the company hasn’t managed its social media guidelines the best way possible. The additional headaches caused by social media have led many to speculate that the company will introduce specific social media guidelines and punishments before the end of 2017.
In a memo sent to all employees last month, ESPN President John Skipper said, “we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN. At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.”
However, Jemele Hill’s comments (she called President Trump a white supremacist and suggested he’s been supported by other white supremacists) were very personal and worthy of further discipline in the eyes of many. When the company elected not to suspend Hill, adding that they felt the need to take into account what she and others at ESPN were feeling, it made it clear that leaving things up to interpretation isn’t a wise strategy. In that case, one could easily argue that Curt Schilling and Bill Simmons were feeling upset by certain things too yet both were reprimanded and disciplined and ultimately lost jobs at the network after creating drama for the company.
An agent not connected to Hill defended the SC6 host adding that the reason ESPN gave her a premium show is because of her polarizing style and ability to tackle tough subjects and convey strong emotionally moving opinions. The agent said it appears ESPN got nervous once the White House took notice and began fighting back.
The majority of agents that SBJ spoke to felt that Hill should’ve been smarter with her social media use. Because of it, they felt it was necessary to remind their clients about the importance of understanding how their public actions reflect on their employers and how one mistake could damage their careers.
“What makes this country great is that you have the right to speak your mind,” Montag said. “But you have to recognize that your platform on social media is partly because of your employer. Some fans believe that you are speaking for, say, ESPN.”