Considering the public turmoil of people such as Shaq and Kobe, Ice Cube and NWA, and Kanye and Jay-Z, it is particularly refreshing when public figures support each other during tough times. A recent antithesis to these examples are ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. Anchors for the show The Six, Smith has been the most vocal supporter of Hill during public and private negative reactions to her social commentary in relation to President Trump and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. In the midst of today’s troubling times, the public dynamic of their working relationship is the example of workplace unity amongst black people that we need to see.
Jemele Hill initially came under fire for a series of tweets she wrote about President Trump in September. In her tweets she called him a white supremacist, which was met with immediate opposition from the White House. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee called Hill’s statements a fireable offense, placing pressure on ESPN to take action. On October 8, Hill tweeted in reference to Jerry Jones’ declaration to bench players that refuse to stand for the National Anthem. She encouraged people who feel strongly about Jones’ declaration to bench players to boycott Cowboys’ advertisers. Citing this as a second offense to the company social media policy, ESPN suspended Hill for two weeks.
The Six co-anchor Michael Smith fought for Hill the entire time. After her initial comments about President Trump were received with high criticism, it appeared ESPN wanted to suspend her and temporarily replace her with Matt Barrie. Smith refused to host the show without her, which undoubtedly played a role in ESPN not suspending her at the time. When she was suspended after commenting about Jerry Jones, Smith elected to host The Six alone rather than with Barrie. In his first solo show he appeared visibly shaken, indicated by his somber opening remarks on the October 10 show: “Those who know, know. Those who don’t, it need not be explained. You’re here, I’m here. Let’s talk some sports.”
It is well known by the Black community and proven by supporting studies that the traditional workplace is not a friendly atmosphere for most people of color. The Good Hair Study by the Perception Institute proved in February that black women are twice as likely as white women to experience social pressure to straighten their hair. Amongst all ethnicities and genders, white women also emerged as the most biased against textured hair in the workplace. Since white women comprise a large majority of the 38 percent of female managers in America, they have a large base of power to influence hiring and retention despite their bias. Here is where unity amongst black people can make a difference. When strong black people such as Michael Smith are able to intervene on the behalf of black coworkers, it weakens the effect these biases can have on an individual person of color.
Although it is hurtful to see the very public punishments of Jemele Hill and Colin Kaepernick by their organizations for expressing their views on issues related to the Black community, Michael Smith’s fight on the behalf of Hill was encouraging. Although Hill was still suspended by ESPN for her tweets, Smith demonstrated the impact of unity amongst black people in the workplace. Although hard to quantify on a mass scale, it is inherently powerful and important for people of color to stand up for each other in professional settings. Although institutional biases are a harder fight, this specific means of social combat makes it harder for managers to act on their biases on a personal basis. I am excited for the full cast of The Six to reunite at the end of Hill’s suspension. Their thoughts on sports are equally as important as their feedback on social issues.