ESPN’s Michael Wilbon compared Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to a slave owning plantation master on the long-running program Pardon the Interruption.
Here’s the entirety of Wilbon’s remarks (as reported by the Washington Times) in reaction to the news that Jones would require his employees who are wearing his company’s uniform and logo (thus representing him and his investment) to stand during the national anthem:
“And the word that comes to my mind―and I don’t care who doesn’t like me using it―is plantation,” Mr. Wilbon said on Monday’s show. “The players are here to serve me, and they will do what I want. No matter how much I pay them, they are not equal to me. That’s what this says to me and mine.”
It must be nice to be Mike Wilbon. To never have to follow his employer’s rules. To be able to do and say whatever he wants while representing his employer and his employer’s corporation without any repercussions. Perhaps Mr. Wilbon should get out a little more and have a conversation with pretty much every single American with a job. The men and women who drive him from the airport to the arena so he can watch and report on a basketball game. The guy in the press box who brings his coffee while he watches the Cubs in the MLB playoffs. The woman who brings him a drink on the airplane while he jets from his various residences across the country.
Every one of those Americans have to suffer under the yoke of bondage we mere mortals refer to as “HAVING A JOB.”
Believe it or not, the “plantation” remark is not the most disturbing item in the Washington Times article on the inflammatory comments. Here’s what should really be making the headlines on this latest bit of racially-fueled drama emanating from the Disney-owned sports network:
“ESPN declined to comment on Mr. Wilbon’s remarks.”
ESPN declined to comment? ESPN has nothing to say about one of their most high-profile personalities describing the most popular franchise in the NFL as a plantation populated with slaves? How is that even possible?
Wilbon (and ESPN) could make the claim that he is paid to provide provocative and even controversial opinions in his role as host of PTI and as an analyst for the NBA on the network. And within the realm of “analyst and commentator” Wilbon expressed his opinion and should suffer no punishment for merely speaking his mind. After all, that’s what ESPN pays him to do. But, does ESPN treat all of their analysts and hosts equally when they express controversial opinions?
It would be imprecise to compare ESPN’s inaction over these remarks to how they fired Curt Schilling and recently suspended Jemele Hill because their transgressions were not related to on-air comments but statements made using social media. Schilling and Hill were punished for “violating ESPN’s social media policies” so their ability to speak their minds and provide analysis on-air for ESPN was not called into question or infringed.
The more apt comparison would be the network’s handling of Bill Simmons in 2014. Remember the Ray Rice controversy? (I know, it’s hard to keep track of the various issues that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has bungled over recent years.) After a hotel video was released showing Rice (a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens) using his girlfriend as a punching bag in an elevator, Goodell had to do some major image repair for the league by claiming that the relatively light punishment Rice had received was because he had no idea how bad the incident was and had not seen the video tape.
Simmons, who at the time was a huge star for ESPN creating incredibly creative entities like the Grantland website and groundbreaking digital content like podcasts and films, spoke out about Goodell and the league and how they had mishandled the Rice incident:
Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn’t know is such fucking bullshit. It really is — it’s such fucking bullshit. And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted. I really was.
Simmons’ comments were made on his ESPN podcast. We was expressing his opinion as an analyst and commentator. ESPN suspended him for three weeks for violating their “journalistic standards.”
Stephen A. Smith is an ESPN personality who is also paid to express his often controversial opinions. Again, during the Ray Rice incident in 2015, Smith said this:
“We keep talking about the guys. We know you have no business putting your hands on a woman…But what I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family…and this what, I’ve done this all my life,‘Let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.’ Because if I come, or somebody else comes, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you. So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that that doesn’t happen.”
Smith was suspended for his remarks (which he apologized for almost immediately.)
So will ESPN have anything to say about Wilbon’s comments? Or, has Wilbon so intimidated ESPN, ABC Sports and Disney that they fear being referred to as a slave owner if they dare to comment on Wilbon’s outrageous remarks? If so, Wilbon certainly enjoys a certain privilege that his fellow ESPN employees (and pretty much every working man and woman in America) do not.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.