Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company has said he stands behind ESPN’s politically-vocal employee Jamele Hill, and has empathy for those NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem.” Speaking at the Vanity Fair summit on Tuesday, Iger said, “I happen to believe in the national anthem, and I stand up when it’s played and I’d like everybody else to, but I just think we’ve got to take into account what we’re seeing societally and what people are feeling, and a little empathy in that regard would go a long way.”
In September, Hill, a SportsCenter anchor, tweeted that Donald Trump ‘is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.’ In doing so, she risked her employment, because, as Iger said, “Jemele Hill is an ESPN employee, and she can’t separate herself from that when she speaks publicly, or uses Twitter to express her opinion, and we have policies against that.” However, an exception was made in this case he said, because, “Jemele Hill felt she had to in the wake of what happened in Charlottesville, in the wake of what the President of the United States said…In this particular case, I did get involved. I felt that we had to take context into account, and context in that case included what was going on in America. There were a lot of people out there that were outraged, particularly black people…The rights that they thought had been won in the Civil rights movement were theirs, in other words, they had earned them and I think they’ve seen in these last number of months is the opposite and it’s not only disappointing, it is angering them.”
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“I’ve not ever experienced prejudice and certainly not racism,” Iger went on, “so it’s hard for me to understand what they’re feeling about this, what it feel like to experience racism, so I felt that we need to take into account what Jemele and other people at ESPN were feeling at this time. That resulted in us not taking action on the Tweet that she put out.”
Iger also acknowledged the NFL athletes who have lately not been standing for the national anthem, and those other ESPN employees who feel strongly on the subject, saying, “I think athletes in many cases feel that they have an obligation. Having earned the voice that they’ve earned as successful athletes, to speak out on various issues that are meaningful to them, so we’ve given ESPN license to do it.”
But as he said, Iger himself will stand for the national anthem. “I’m pretty patriotic,” he said. “I’m a product of the American dream. I grew up in a middle class household and ended up running the Walt Disney company. That’s pretty damn good.”
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