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'I Want ESPN To Be Real Clear': Sharpton Defends Embroiled Sportscenter Host

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Reverend Al Sharpton warned ESPN that there will be real consequences if it bows to White House pressure to fire anchor Jemele Hill.

"If ESPN violates her rights, then we will exercise our rights," Sharpton said Saturday.

Hill, who is African-American, became the latest public symbol of the nation's political divisions this week after a series of exchanges on Twitter. On Monday, she called the president "a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists." She wrote that he was "the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime." She called him a bigot and said it was the height of white privilege to ignore his white supremacy because it wasn't a threat.

"Well, it's a threat to me," she typed.

The network and Hill delivered statements shortly before midnight Thursday, hours after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday called Hill's comments outrageous and something that could be considered a fireable offense by ESPN.

Hill publicly apologized for the trouble she'd brought on her employer.

ESPN distanced itself from Hill's remarks on Tuesday and, following Sanders' statement at the White House briefing, did so again.

"Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN," said Josh Krulewitz, network spokesman. "She has acknowledged that her tweets crossed that line and has apologized for doing so. We accept her apology."

Hill appeared in her regular co-hosting slot Wednesday evening, talking about the Cleveland Indians and pro football but not her foray into politics.

Later, she tweeted a statement to "address the elephant in the room."

"My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs," she wrote. "My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional."

The president seemed to allude to the controversy on Twitter Friday, writing; "ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth."

Hill was supported by the National Association of Black Journalists, which issued a statement saying it "supports Hill's First Amendment rights on all matters of discussion, within and outside the world of sports, as they do not impinge on her duties as a host and commentator."

Sharpton says the White House response has been inappropriate.

"To terminate her based on intimidation from the White House is unacceptable," he said.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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