A conversation with ESPN’s Jemele Hill

A conversation with ESPN's Jemele Hill

Hill discussed the phenomenon of sports personalities speaking out on politics.
Published: April 6, 2018
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Jemele Hill is a journalist for ESPN's website, The Undefeated.

Syracuse University’s Delta Zeta Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. hosted their annual speaker forum on Tuesday, April 3rd. This year, the forum, “Truth Be Told”, hosted Jemele Hill, a prominent African-American sports journalist for ESPN.

The 90-minute conversation led by an undergraduate student on focused Hill’s sports journalism career and the way politics and her own racial struggles have always been a part of it.

Growing up a lover of sports and journalism, Hill cultivated her passion at Michigan State University, where she wrote for print journalism and was also able to cover the 2004 Summer Olympics and the NBA Playoffs.

“I was a real journalism nerd, and I still am,” Hill said, recollecting that she knew she wanted to be a sports writer ever since she was a young girl.

Hill’s ESPN career began in 2006, where she wrote as national columnist for their website ESPN.com. Successfully, she continued her career as a six-year evening anchor of ESPN’s SportsCenter. Now, she is a journalist for ESPN’s website, The Undefeated.

“I love the spirit of competition, being able to through these athletes, learn about all of these different things. All of politics, stories, can be seen through the lens of sports,” Hill said, when asked what was her favorite part about sports.

Hill says she was able to become a prominent voice in politics through her years of experience and gaining credibility and leverage with ESPN.

“I am a black women first, before my job at ESPN,” Hill said, but also stated that she realizes that she resembles ESPN. “I’m in a unique business, where people can’t separate what I do with who I am. No matter personal opinion that I express, they’re going to latch into ESPN.”

In September of 2017, Hill gained national attention when she called President Donald Trump a “white supremacist,” and that he was “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime.”

Shortly after, President Trump and his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said her remarks were a “fireable offense.”

At the forum tonight, Hill chucked and said, “My first thought was, he [President Donald Trump] spelled my name right. I was really impressed with that.”

Through these tweets, the sports anchor has become a prominent figure in the controversy surrounding Trump’s attacks on black sports figures, but she is not worried.

“If you’re a journalist and if someone at city hall wants you fired, that’s a good thing… If that’s their reaction, then you know you’ve done your job,” Hill said.

Hill believes that Donald Trump’s presidency has fueled messages of intolerance and hate towards women, people of color, and minorities.

The anchor cannot separate politics from sports. She says she is terrified, traumatized, and struggles with being black in this country every single day. But that has only made her, and many other people in sports and sports journalism, more ferocious to fight back.

“It seems like he is supporting the message of America is not great, because we are here,” says Hill, as well as mentioning she feels marginalized and under attack, and as if she doesn’t belong.

“People are not afraid to express opinions that 5 or 6 years ago were off-putting or disrespectful.”

Audience-member Malcolm-Ali Davis enjoyed hearing from Hill, and was delighted to have her echo his own thoughts about the Trump administration.

“I think throughout the campaign and now his [Trump’s] Presidency, he has attempted to validate thoughts and feelings that are rooted in discrimination, and I think people of color have to stand up and speak in order to keep these opinions from being marginalized,” Davis said.

But Hill believes there is hope during this time under the Trump administration, because it has emboldened people to fight for change.

“Now, I sense and see an activation level that is inspiring. There are a lot of people activating,” Hill said. “Now we have a wave of athletes that want to be vocal, want to be leaders, the conversation has changed.”

A friend and supporter of Colin Kaepernick, Hill sees him as a beacon of hope, who made the NFL conscious of its’ actions.

“I think Colin is a unique case in a sense that his protest has been the most dynamic sports story in the last 10 years, especially cause he’s not in the NFL,” Hill said. “It has put pressure on sports leagues, not only the NFL, and other players.”

Malcolm-Ali Davis says he thinks Jemele Hill is herself an inspiration to others. She is inspiring journalists to use their platform for standing up for injustices against people of color, he said. He is also impressed by the way she is pushing back against the idea that you have to completely separate yourself and your experiences from your work.

Her main advice to aspiring sports journalists is to choose the issues they want to fight for wisely.

“Know which ones are important to you, and say you know what, I’m going to go all in on this one. That’s how you’ll be more effective,” Hill said. “You need to be focused on one thing to really make a difference.”

Avatar for Gabriela Knutson

is a contributor to The NewsHouse. She is also a Syracuse University athlete, and Broadcast and Digital Journalism student in the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications.