Speaking Truth to Power, One Middle Finger at a Time
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because doing the right thing while damning the torpedoes is badass no matter how you cut it.
By Eugene S. Robinson
- ESPN suspended Jemele Hill twice before they parted ways over her hot take on President Donald Trump.
- She’s subsequently won awards, got a full-time gig at The Atlantic and now hosts not one, but two, podcasts.
Sports journalist and Detroit native Jemele Hill doesn’t fuck around. In fact, she’s lost jobs, peachy jobs — suspended twice and eventually leaving ESPN — because she suffers fools so poorly. Like you would hope any sportscaster not doing PR would do.
“She could have kindly played along and stuck to sports,” says sports columnist Victor Rodriguez. “But she clearly decided, quite correctly, that the truth was more important.” And the truth that got her suspended had almost everything to do with publicly proclaiming President Donald Trump a white supremacist.
Oh-No-She-Didn’t moments are the basis of the 44-year-old’s claim to continued fame. Or infamy, depending on which side of the sports/political divide you sit. “People want to separate their personal lives from sports,” continues Rodriguez. “But that’s a fucking luxury. Jemele knows that all too well and made good and goddamn sure the viewers knew that too.”
Jemele formed a Black woman Voltron.
Alexei Auld, attorney and former sportscaster
It’s a point of view that’s become even more in vogue following George Floyd’s killing and the global anti-racism protests that followed. Perhaps the powers-that-be should have been listening a bit more. “I’ve been stunned when talking to white friends of mine how little they talk about race,” Hill said in a recent appearance on The Time Is Now: Race and Resolution, a town hall television show hosted by OZY and HISTORY. “America became a superpower because of slavery, and you’d be shocked at how many people don’t know that.”
Before TV made her a star, Hill wielded the keyboard with skill, climbing the newspaper ladder from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Detroit to Orlando, Florida — then to ESPN as a columnist in 2006. She snagged notice and awards like the Van McKenzie Cup at the Poynter Media Summit in 2007, but the following year that she was censured for writing that “rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim.”
See, in the U.S., where sports is ineluctably linked with race, Hill apologized but it was ESPN that drew heat. For? For letting the very white former football coach Lou Holtz slide with another Hitler reference the same year. Fair and balanced? The suspicion was: no.
“Jemele formed a Black woman Voltron,” says Alexei Auld, attorney and former sportscaster. “Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells and Angela Davis all taking a blazing sword to that beast of the industry.” Something seconded by the National Association of Black Journalists when they named her Journalist of the Year in 2018, the same year she was canned over the Trump white supremacy imbroglio.
And since one person’s trash is another’s treasure, Hill was immediately snapped up as staff writer at The Atlantic while she kicked off not one, but two, podcasts last year. One, which covers gender, politics, race and sports, is called Jemele Hill Is Unbothered. Because, of course, she isn’t.
“I can’t commit to something that I know isn’t right for me,” Hill told the Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “I wasn’t going to be able to be happy with myself if I didn’t adhere to this calling that’s beckoning me right now.”