From TV To Podcasting, ESPN’s Jemele Hill Heads To The Atlantic To Cover The Intersection Of Sports-Race-Politics-Culture
Former ESPN host Jemele Hill is heading to The Atlantic magazine, where she’ll have a podcast and be a staff writer covering the intersection of sports, race, politics, and culture.
After 12 years at Disney-owned ESPN, Hill announced in September that she was leaving despite having more than two years left on her contract. She’s getting a $5 million-plus buyout from ESPN, payable in a series of tranches this year and next, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Hill is getting a warm welcome at The Atlantic, where Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg described her as “a Roman candle, fearless and energetic”:
“She’s interested in something I’ve been preoccupied with for a long time, which is the intersection of sports and race and politics. I thought it was a perfect match. Because I want to cover this subject in a serious way,” Goldberg said in an interview with THR contributor James Andrew Miller, host of the Origins podcast.
“I’m not sure that ESPN is particularly interested, especially in television, in standing at the intersection of sports and culture and race and gender and politics,” Goldberg said. “It can be a pretty dangerous corner for some people. But that’s exactly the intersection that I want to be at.”
Hill had a tumultuous past few years at ESPN, partly due to her willingness to speak out, CNN reported.
She called President Donald Trump a bigot and a white supremacist on her personal Twitter account. The White House said it was a fireable offense (and that may have been true if Hill had been working for the Donald Trump reality TV show). Hill eventually apologized.
Another controversy in October 2017 didn’t go so well for Hill. ESPN suspended her for two weeks for violating the network’s social media guidelines over comments she made on Twitter about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the NFL. Jones said that players who protest during the national anthem are disrespecting the flag and will not play.
Hill later said, “If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers. Don’t place the burden squarely on the players.”
The controversies were bad news for ESPN at a time when the network was reeling from a declining subscriber base, Miller wrote. ESPN had lost more than 12 million households over several years in an environment where the cost of TV rights deals was escalating.
Hill, 42, talked about her relationship with ESPN in an interview with Miller:
“It just kind of became obvious to me that the relationship — as good and as fruitful and as beneficial as it was — had really run its course,” Hill said. “I can’t commit to something that I know isn’t right for me, that I know isn’t going to bring out the best in me and that I know is going to be kind of a waste of time.”
Hill’s move to The Atlantic made perfect sense to her, she said in a statement:
“It’s critical to be aligned with people who understand this mission: Sports is a great entry point for exploring what’s happening in the wider society,” Hill said. “You can’t talk about sports without talking about race, class, gender and politics. I want to explore the complications and discomforts with a publication that has a long history of supporting this kind of work.”
The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Goldberg, described Hill as “a wonderfully talented journalist who is famous for her acute commentary, fearless writing and encyclopedic knowledge of sports, but what drew us to Jemele in particular is her deep commitment to reporting. There are a million stories to be uncovered at the intersection where sports, race, money and politics meet, and Jemele is the exact right person to do this uncovering, and The Atlantic is the exact right home for this sort of journalism.”
Hill started working at ESPN in 2006 as a columnist after reporting for the Raleigh News & Observer, the Detroit Free Press and The Orlando Sentinel. She began appearing on The Sports Reporters, Outside the Lines, First Take and SportsCenter, and eventually became co-anchor (along with Michael Smith) of SportCenter’s 6 p.m. edition, known as SC6.
The SC6 show shifted from news to opinion, but wasn’t well-received by viewers, Miller said. He described SC6 as “one of the most misguided and mismanaged misadventures” in recent ESPN history, CNN reported.
Hill’s new boss at The Atlantic says he welcomes the energy Hill will bring to the job. “I like having journalists on our staff who make all sorts of useful trouble, and Jemele, I believe, will make all sorts of useful trouble,” he said.