Jemele Hill’s career is one that has propelled her into a household name in the world of national media. The Michigan State grad and Detroit native has never been afraid to speak her mind, sparking national interest from all who read, watch, and listen to her work. WKAR’s Al Martin speaks with Hill in this first installment of the four-part series, “Jemele’s Journey.”
For years Jemele Hill broke down the X’s and O’s in the sporting world, and now she’s known for much more.
From “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to ABC’s “The View.”
But, who REALLY is Jemele Hill?
Some say broadcaster. She worked nearly 12 years for the ESPN sports network. Some say, writer. The pen is what propelled her career. Able to analyze the scores and top moments in sports with a splash of pop culture references.
That social commentary steered into a defining moment of her career.
A controversial tweet from Hill that went viral, addressing President Donald Trump after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
In a tweet Hill called Trump a “white supremacist”...a moment that flipped her world upside down.
“It changed my life in a million ways! It’s not just one," says Hill. "Yea, obviously I was used to being known among sports fans. Sports fans both diehard and casual. But then suddenly it’s a whole new group of people that have been introduced to me and introduced to me in this way. It was in a particularly calm way, but in something that was very provocative, I guess you could say. So, um, there are people that I meet now, or people that ask me for a picture, or talk to me just because they recognize me who don’t even know what I did at ESPN. They only know me from that."
At the time, Hill was the co-host of “Sportscenter,” ESPN’s flagship show. Hill took a leave from the show and ESPN issued a statement saying that her comments “do not represent the position of ESPN.” Hill only regrets it painted ESPN in an “unfair light,” but stands by the message.
"We’re not really used to an administration behaving in this way. Even within the fierce competitiveness of politics, it was a certain decorum that was expected and that decorum is not there so the media is constantly caught off guard and on their heels," says Hill. "You know, it could be with very simple things. The President has outright lied on a number of things. Facts that can be check that are easily refutable. But when you read the headline it says he mislead or, ya know, they use every word but what it is, which is...it’s a lie! Ya know? And it’s a purposeful lie. It’s not one of those things where it’s accidental, or he just misspoke, or he misremembered. No. It’s just an actual lie."
But does Jemele Hill call herself an activist?
“I mean, people have described me as an activist. Which, I appreciate the compliment, but I’m not. I am still a journalist."
That journalist was born and raised in 1975 in Detroit, Michigan. While at Mumford High School, her interest in reporting began. She would attend Michigan State University and get her degree in journalism, working hard after college and eventually working her way into a prominent role at ESPN.
While at ESPN, Hill was highly critical of MSU’s handling of the Larry Nassar scandal. The former MSU gymnastics doctor was found guilty in January of 2018 of sexually abusing young women and girls.
"I mean Larry Nassar doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There was leadership fails at every level. Which, I think everybody knows and it’s pretty obvious what those leadership fails were."
A week after Nassar was sentenced in Ingham County Circuit Court and MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon stepped down, the Michigan State men’s basketball and football programs came under fire.
ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reported on MSU basketball and football players being accused of sexual assault. No criminal charges were filed in light of the report. Hill believes the reports were justified.
"There were some questions that were posed about how our two biggest sports..ya know, football and basketball. How they have handled sexual assault allegations. And I know it was difficult because of how highly people think of Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio. I think very highly of them to, but I also think that there’s an added responsibility to both of them because they’re the face of this university. Tom Izzo, in particular, is the face of Michigan State. And so when the questions began about his program, I thought he should answer them.”
Hill produced a column entitled “It’s time for Tom Izzo to stop deflecting and start talking” in “The Undefeated,” ESPN’s sports and pop culture website.
“I did. And it did not win me any friends around here, that’s for sure,” says Hill. "Izzo and I were fine, but there were some other people in the basketball program that definitely took issue with what I said. I never called for him to be fired. I never said anything like that."
Hill doubts whether a few, once strong, bonds at MSU will ever be repairable.
"And I wrote the piece for The Undefeated and I’ll be frank...I don’t know if some relationships will be the same because of that. And I’m ok with that because I felt like I could not credibly or justifiably have a platform and act as if everything was ok here because it wasn’t."
In light of the most troubling chapter in the universities history, Hill still has so much love for the Green and White.
"You know, students I’ve talked to since and even the students I talked to last year when I was here...is that regardless of Larry Nassar...look...he’s not going to make me feel ashamed about my degree here, or about the time I spent here," says Hill. "I met some of my best friends here. I grew as a person here. I grew as a journalist here. Larry Nassar isn’t going to have that kind of power over me and they shouldn’t let him have that kind of power over them either. There is nothing about what you have done here. If you have gone to this university, you are proud of it. You have achieved and accomplished something here. Larry Nassar has nothing to do with you and you should feel proud to wear the green and white and to be proud that you went to this university.”
In the Fall of 2014 Hill was named Grand Marshal of the MSU Homecoming Parade. It was that weekend that she met her fiance, Ian Wallace, also an MSU grad. So, who is Jemele Hill? A journalist. A Spartan. And someone who you’ll continue to hear about on the national stage for years to come.
Note: Hill is now a staff writer for “The Atlantic,” covering sports, race, politics, and pop culture. She has also launched a new podcast in April entitled “Jemele Hill is Unbothered.”