Life, Jemele Hill admits, has been crazy.
As if it weren’t enough to be the co-host of one of ESPN’s marquee programs, Hill complicated an already-heated conversation about the perceived political leanings of the company she works for with withering criticism of President Trump on Twitter, including labeling him a “white supremacist.” Now, in an essay for The Undefeated, she defends her right to speak out after a weekend in which Trump criticized those who choose to protest during the national anthem and said he would not invite the Golden State Warriors to the White House, even as she admits that she chose the wrong platform on which to speak out.
“Twitter wasn’t the place to vent my frustrations because, fair or not, people can’t or won’t separate who I am on Twitter from the person who co-hosts the 6 p.m. ‘SportsCenter.’ Twitter also isn’t a great place to have nuanced, complicated discussions, especially when it involves race,” she writes. “Warriors player Kevin Durant and I probably need to take some classes about how to exercise better self-control on Twitter. Lesson learned.
“Also, let me be clear about something else: My criticisms of the president were never about politics. In my eyes, they were about right and wrong. I love this country. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t want it to be better.”
Hill started this by tweeting on Sept. 11 that Trump “is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists.” Her stance prompted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to say call that was “one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.”
In a tweet, the president demanded an apology.
Although ESPN reportedly tried to take Hill off the air as punishment, she was never absent from the show she hosts with Michael Smith. She writes that she met with John Skipper, the head of the network, and later tweeted: “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. 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.”
Hill, a journalist and columnist at ESPN for 11 years, is in a unique role at a unique time, as ESPN pivots from clips and sports news to debate shows and deep conversations about sports as well as culture. That pivot has people on the right claiming it is skewing left, and people on the left saying it is conservative. It’s a difficult line and a difficult time as ESPN sheds viewers. Hill writes:
I can’t pretend as if this isn’t a challenging time in our country’s history. As a career journalist, I can’t pretend that I don’t see what’s happening in our world.
I also can’t pretend as if the tone and behavior of this presidential administration is normal. And I certainly can’t pretend that racism and white supremacy aren’t real and that marginalized people don’t feel threatened and vulnerable, myself included, on a daily basis.
Yes, my job is to deliver sports commentary and news. But when do my duties to the job end and my rights as a person begin?
I honestly don’t know the answer to that.
The events of last weekend, with demonstrations across color lines by players, coaches and owners at stadiums around the country, and the comments by NBA coaches and stars like LeBron James, who called Trump a “bum,” show that this wasn’t a one-weekend thing. None of this is going away, not with the NBA season looming, another week of NFL games arriving and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers calling for fans to link arms as they stand for the anthem during Thursday night’s game on CBS.
Like everyone else, Hill is going to continue to look to find her footing.
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