For years, whenever complaints about ESPN being “too political” came up, anchors Jemele Hill and Michael Smith were pointed to as the primary culprits. Their race was always the subtext, though no one—least of all ESPN—seemed to want to call attention to it.
But now that Hill has taken her talents to the Atlantic, where she will be writing for the magazine as well as for TheAtlantic.com, she can finally say outright what we all knew to be true.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter—her first since parting ways with ESPN on Sept. 14—Hill noted that “Mike (Smith) and I specifically were called political, way before any of the Trump stuff ever happened.”
The “Trump stuff,” of course, refers to Trump’s targeting of Hill after she tweeted that the president was a white supremacist. ESPN suspended Hill for the post, while The White House itself suggested Hill should be fired.
“I always thought that [being ‘political’] was a very interesting label, because frankly, I think that most of the time it was said because we were the two black people,” Hill told THR.
And Hill burnished the receipts.
“It wasn’t our fault that Chance the Rapper decided to wear a Colin Kaepernick T-shirt and say that he wasn’t supporting the NFL,” she said. “We didn’t have him on the show for that. We had him on the show to talk about him being in Vegas for Mayweather-McGregor. But because you have the two black people that are outspoken, with another outspoken black artist, suddenly the show is too political.
“Looking at it from their viewpoint, of course, it would be easier not having me around” at ESPN, Hill conceded.
She added, “I don’t even take it personally. But the truth of the matter is that part of the reason they have been swimming endlessly in this narrative that they’re too political is because of me.”
The Atlantic, for its part, is welcoming Hill with open arms.
“Put it this way, my journalistic interests are somewhat different than Disney’s,” Hill’s new boss, Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg told THR. “Let me be diplomatic. I’m not sure that, as a consumer of ESPN products, 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.”
Goldberg referred to Hill as a “Roman candle,” saying she was fearless and energetic.
Perhaps borrowing a line from civil rights icon, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, Goldberg added,“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.”