When Jemele Hill walks behind her desk at ESPN, she knows her voice is for more than just sports.
Hill came to Ohio State Tuesday night in partnership with OUAB and its “Voice Your Vision” week to speak about her experiences as an African-American woman in the sports world and the balancing act that comes with her career and activism.
Hill has become a household name for sports fans, after years of working her way through the ranks at ESPN. She joined the network in 2006 as a national columnist and then moved to the broadcast operation, making occasional commentary appearances. Then in 2011, ESPN ordered her own show with her good friend, Michael Smith.
As an active member in the sports community, dealing with criticism of her sports commentary is nothing new to Hill. Her persona and opinions are broadcast to millions of viewers weekly on the largest sports broadcasting network in the world, and when you add social media to the equation, Hill became a target for unwarranted opinions from viewers of her show.
Recently, Hill departed from a sports-only approach to her career and began voicing her opinions on social media about social issues as the political climate became more polarized. Unsurprisingly, the criticism came en masse.
“You have to pick your battles,” Hill said. “Part of picking your battles means that when you do speak out, you have to have the leverage to accept the consequences that come with it.”
In 2016, when athletes of all genders and races began to protest the inequality and police brutality of African-Americans in the United States by taking a knee during the national anthem, there was both praise and criticism of these athletes, sparking debates on who should and should not use their platform for political discourse. That’s when Hill became involved in the discussion.
Hill began publicly voicing her opinions on Twitter, including thoughts on the protests as well as the current White House administration. Hill received backlash online from ESPN viewers, and the president of the United States, for the comments she began making. At one point in 2017, Hill was suspended by ESPN for a tweet that criticized Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
“The ‘stick to sports’ crowd, who I think is generally intellectually lazy, have to keep in mind that [sports figures] are full citizens,” Hill said. “They pay taxes, they have children, they’re invested in education and all the things that the rest of us are invested in.”
This disapproval online did not deter her from entwining her political views and her career, in fact it is the contrary. Hill decided to go back to her writing roots, joining ESPN’s The Undefeated, which infuses sports and social commentary while highlighting black voices. She said she is excited to be a part of an organization that embraces the intersection between sports, race and culture.
Moving forward, Hill acknowledges her place as a woman in the sports world and tells young women looking to find their place in sports to learn very early what they can and cannot handle.
“You have to have a stomach for certain things,” Hill said. “At the end of the day, for anybody, whether you’re in Year One of your profession or Year 20 like me, is you have to know very clearly what you can live with and what you can’t.”