Jemele Hill has been the topic of lots of conversation this week after she called Donald Trump a bigot and white supremacist in a Twitter rant on Monday. ESPN issued an apology for her words, while many athletes — out of work or otherwise — have rallied to support her.
Hill and her SC6 cohost Michael Smith were featured in a fortuitously-timed piece in The Ringer that was published on Wednesday. In it, the two argued that the SportsCenter show they air daily is much more tame than the opinions they may have outside the studio, and that ESPN isn’t pushing any particular narrative with their broadcasts.
Hill said many of the statements she makes that drum up controversy never actually make it on air, and that’s intentional.
“Because we’re SportsCenter, we overthink a lot,” Hill told Ringer Editor-At-Large Bryan Curtis in the piece.
“We’re like, ‘Does this fit the SportsCenter brand?’ ‘Would this be OK?’ It’s not [ESPN executives] — they’re not putting pressure on us to do that. It’s just we’re in our own heads about it. … That’s some of the downside of how the label can suffocate you.”
Bomani Jones also spoke to Bryan Curtis for the piece and said much of the criticism that comes Hill’s way is unfair.
Bomani Jones told me: “Part of the bargain you’re going to get here is people will be screaming at your avatar on television. You’re not even a human being to them. It can be frustrating at times. But as much as I get it, I’m still a man. Discussing sports is a level of privilege afforded to me. People may not like my perspective, but they still think I’m entitled to have it and express it on this platform by virtue of this penis I have.
“As a woman,” Jones said of Hill, “she has to shake off people who have convinced themselves they watch sports to escape their wives or girlfriends. She’s catching it worse than anybody else.”
The overall narrative that ESPN is skewing liberal is a fairly recent phenomenon, one started by conservative critics who say the network should stick to sports and keep political discussions off the airwaves. One such commentator, Clay Travis (who has been attacking ESPN for quite some time), drew specific ire from Hill for “playing a character” that’s nothing like the person she met back when they were both writing and reporting.
“It’s almost like a wrestling heel.” she said. “I would just like to know if he can generate any kind of traffic without ESPN’s name in his mouth.”
Hill also called the term “social justice warrior,” a common refrain from conservative critics used to criticize those on the left, as a dog whistle for more offensive labels.
“There’s a certain crop of people who’s not trying to see ESPN get more ethnic, more gender-balanced …” Hill said. “As a discredit to all of us, they use words like too ‘liberal’ or too ‘politically correct.’ As if there’s ever been this widespread movement in television to just give black people and women shows. No, it’s been the exact opposite.”
She continued: “That term is funny: ‘social justice warriors.’ What are they talking about? … Whenever I hear that, I’m like, I know what you really want to call me.”
The whole piece a pretty fascinating look at how the network tries to schedule its 6 p.m. SportsCenter, which is a lot more complicated than you’d think. It also includes a funny anecdote about how Smith and Hill first met, in which they were too busy playing ‘Madden’ to hang out with one another.
It’s clear ESPN is committed to making Smith and Hill work in their roles as SportsCenter hosts, which means they’ll just generate more outrage from conservatives no matter what they say on air.