Jemele Hill bucks the conventional wisdom that ‘politics and sports don’t mix’

Detroit native, author and sportscaster returns to Michigan for her book tour

By: - November 17, 2022 10:38 am

Jemele Hill in Detroit on Nov. 16, 2022 | Ken Coleman

During a public interview session at the Detroit Public Library this week, former ESPN SportsCenter co-host Jemele Hill, who’s now a magazine writer and podcaster, said that sports and politics have a natural tie. 

“There are some people who say, ‘politics and sports don’t mix.’ … To me, everything is politics,” said Hill, a Detroit native who reported for the Detroit Free Press from 1999 to 2005. 

ESPN commentator, former National Basketball Association player and fellow Detroiter Jalen Rose appeared with Hill and served as an interviewer during the two-hour event Wednesday that included a book signing. 

Hill’s swing through Michigan this week was to promote her book, “Uphill: A memoir.” On Tuesday, Hill visited her alma maters: Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and Detroit’s Mumford High School, whose auditorium was named in her honor in 2018.  

In the book, Hill, who is African American, writes about her experiences growing up in Detroit, attending MSU and her decision to call GOP former President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” while working at ESPN, which led to her eventually leaving the network.

Jemele Hill and Jalen Rose in Detroit on Nov. 16, 2022 | Ken Coleman

“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists,” Hill tweeted in September 2017 a comment about Trump, who was president at the time. 

“Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period,” wrote Hill in another tweet that week.    

The former president received about 18% of the African American male vote and only 4% of the Black female vote in 2016, according to exit polls, published by NBC News in 2020. He has a long record of racist remarks, reportedly referring to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” during a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators at the White House, a Democratic aide briefed on the meeting told NBC News in early 2018. 

“I was keenly aware that a deeper and larger struggle was taking place in this country,” Hill writes in the memoir. “Black people were fighting every damn day for survival, freedom, and empowerment.”

Trump criticized Hill after her comment and then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the time suggested that Hill’s comment about Trump should be a “fireable offense.”

“I think that is one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make,” Sanders said. “It is certainly something that I think would be a fireable offense by ESPN.” 

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, takes questions from reporters during a Coronavirus Task Force update Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. | Official White House Photo D. Myles Cullen via Flickr Public Domain

Sanders won election as Arkansas’ next governor last week. Trump announced on Tuesday that he will run for president again in 2024. 

Hill was suspended without pay at ESPN after the Trump comment and left the network in 2018. 

“My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light,” she said at the time.

Hill is now the creator of the Unbothered Network, a podcast and production company. She is also a writer for The Atlantic, where she covers the intersection between sports, politics, gender and culture.  

“Sports is a way to talk about dynamics before the rest of society even catches up,” said Hill during the Detroit event.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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