Jemele Hill is getting candid about the “traditional culture” at ESPN that led to her controversial exit following her infamous tweet against former President Donald Trump.
“I didn’t fit the ‘Sports Center’ culture. Certainly not the management that was overseeing ‘Sports Center’ at the time. And I was tired. I was tired of fighting every day.” Hill said Thursday on the Kenny Mayne podcast, “Hey Mayne.”
Hill, 46, joined ESPN in 2006 as a columnist. She began co-hosting the “His & Hers” podcast with Michael Smith in 2011. The popular podcast became an ESPN2 show in 2013. Hill and Smith were promoted by the evening. “SportsCenter” anchors in February 2017.
“‘SportsCenter’ is by far the most prestigious job I’ve had at ESPN,” Hill recalled. “It’s the best-paying job I’ve ever had at ESPN. But it’s also the worst job I’ve ever had at ESPN.”
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After landing the coveted role, Hill said several “seasoned ‘SportsCenter’ anchors,” including Mayne, Mike Greenberg and Scott Van Pelt, all gave her and Smith the same advice: “Don’t let them change you.”
“There was also an implicit caveat in giving us this advice. That became clear very quickly,” Hill said. “So we already had some creative issues with (the administration) before Donald Trump… Once that happened and my tweet and all the fallout and controversy, it accelerated what I think was already in the process.”
In September 2017, Hill called Trump a “white supremacist” in a series of tweets. ESPN said Hill’s views “do not represent the position of ESPN.” She was suspended a month after the Dallas Cowboys called for a boycott of advertisers after owner Jerry Jones said he would bench players who kneel during the anthem.
Hill said ESPN is “trying to play both sides of the fence” and denied claims the network is liberal.
“It’s a conservative culture at ESPN and this idea that ESPN is run by flower children is just a lie,” Hill said. “Not so. If anything, the opposite. You know better.”
She continued: “Once (critics) started looking at my face, Michael’s face became more prominent… Suddenly ESPN was very liberal because what they were really trying to say was ‘Oh, you’re all liberal because you’ve got everything. All of these women and all these black people are suddenly on my TV every day. So it means that this company has definitely surrendered to the liberal brigade.
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As a result, Hill said management “wanted to suck the whole personality out of our show because of the headlines, what was being written and all the right-wing media was constantly worried about our show.”
Hill also caught Trump’s attention. In 2017, the former president tweeted: “With Jemelle Hill at the mic (sic), no wonder ESPN’s ratings are ‘tanking’, in fact, it’s the talk of the industry!”
“Next thing you know, they didn’t want Mike and I on camera. They wanted a more traditional ‘Sports Center,'” Hill said. “That’s not what we signed up for. We signed up to do something else. We wanted to bring the craziness of our previous show ‘His & Hers’ to ‘SportsCenter’ and they didn’t want that.”
Hill says she believes her authentic self is too much for the “SportsCenter” audience to handle. ESPN is “only concerned about the reaction,” she said.
“It wasn’t fun for me and that’s why I left,” she said. “I didn’t kick out, the experience was no longer fun for me so I chose to leave.”
Hill left “SportsCenter” in January 2018 for ESPN’s The Undefeated. She left the network entirely to join The Atlantic in October 2018.