Jemele Hill is getting candid about the “conservative culture” at ESPN that led to her contentious departure following an infamous tweet about ex-President Donald Trump.
“I wasn’t a good fit for the ‘SportsCenter’ culture. Definitely not a good fit for the management that was overseeing ‘SportsCenter’ at the time. And I got tired. I got really tired of fighting everyday to be myself,” Hill said Thursday on Kenny Mayne’s podcast, “Hey Mayne.”
Hill, 46, joined ESPN as a columnist in 2006. She began co-hosting the “His & Hers” podcast with Michael Smith in 2011. The popular podcast went on to become a ESPN2 show in 2013. Hill and Smith were promoted to evening anchors of “SportsCenter” in February 2017.
“By far ‘SportsCenter’ was the most high-profile job I’ve had at ESPN,” Hill recalled. “It was the best-paying job I had at ESPN. But it’s also the worst job I had at ESPN.”
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After landing the coveted role, Hill said many “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.”
“Giving us this advice there’s an implicit warning that’s in there, too. That became really evident very quickly,” Hill said. “So we were already having some creative issues with (management) before Donald Trump… Once that happened and my tweet and all the fallout and the controversy, that just sped up something that was already I think in 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 later after calling for the boycott of Dallas Cowboys advertisers after owner Jerry Jones said he’d bench players who knelt during the anthem.
Hill said ESPN was “trying to play both sides of the fence” and denied claims that the network was liberal.
“It’s a conservative culture at ESPN and so this idea that ESPN is being run by flower children is just a lie,” Hill said. “That’s not how it is. It’s the opposite, if anything. As you know all too well.”
She continued: “Once (critics) started seeing my face, Michael’s face become more prominent… then suddenly ESPN is too liberal because what they’re really trying to say is ‘Oh, y’all must be liberal-leaning because you got all these women and all these Black people who are suddenly on my TV everyday. So that means that this company has certainly given in to a brigade of liberalism.'”
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As a result, Hill said management “wanted to suck all the personality out of our show as they were so concerned about the headlines, what was being written and all the right-wing media constantly coming for our show.”
Hill even caught the attention of Trump himself. In 2017, the former president tweeted: “With Jemele Hill at the mike (sic), it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!”
“Next thing you know, they didn’t want Mike and I on camera as much. They just wanted a more traditional ‘SportsCenter,” Hill said. “That’s not what we signed up for. We signed up to do something different. We wanted to bring the craziness of ‘His & Hers,’ our previous show, onto ‘SportsCenter’, and they didn’t want that.”
Hill said she believes her authentic self “was too much for the ‘SportsCenter’ audience to handle.” She said ESPN was “only worried about the reaction.”
“It was no fun for me and so that’s why I left,” she said. “I didn’t get kicked off, I chose to leave because the experience wasn’t fun for me anymore.”
Hill left “SportsCenter” in January 2018 for ESPN’s The Undefeated. She left the network entirely to join The Atlantic in October 2018.