Jemele Hill, the “SportsCenter” anchor who found herself in the middle of a political firefight last year after tweeting about President Trump, is leaving “SportsCenter” to work at The Undefeated, ESPN’s sub-site focused on race and culture. Sports Illustrated reported that the move is believed to be Hill’s decision.
The move comes about a year after Hill and co-host Michael Smith took over the 6 p.m. ET “SportsCenter,” rebranded as “SC6.” The duo’s more freewheeling approach to the crusty old highlights-show format was a stark departure from the catchphrase-laden Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann “Big Show” of 20 years ago, and Hill in particular weathered persistent and perpetual criticism.
In a statement, Hill said the move was her own, saying via statement ” … deep down I knew it wasn’t my calling. I approached [ESPN executive vice president] Connor Schell recently and asked if they would consider re-thinking my role.”
(Full statement below)
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) January 26, 2018
Hill became the face of the “ESPN’s gone liberal” movement, in large part because she didn’t remain silent on political issues of the day. In September, she responded to a reader on Twitter with commentary highly critical of President Trump:
Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
He is unqualified and unfit to be president. He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 12, 2017
That was enough to get the White House saying that her actions were a “fireable offense.” Trump himself later blamed Hill and, by implication, left-leaning political affiliations for ESPN’s falling ratings, a convenient scapegoat that ignores the reality of cord-cutting and new means of consuming media. (To wit: why wait for a 6 p.m. highlight show when you can watch highlights right now on your phone?)
Hill was later suspended for two weeks for violation of ESPN’s social media policy, but based on the tweets that got her suspended — suggesting that boycotts work as forms of protest against NFL teams— that appeared to be more a violation of the company’s business connections than a violation of political speech guidelines. Even so, it’s not hard to understand why a corporation might be a bit uncomfortable with one of its most visible faces calling the president a “white supremacist.”
Regardless, Hill’s story is a far more complicated one than the rage-laden anti-ESPN Twitter army wants to believe. Hill wasn’t making political commentary during “SportsCenter;” should she — and, by association, anyone — be barred from airing political views on social media? What kind of ominous precedent does it set when the White House and the President single out an individual for firing? When athletes themselves are making sports political, what’s so wrong with ESPN bringing that political news into the sports realm? And how could anyone seriously think that ESPN—not individual commentators, ESPN the profits-driven global corporation—would want to align itself with any political ideology?
The answers to those questions are far more complex than a full-volume, zero-nuance social media conversation can handle. And that may well be why Hill has decided to move on from the scene of last year’s battles.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.