Jemele Hill gets candid about the “conservative culture” at ESPN that led to her controversial departure after an infamous tweet about ex-President Donald Trump.
“I didn’t fit in well with the ‘SportsCenter’ culture. Definitely not a good fit for the management who oversaw ‘SportsCenter’ at the time. And I got tired. I got really tired of fighting every day to be myself, Hill said on Kenny Mayne’s podcast on Thursday, “Hey Mayne.”
Hill, 46, joined ESPN in 2006 as a columnist. She started hosting the podcast “His & Hers” in 2011 with Michael Smith. The popular podcast became an ESPN2 show in 2013. Hill and Smith were promoted to evening anchors of “SportsCenter” in February 2017.
“SportsCenter was by far the most high profile job I’ve had at ESPN,” recalls Hill. “It was the highest paying job I had at ESPN. But it’s also the worst job I had at ESPN.”
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After she landed 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.”
“By giving us this advice, there’s also an implicit warning in it. That became clear very quickly,” Hill said. “So we already had some creative issues with (management) before Donald Trump… Once that happened and my tweet and all the fallout and the controversy, that just accelerated something that I think was already happening.”
In September 2017, Hill called Trump a “white supremacist” in a series of tweets. ESPN said Hill’s views “do not represent ESPN’s position”. She was suspended a month later after calling for a boycott of Dallas Cowboys advertisers after owner Jerry Jones said he would bank players kneeling during the national anthem.
Hill said ESPN was “trying to play on 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 run by flower kids is just a lie,” Hill said. ‘It’s not like that. Rather it is the opposite. As you know all too well.’
She continued: “When (critics) started seeing my face, Michael’s face got more prominent…then suddenly ESPN is too liberal because what they’re really trying to say is, ‘Oh, you must all be liberal, because you have all these women. and all those black people who are suddenly on my TV every day. So that means this company has definitely 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 because 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 on the mic (sic), it’s no wonder the ESPN ratings have ‘tanked’, in fact, tanked so badly it’s the talk of the industry!”
“Before you know it, they didn’t really want Mike and me in front of the camera. They just wanted a more traditional ‘SportsCenter,'” Hill said. “We didn’t sign up for that. We signed up to do something else. We wanted to bring the craziness of ‘His & Hers’, our previous show, to ‘SportsCenter’, and they didn’t want to.”
Hill said she believes her authentic self was “too much for the ‘SportsCenter’ audience.” She said ESPN was “only concerned about the response.”
“It wasn’t fun for me and that’s why I left,” she said. “I wasn’t kicked out, 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 completely to join The Atlantic in October 2018.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jemele Hill talks about leaving ESPN’s ‘conservative culture’