Jemele Hill is leaving her role as a co-anchor of ESPN’s SportsCenter, a move that comes months after Hill called President Donald Trump a white supremacist on Twitter, fueling a national discussion about the intersections of race, sports, and politics.
Reports of Hill’s departure surfaced early on Friday in stories by the Hollywood Reporter and Sports Illustrated. Both outlets said that Hill will remain at ESPN to work for the Undefeated, an online vertical focused on race, sports, and culture.
A person familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told Vox that Hill’s departure from SportsCenter is of her own choosing, and that she approached ESPN with the decision to leave. Those claims have been corroborated by reports in Sports Illustrated, CNN Money, and other outlets, and were confirmed by Hill herself Friday afternoon.
I have a few things to say ... pic.twitter.com/tqEBXLajtp— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) January 26, 2018
According to a statement from ESPN, Hill’s last day with SportsCenter will be February 2. In addition to her work with the Undefeated, in her new role Hill will also “do occasional pieces for E:60 and will provide perspective and commentary for programs such as SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, Around the Horn, Highly Questionable, Pardon the Interruption and various radio programs and podcasts produced by ESPN Audio,” according to a press release.
“I started at ESPN 11 years ago as a columnist and while I have worn many hats in the time since, my true love always has been writing, reporting and commentary. While I have grown in every way imaginable this last year on the 6 p.m. SportsCenter, deep down I knew it wasn’t my calling,” Hill said in a statement. “I approached [ESPN Executive Vice President, Content] Connor Schell recently and asked if they would consider re-thinking my role. And as has been the case throughout my 11 years at this company, ESPN graciously worked with me to determine the best way for me to continue to do meaningful work.”
Hill began hosting the 6 pm hour of SportsCenter last February. She was thrust into the national spotlight shortly after white supremacist-fueled violence rocked Charlottesville, Virginia, last year when she tweeted that President Donald Trump “is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists,” adding that he was “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime.”
At the time, Hill’s comments quickly attracted condemnation from the White House, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the remarks about the president were a “fireable offense.” President Trump also demanded an apology from the network.
ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
Hill’s tweets, and the White House’s strong reaction to them, made the anchor a prominent figure in Trump’s attacks on black sports figures, a group that includes NFL players involved in ongoing kneeling protests of police brutality and racial justice, NBA player Steph Curry, and basketball family patriarch LaVar Ball.
Hill was reprimanded for her remarks, and in a column for the Undefeated last September, Hill said that while she stands by her beliefs, she did not make them in the correct forum.
“Twitter wasn’t the place to vent my frustrations because, fair or not, people can’t or won’t separate who I am on Twitter from the person who co-hosts the 6 p.m. SportsCenter,” she wrote. At the time, ThinkProgress reported that ESPN looked into firing Hill and replacing her with a different black anchor, only to be rebuffed by other black ESPN employees. The network vehemently denied that plan.
A few weeks later, Hill was once again criticized for her social media use after she condemned Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones for saying that he would not let any player “who disrespects the flag” onto the field, a move that would force the team to take a stance against the NFL protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
Jerry Jones also has created a problem for his players, specifically the black ones. If they don't kneel, some will see them as sellouts.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 9, 2017
If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers. Don't place the burden squarely on the players. https://t.co/Gc48kchkuv— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 9, 2017
Just so we're clear: I'm not advocating a NFL boycott. But an unfair burden has been put on players in Dallas & Miami w/ anthem directives.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 9, 2017
ESPN suspended her for two weeks for those comments. (Trump also weighed in again shortly after Hill’s suspension was announced.)
As Vox’s German Lopez explained last year, ESPN’s moves to punish Hill for the comments were likely the result of the network’s fears that Trump supporters might abandon the network, which was already dealing with declining ratings.
“Hill’s comments may cause a lot of backlash for ESPN, a largely apolitical network that doesn’t want to alienate Trump-supporting viewers,” Lopez wrote. “The reality, however, is that Hill’s remarks didn’t come out of nowhere.”
With Hill now transitioning into a new role, some of these fears may be abated. But Hill herself has been critical of the notion that her comments were uniquely threatening or biased. She told NPR earlier this month, “It’s funny how people pick and choose when they’re OK with politics being in sports depending on how they feel about said politics.”