Column: In defense of Jemele Hill
One of the biggest powers one has as a popular writer or reporter is the ability to use their platform to speak out on social issues. Many journalists stay quiet about politics and other touchy topics, but the few that take a stand are the ones truly making an impact.
Earlier this week, ESPN anchor and former State News reporter Jemele Hill tweeted out, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”
Of course, the tweet resulted in a media frenzy. Conservatives called for her head and the White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the tweet a “fireable offense.”
President Trump unsurprisingly weighed in on the issue Friday morning, tweeting “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”
In response to the outcry, ESPN apologized and condemned Hill’s actions. Hill apologized for expressing personal beliefs on behalf of ESPN, but never apologized for her Trump comments. She is standing strong with her beliefs.
As a young writer, this is an act that I look up to. Hill already faces an uphill battle as a black woman in the sports journalism world. And instead of bowing out and keeping her head down, Hill used her extensive fan base to make a statement.
This is courageous. Her employer is not supporting her and the public, including the most high profile person in America, is calling for her job. She, like NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, is putting her livelihood on the line to speak up for something that matters. Sometimes, there are more important things than sports.
Should Hill be fired? Absolutely not. She tweeted, admittedly, a divisive opinion and is only garnering hate from those who are uncomfortable with it. Firing someone who voices their thoughts in an open forum sets a precedent for tyranny amongst big employers — firing anyone who speaks out against the general public.
It’s a scary, slippery slope that will snowball if a big corporation like ESPN starts a trend.
Other journalists, thankfully, have been standing behind Hill. The day after her tweet went out, a report came out that ESPN actually tried to take her off of the air for her 6:00 pm ET showing of “SportsCenter.” They tried to replace her with two other black anchors, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, who both declined to take Hill’s place. Furthermore, her co-host, Michael Smith, refused to do the show without her.
Colleagues taking stands like this is what’s going to save Jemele Hill’s job, regardless of whether that’s fair or not. If a large majority of journalists stand by Hill, the sports network will have no choice but to keep her on air.
Let me tell you this: I am thoroughly honored to work at The State News — at the same place that Hill got her start.
If I can be half the writer and make half the impact she’s made on the community, I will be fulfilled. She’s everything you could ask for in a great journalist and I will continue to defend her actions for as long as she’s fighting the good fight.
Jemele Hill, I stand by you.