Sports journalist Jemele Hill came to Jeff Pearlman’s sports journalism class at Chapman to discuss her “impressive, cool and funky” career.
Those are Pearlman’s words, which is one way to describe her experience working for Michigan State University’s newspaper, ESPN and The Atlantic.
Hill compared journalism to the comic book hero, Batman.
“It’s not the hero you need, it’s the hero you deserve … It’s a thankless job, to some extent,” Hill said to the class. “You have to be willing to plow through some things you may not want to do.”
Hill said she has relocated to three different areas in the past year – Connecticut, Washington, D.C., and California. Hill said this is just part of the lifestyle. But what she isn’t used to is facing a controversy of her own.
Hill recently came under fire after her since-deleted tweet Feb. 5 that read, “Nah, she gotta yell: GETCHO HAND OUT MY POCKET.” This was in response to Showtime’s Desus Nice’s tweet wanting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to yell “Whose mans is this?” during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech.
Many called Hill’s tweet a reference to the Malcolm X assassination because the same phrase was yelled seconds before the activist was shot in the chest in 1965. When asked about her thoughts before, during and after the tweet, she looked down, smiled and took a deep breath.
“Given some absurd elements of the State of the Union, at that point, I think I was mostly in a joking mode,” Hill told The Panther. “When I tweeted it, I thought nothing of it at all. It was up for hours; it was up for basically a day before there was any reaction.”
Hill said she realizes many took offense to the tweet, but she didn’t want for her words to be misconstrued.
“You don’t do (journalism) with the idea of becoming rich or famous, because it’s likely not going to happen,” Hill said to the class. “You do it because you believe in something truthful and deeper … You almost have to commit to being in something bigger than yourselves.”
Hill said she played sports growing up and followed her favorite teams through the news. When she started high school, she realized she could combine her interests.
“I loved to tell stories and I was curious. Journalism seemed to check all the boxes for things I enjoyed,” Hill told The Panther.
She received an academic scholarship to Michigan State University, where she worked for the sports section in The State News, her college newspaper.
“I did not get into the profession to necessarily cover (wrestling, volleyball and softball), but the beauty of when you’re thrown into those situations is you end up learning things about sports you probably wouldn’t come into contact with (otherwise),” Hill said.
After graduating from college in 1997, Hill worked at the Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina, but eventually moved to the Detroit Free Press in 1999, covering Michigan State University basketball and football. In November 2006, she joined ESPN where she began her sportscasting career. Since October 2018, Hill has worked for The Atlantic as a sports writer.
“The nature of the profession is to disrupt … to hold people accountable. It’s your job to ask those questions,” Hill said.