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Welcome to a new episode of Office Hours: a podcast where Front Office Sports CEO Adam White has a discussion with figures from throughout the sports industry centered around three basic questions. Those questions are “What’s on your mind today?”, “What are you excited about?”, and “Any big ideas or theories you want to share?”
Jemele Hill is currently a staff writer at The Atlantic and the host of the podcast “Jemele Hill is Unbothered” on Spotify. Hill chats with White in today’s episode about her nearly 12 years at ESPN, the new challenges in her new role, and how the worlds of sports and politics can’t help but intertwine.
Edited highlights appear below:
On exploring new career options after ESPN
Hill: “I think, for me, having spent so long working under and within a particular media model…you work for one sole entity and you do everything within that entity. I wanted the opportunity to explore a little bit more, to play a little bit more. In all honesty, I wanted the freedom to be able to decide for myself what I wanted to be involved with and what I didn’t…So much of what you want to do sometimes or oftentimes conflicts with what the company agenda is. Or, if a company has a certain image, they’re worried about how people might perceive you being in certain spaces. They take all the criticism and the blowback. So you wind up being in a marriage that you feel like you have to do a lot of compromising.”
On the government getting involved in college athletes being financially compensated
Hill: “Human nature is to take as much of the piece of the pie as possible. In this case, the NCAA is getting 100% of the pie and they don’t want it to change. They don’t want to share a slice. They don’t even want to give a bite. Right. Cory Booker, who I recently had on my podcast, he’s made this a huge part of his presidential platform and he has action points about things he plans to do if he’s elected president. But it’s a personal issue for him because he was a college athlete, high school All-American, and he played at Stanford. So he understands the inside of what this looks like. I know there are people in this country who are very resistant when the government gets involved in anything and they consider that to be a sign of weakness or heavy-handed involvement. But in this case, I think it’s absolutely necessary because…if you leave the NCAA to its own devices, it’s going to continue to exploit college athletes.”
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On the delicate state of the NBA’s relationship with China
Hill: “As the game continues to grow more internationally and the NBA becomes a haven for more international players, these situations are going to be at the forefront…I’m not saying that they should pull out of China because that’s unrealistic at this point. The relationship is way too deep and too much money…but how much at some point are they going to keep having to kind of compromise and wager their own credibility to make this work? There’s always a breaking point in those relationships. And so I’m just wondering what will the NBA’s breaking point be? Especially as they look to expand even more into the Chinese market.”
On continuing importance of journalism in her life and in the global landscape
Hill: “Journalists are here to chronicle history and to hold governments, powerful entities, and people accountable. That never goes away. That never gets old despite how many people claim they hate journalists. I say all that to say that I think as long as that’s the case and I’m focused on those things, I’ll be able to adapt whether the method in which I’m reaching people is on a stone tablet or Instagram or something else in the future. I have a couple decent gifts. One of them is journalism, the ability to tell a story and I just think those are gifts that always serve you well no matter what. And so as long as I’m focused on that part of it, I’m not really concerned about where I’ll be in five years because I know as I have been for the last 22 years, I’ll be doing that: telling a story or telling people something that they didn’t know they needed to know.”
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