Berkeley Talks: Journalist Jemele Hill on the intersection of sports and race

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Portrait of Jemele Hill smiling

Jemele Hill (ESPN photo by Daniel Stark)

On Jan. 23, 2020, Jemele Hill, a staff writer for the Atlantic and host of the podcast Jemele Hill is Unbothered, spoke at UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances about her career at the intersection of sports, race and culture in the U.S. In conversation with with KALW’s radio host and reporter, Hana Baba, Hill touched on the NFL and Colin Kaepernick, what it’s like reporting on sports as a black woman and how her life changed after President Trump tweeted about her.

“I mean, the NFL owners are spineless,” Hill told Baba. “And I knew Colin Kaepernick would never play in the NFL the moment Donald Trump said his name … One of the few things that a lot of people unfortunately agree with the president about is that Colin Kaepernick should not be taking a knee. So, he [Trump] knows every time he says his [Kaepernick’s] name, that it is giving him a level of universal support … that he’s doesn’t experience usually.

“And so, what does that say about people in this country? … We just celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, commemorated him. And the same people I saw talking about how great Dr. King was for his nonviolent protest, are also the same people who think Colin Kaepernick doesn’t deserve to play in the NFL? … But the NFL, I think, as we have seen in the case with Muhammad Ali, as we have seen is the case with a lot of history, 20 years from now, they’ll be telling a different story. They’ll act like all of this never happened.”

Hill has worked as a sports columnist for the Orlando Sentinel and as the chief correspondent and senior columnist for The Undefeated, ESPN’s content initiative exploring the intersections of sports, race and culture. Hill also co-anchors ESPN’s SportsCenter with her longtime friend and colleague Michael Smith. In August 2018, Hill received the Journalist of the Year award by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Hill and Baba’s conversation was part of Cal Performances’ 2019–20 Speaker Series, a season-long series of public presentations by some of the leading creative and intellectual voices of our time, including Maggie Haberman, David Sedaris, Dan Pfeiffer, David Pogue, Laverne Cox and Jad Abumrad — thinkers, activists, strategists, satirists, journalists and pioneers at the leading edge of culture and politics.

Learn more about Cal Performances’ speaker series.