Jemele Hill on Doing the Right Thing

Bristol, CT – April 20, 2017 – Studio X: Jemele Hill on the set of SC6 with Michael and Jemele
(Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

By Jemele Hill: A lesson from her grandmother: Be better. No matter what.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but let’s just say I was 11.

I was spending the night at my grandmother’s house with a couple of my close friends. And they had an idea. A terrible idea.

They wanted me to steal a couple of beers from my grandmother. My grandmother, you see, loved to entertain. She had card parties and hosted all the family gatherings, and so she always had an ample supply of alcohol.

I figured with all the liquor she had, she would never miss a couple of beers. So I got my Ethan Hunt on and stole the beers right out from under my grandmother’s nose. I didn’t even drink it. I just wanted to impress my friends, maybe climb a few spots up the unofficial neighborhood G rankings.

As for Ethan? It took my grandmother less time than it takes to solve a case on Law & Order to figure out beers were missing and I was the culprit.

When she confronted me, I cried and immediately confessed to the crime. My grandmother didn’t whip me. All she said was, “I am extremely disappointed in you,” and walked away.

I was heartbroken because I felt like I had let my grandmother, who was one of my best friends, down. And there is no feeling worse than letting down the people who love and support you.

I had not felt that way since … until two weeks ago when I was sitting in ESPN president John Skipper’s office having the most difficult conversation of my career.

It was the first time I had ever cried in a meeting. I didn’t cry because Skipper was mean or rude to me. I cried because I felt I had let him and my colleagues down.

Since my tweets criticizing President Donald Trump exploded into a national story, the most difficult part for me has been watching ESPN become a punching bag and seeing a dumb narrative kept alive about the company’s political leanings.

If we’re keeping it all the way real, that narrative is often pushed by the folks in the media who benefit most from that notion and all the attention that criticism of ESPN brings.

But this isn’t about that. It’s simply indicative of just how complex things get for people in OUR position — especially if you’re a woman and a person of color.

I can’t pretend as if this isn’t a challenging time in our country’s history. As a career journalist, I can’t pretend that I don’t see what’s happening in our world.

I also can’t pretend as if the tone and behavior of this presidential administration is normal. And I certainly can’t pretend that racism and white supremacy aren’t real and that marginalized people don’t feel threatened and vulnerable, myself included, on a daily basis.

Yes, my job is to deliver sports commentary and news. But when do my duties to the job end and my rights as a person begin?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

I do know that we’re clearly living in a time of blurred lines. The president’s recent inflammatory attacks on NFL players, his choice to disinvite the Golden State Warriors to the White House, are just the latest examples of silence being impossible. This is not a time for retreating comfortably to a corner.

Jemele Hill’s Commentary from: The Undefeated