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Jemele Hill

Jemele Hill is seen at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Friday, July 5, 2019, in New Orleans.

Jemele Hill

Jemele Hill is seen at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Friday, July 5, 2019, in New Orleans.

Jemele Hill holds nothing back in her new memoir ‘Uphill’

Jemele Hill is seen at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Friday, July 5, 2019, in New Orleans.


Jemele Hill worked for 12 years as a journalist at ESPN. Four years after leaving the network, Hill still covers sports, but the subject of her writing is much broader than that.

The Atlantic columnist recently published her first memoir Uphill — a thought-provoking, humorous and inspiring account on becoming an influential sports journalist and media iconoclast.

Reset interviewed Hill about being a Black woman in sports media and how she found her voice as a writer and cultural critic.

On going to therapy

Well, I actually have very positive thoughts on therapy because there were a number of my friends who were undergoing therapy, and they all had really positive experiences. We all talked about how much it really helped them. I always thought that it was something where I was impressed with the fact that in our community — as in the Black community in particular — it really has changed in terms of the conversations. So now I think people feel much more open about it. I didn't have any stigmas about going to therapy.

On publicly sharing her abortion story

What I wanted to do is share my story because I think people have it in their mind who deserves to have abortion access and who doesn't. Sometimes those perceptions are really based off stereotypes. Here I was a woman in my mid-20s who felt like she had a pretty solid career plan ahead of her and I didn't want a kid, and so I made the choice I felt like was best for me. I know that people don't really think of abortion as something that touches a lot of peoples’ families or a lot of women that they know, but I guarantee that most people know someone who has either had an abortion or paid for one.

On becoming the only Black female sports columnist in the country

I was the only Black female sports columnist in the country — and at a daily newspaper. And then the other part of it is knowing that — and unfortunately, this is still the case, and I don't think it's just something that's germane to the newspaper industry — but whenever you're the first, the only, one of those sort of solitary kind of positions, that means that you know innately that everybody is going to judge how you perform, and use that to cast a wider judgment on everybody you represent. So if I don't do well in that job, or if I struggled, then that means that Black women inherently don't deserve to have that position. So that's something that I was very aware of.

When you're young and you're trying to grow into your own voice, that's a hard responsibility to bear, because you're gonna make mistakes, and you don't have it all figured out. And you're gonna have to go through some growing pains until you do find your voice and you do get your rhythm. But as you're doing that, are you going to get grace? And a lot of times that’s not the case, because people are looking for a reason to prove you don’t belong.

On going viral for calling Donald Trump a white supremacist on Twitter in 2017

I was very caught off guard, because [of a] few reasons. One: it was just a little more than a month after Charlottesville. And so I thought that once that happened, that we had all — collectively somewhat as a country — just agreed that the persona that this man had was something that was very dangerous, bigoted, all those things. And I thought Charlottesville really proved that.

But it turned out that to a lot of people it did not prove a thing. It didn't prove a thing. I was in a back-and-forth with somebody on Twitter who was — I thought — defending Donald Trump a little too hard, very hard, in fact. And so when I said that about the president, I had no expectation whatsoever that this will become a thing, because I didn't really think what I had to say was really all that controversial.

On getting married in her 40s

It's about station in life, and I mean that both mentally and physically. Because mentally, physically and financially, I think I got married when I was my best self. And that’s not to say I didn't have more improvements to do or more growth, but I was just really stable in a lot of areas. And I met someone who was basically at the same level. We’re both homeowners, we both had thriving careers, and we both are willing to put in the work to make things work. Even though when we first started dating, neither one of us came into it with the idea that we’re going to be married, the fact of the matter is, I guess it kind of chose us. And so whenever we’re dating it's like, “hey, you know what, this could actually work.”

This transcription was edited for clarity and brevity. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the red audio player above.

Claire Hyman is a digital engagement producer at WBEZ. Follow her @hyimclaire.

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