Poe’s Perspective: Jemele Hill’s departure is a loss

Julia Poe | Daily Trojan

When it comes to women in sports, there are few who I look up to more than Jemele Hill.

Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of sports broadcasting. There are a few too many (read: way, way, way too many) self-involved commentators to keep me interested in the business. I’ve never understood why so many of my sports-loving friends eat up anything and everything that Stephen A. Smith spouts, or why Bill Walton’s pointless anecdotes somehow garner so much attention and affection throughout Pac-12 basketball fans.

In the many years since I first started watching sports, I’ve watched what I consider to be a devolution of sports broadcast journalism. Especially in the wake of the “pivot to video,” companies are more likely to fixate on tabloid topics that bait viewers — cue some sort of sound byte from LaVar Ball, or yet another debate about whether or not Tom Brady is the GOAT. At this point, I can’t stand it.

This distaste was probably bred by my parents, who are perhaps even more particular than I am when it comes to television commentary. When I was young, they muted the television whenever we watched Chiefs games in favor of the voices of Kevin Harlan and Len Dawson, and the celebratory “Touch-dowwwwwwn Kansas City” cheer came to define my childhood. My dad has taken to watching SportsCenter with the sound off, watching the highlights while foregoing “all that yapping,” as he has called it more than once. And whenever we watch a Kansas basketball game, I’m pretty much guaranteed to get an earful about how horrible the announcers are — especially if, God forbid, Dicky V has been selected to call the game.

I’m perhaps not as picky as my parents are, but I do struggle with the state of many broadcast shows. Unless you’ve lucked out and stumbled upon a 30-for-30 rerun, most ESPN shows possess the substance of a potato chip, regurgitating the same couple of stories and recaps for hours at a time while completely ignoring coverage of important topics — women’s sports, NFL assault convictions and the like — supposedly because that isn’t what interests viewers.

At this point, I’ve realized, most of the broadcasters who I prefer to listen to are women. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the men who grind my gears the most are the ones who feed off that machismo swagger of the Man Who Loves Sports, rather than sticking to the stats. Or maybe it’s because the sexism of the sports world only allows the women who are truly the very best-of-the-best-of-the-best to rise to the top of the broadcast industry.

Regardless of the reason, I have, on more than one occasion, yelled at a friend or family member to shut their mouths while Holly Rowe is providing a 30-second byte of information from the sidelines. I’m rarely out of class during Katie Nolan’s weekly show, “Garbage Time,” but I always find time to watch it that night so I can tank up on her tireless wit.

And, of course, there’s Jemele Hill. She’s almost unmatched when it comes to her ability to balance humor with raw edge to create sports commentary that is both meaningful and thoughtful. Hill provides the kind of analysis that I often feel is missing from modern sports broadcasts, and whether she’s covering sports on or off the field, she brings humor and heart, something sorely missing among men shouting over one another.

This is why I actually audibly cheered when Hill earned a slot as a SportsCenter anchor last February, and why I almost threw my phone across the room when I saw the news this weekend that her brief stint had come to a close. Like many others, I figured at first that it was some sort of behind-the-scenes scandal — ESPN had, after all, suspended Hill last year for using her platform to make political statements.

When she announced that she had made the decision to turn to print, Hill earned my ultimate respect. She’s now headed to The Undefeated, an ESPN publication that covers sports, race and culture. Her presence will be a perfect fit that will boost a website stocked with important coverage.

Yet, although I eagerly await her return to writing, Hill’s departure feels like a huge hit for sports broadcasting. For one, it’s a loss for the multitudes of young women who dream of making it in sports and have far too few faces to look up to, and that loss will hit the population of young black women who are even more aggressively marginalized.

Few women possess the clout that Hill held during her time on SportsCenter, and having the success of a woman of color broadcast every night at 6 p.m. EST provided more inspiration than even she could probably understand. I know that feeling all too well, because I constantly look to Kate Fagan — one of very few out LGBT women in sports journalism — for inspiration.

And Hill’s voice was also one of few that cut through the bull of sports media, which often feels like more of a reality show than anything else. As the “pivot to video” phenomenon continues to grow, many have pointed out that broadcasters are pulling punches to provide more fluffy content — Fox Sports, for instance, failed to mention the sexual assault case of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar once throughout the trial and ensuing NCAA investigation. In this climate of lackluster content, Hill’s willingness to question the status quo came as a breath of fresh air.

At the end of the day, I can’t be anything but happy for Hill, who remains one of my favorite journalists. Her work in the industry began in print, and her return to writing is expected to be exciting and scathing.

Hill took a lot of heat, mainly because she’s a black woman who is completely unafraid of what anyone has to say about her or her opinions. I’m sure that heat will follow her to The Undefeated, along with the Twitter horde that constantly spams her with everything from insults to threats of violence.

But I hope she knows that she’ll also be followed by many fans — especially women like me — who will look to her for guidance when navigating the sports world. The Undefeated gained a powerful asset this weekend, and I personally can’t wait to see where Hill goes from here.

Julia Poe is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Tuesdays.