“The cost of silence is just too heavy,” ESPN sports journalist Jemele Hill said as she encouraged audience members to participate in activism and political discourse during College Council’s (CC) 18th annual State of Race address.
Hill, a senior correspondent and columnist for ESPN, addressed about 43 people on March 8 at CC’s final event of Social Justice Week at the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Administration Building (WHSCAB) Auditorium.
Hill came under public scrutiny in September 2017 after she referred to President Donald J. Trump as “a white supremacist” in a series of tweets. ESPN later suspended Hill for two weeks in October 2017 when she used Twitter to call for boycotts against the Dallas Cowboys after owner Jerry Jones told his team they would not play if they were disrespectful to the American flag. After her suspension, Hill changed positions at ESPN from being a “SportsCenter” anchor to a writer for “The Undefeated,” a website that focuses on the interplay between sports, race and culture.
Hill said that she regrets using social media to make comments about Trump and that it put her “SportsCenter” co-host Michael Smith in an uncomfortable position.
“While I don’t take back what I said, I would’ve found another way to do it,” Hill said in an interview with the Wheel. “Maybe if it was a part of an actual conversation, it would’ve allowed for the nuance of what I was saying to be understood [better].”
During her speech, Hill discussed race and social justice issues in sports and broader race and gender inequality issues in society, urging the audience to stay optimistic while fighting for social progress.
Hill mentioned a friend’s advice to try bringing people closer 10 percent at a time because it is difficult for significant social change to take effect suddenly.
She used former President Barack Obama’s elections into office and activist Martin Luther King Jr.’s advancements of civil rights as evidence that progress is often met with emotional resistance. When those two leaders made steps forward, some people disparaged them.
In her interview with the Wheel, Hill applauded the younger generation’s fight for social justice, referring to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students’ efforts that have spurred a nationwide movement for gun control reform in wake of the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
“[The younger generations] need to show us the way,” Hill said. “It was amazing because these were young people who had a plan of action and were prepared to speak.”
Hill also said it is most important for people to be optimistic when pushing for social activism and change.
“I noticed by it being a tricky political climate that people feel pessimistic about what our future can be,” Hill said. “I feel optimistic because of the activation I see on a daily basis … I really expect this to have a trickle down effect for generations.”
CC Vice President of Programming Julian Pradeep (19C) said that CC chose Hill due to the way that she connects race, culture and sports, bringing light to issues that some other journalists have not.
“She brought a different perspective on race and politics,” Pradeep said. “She [brought] the aspect of sports that attracted people to the event and also allowed [us] to have this conversation in a different way.”
The theme for this year’s Social Justice Week was “Bringing in the Margins,” according to Pradeep.
Past keynote speakers include former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Sasheer Zamata and Emmy-award winning director Spike Lee.
The event was originally planned for Feb. 22 but was rescheduled to March 8 after Hill encountered a scheduling conflict, the Wheel reported Feb. 28.
“The turnout was a little less [than expected] because the event was rescheduled,” Pradeep said. “I’m still very pleased with the people who did come and took something away from [the event] … I saw people of all different cultures and races come together and learn from an amazing speaker.”
Karissa Kang (21C) told the Wheel that she thought that Hill’s speech was meaningful due to its emphasis on encouraging dialogue on difficult political and social debates.
“Though I do not agree with all of Jemele Hill’s political positions, I do absolutely and staunchly agree with her opinion that people of opposing views must speak with earnest intent to each other about difficult things,” Kang wrote in a March 13 email to the Wheel. “Now that I’m at college, I’m realizing the importance of intellectual diversity, so I’m very glad that Ms. Hill urged us all to engage our peers across political divides.”