Journalist Jemele Hill made headlines when she parted ways with ESPN in 2018, and the breakup wasn’t pretty.
Now, the storyteller-turned-entrepreneur is further providing details as to what happened behind the scenes between her and the sports media conglomerate. Sitting down with REVOLT TV’s Assets Over Liabilities hosts Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings, Hill was asked about political tweets she made, which she says shouldn’t be controversial at all.
“I didn’t consider it speaking out,” she said. “I considered it ‘telling the truth,’ which is a core principle in journalism. We’re supposed to be truth-tellers on top of being storytellers, and we’re also supposed to hold those in power accountable.”
Hill also revealed that ESPN really taught her lessons about the business of sports journalism and forced her to grow up.
“It wasn’t until I got to ESPN that I really got serious about the business side of journalism because I got to see what people made. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s possible?!’ ESPN forced me to really grow up because it’s a different game being played at that level than it is at the previous places I had been,” she said. “This is the first time I had an agent and the first time I really had to learn how to manage my money.”
Hill added that Michael Smith, her His & Hers co-host on ESPN, made substantially more than her despite them doing the same amount of work.
“I was making $200,000 less than him even though we were doing the same job,” she told Assets Over Liabilities. “It’s not so much about what you’re worth, it’s about what you will negotiate. I started at ESPN at such a low salary to begin with. One of those, ‘We’ll see how it works kind of contracts. A 2-and-2 contract: two-year deal with a two-year option, one of the worst contracts I ever signed.”
She continued: “My first year was $120,000, but that’s as an independent contractor, so that means I had to pay my own taxes and no health insurance. The lesson that I learned, you can’t sell out for a name.”
In 2018, Hill stepped away from her daily spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter. She says she did so because it made her unhappy.
“The thing about ‘SportsCenter,’ [it] was never my dream job, so it was easy to walk away. That’s because I was unhappy. I didn’t like the job,” she recalls. “I didn’t like some of the things they were doing to our show, I didn’t like the leadership that was in charge of our show so I was like, ‘Let me find something else within the company to do.’”
Subsequently, Hill explained that the controversial situation was the motivation for ESPN to release her from her contract and allow her to get back to writing and making less frequent TV appearances.