Emmy Award-winning journalist Jemele Hill lives and works at the nexus of politics, sports, culture, and race. The four-channel intersection occasionally results in a dream ride, but more often, it’s a collision, providing the high-voltage commentator with plenty of material in her positions as co-founder of Lodge Freeway Media, staff writer for The Atlantic, host of the podcast Unbothered and frequent Twitter opponent to President Donald Trump.
Bringing the velocity of a Pineapple Express-style storm to the East Bay, Hill appears Jan. 23 at Cal Performances’ Speaker Series. She will speak about her high-visibility career, including early years as the lone African-American female sports columnist in the U.S. at the Orlando Sentinel (2005–6), and her history as former chief correspondent and senior columnist for ESPN’s The Undefeated, coanchor of ESPN’s SportsCenter (SC6) and co-host of the His & Hers podcast with colleague Michael Smith.
Most recently, the National Association of Black Journalists in 2018 selected Hill to receive the Journalist of the Year award. In July 2016, Hill participated with then-President Barack Obama in The President and the People: A National Conversation, a one-hour town hall discussing race relations, social justice, policing, and equality.
Early on, as a columnist-turned-television-broadcaster at ESPN, Hill called herself a “crash-test dummy.” It’s a point well-made in a field that has long favored white males, people of color who are former professional male athletes, or at most, what Hill has referred to as “blondes” — white women relegated to secondary positions on sports talk shows. “Intentional clasher” better describes Hill’s proactive approach.
Unafraid to criticize not only the president, but the NFL and other institutions, Hill seeks honest dialogue and policy changes that lead to improved civil rights. After quarterback Colin Kaepernick famously and controversially knelt during the playing of the national anthem and was blacklisted by the league, Hill wrote in The Atlantic, “The league showed black employees that their livelihood will be destroyed if they question white dominance and threaten the systems that have oppressed people of color for centuries.”
In interviews and columns, Hill outlines the legacy of athletes like NBA star Michael Jordan, whose success as a spokesman for NIKE Hill has said proves an athlete of color can single-handedly carry a large corporation to unprecedented financial success. Basketball star LeBron James carries that tradition forward, demonstrating leadership on the court, but also in the corporate arena and philanthropic initiatives. On Jan. 23, expect a no-holds-barred conversation about current politics, the latest in sports, and how national conversations about social justice, economic inequality and related topics are essential to life.
Cal Performances Speaker Series, Thursday, Jan. 23, 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Playouse. Tickets start at $28