ESPN Hasn’t Yet Realized That It Needs Jemele Hill More Than Jemele Hill Needs It

John Sciulli/Getty Images
John Sciulli/Getty Images

The president of the United States and his administration are in a de facto state of war against anyone who isn’t male, anyone who isn’t straight, anyone who isn’t white, anyone who isn’t Christian, anyone who isn’t wealthy, and anyone who doesn’t place the interests of straight and wealthy and Christian white men above the interests of everyone else. He has made this plain repeatedly and unambiguously with his words, his actions, his policies and his appointments, since his only political agenda is to retain the value of whiteness (white maleness, particularly) and reverse everything his black predecessor did.

Recently, he specifically targeted his ire at the predominantly black athletes of the NFL (and NBA), calling on his friends (the white owners) and his base (the mostly white fans) to put these men in their place. And they have responded to the call from their leader. Boos, beer and even death threats rain down from the stands on those who’ve decided to use the anthem to bring attention to racial injustice, and owners have ordered their employees to behave or else.

One of these edicts came from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who declared that any player who disrespects the flag won’t play—a clear line drawn in the sand and a message communicating to his fanbase and his owner (the president) that they shouldn’t worry because he’s getting his niggers in line.


Jemele Hill is perhaps, after her truth-telling tweets about Donald Trump last month, the most famous sports-media personality in the country—a status that combines with her talent and her blackness to place her in a unique position to articulate exactly what’s wrong with what Jerry Jones is doing and exactly how to combat it. ESPN, Hill’s employer, is in the unique position of possessing an opportunity to circle their wagons around this star. Which would undoubtedly lose them customers and money today but would place them on the right side of history. Which is where Jemele Hill will be.

Instead, they chose to suspend her—a craven and transparent attempt to appease a base that will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be satisfied unless all black athletes and media personalities either become mutes or Jason Whitlock. And along with being fucking wrong, this choice was remarkably shortsighted. They are, through their cowardice, making themselves a willing agent of an evil president. And if somehow, through the grace of God, we’re not all vaporized because of World War III, history will look back at the companies who chose ratings over being right and money over not being gutless bastards bending to the will of a triflin’ bum, and it will thumb its nose at these fucks.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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So what’s next? It’s clear a lot of white people simply want black people to shut the fuck up, and a lot of other white people are willing to get out of the way. Very few news organizations covering this are talking about police brutality so the conversation is almost entirely about who and who isn’t being patriotic. How do we change the conversation? How do we stop people from ignoring the root cause of the protest with impunity?