ESPN PAGE TWO
How do you become a sports columnist? Be a good sportswriter, and also—apparently—be male and white. A recent survey of 305 newspapers found only one black female sports columnist. That was Jemele Hill, ’97, a sportswriter with the Detroit Free Press who was hired in 2005 as a sports columnist by the Orlando Sentinel.
“That was an absolutely startling stat,” says Hill, 31. “And now, there are none.”
In December, Jemele left the Sentinel to become a columnist for ESPN Page 2 and a writer for ESPN The Magazine. “This is a great job and I’m meshing well and having a lot of fun,” says Jemele. “ESPN brings two things no one can match. One, the audience. Two, the web site. It’s international. You write something, and you might get 1,000 emails.”
Jemele’s initial columns have been pretty edgy, but creative and compelling, and at times humorous. She is not afraid to tackle racial angles. “I like to push the envelope,” she notes. “Sometimes you need that to make people think. I’m able to bring a take that’s different or maybe that people will talk about behind closed doors and are afraid to bring out into the mainstream.”
A native of Detroit, Jemele knew at a very early age she wanted to become a sportwriter. At age 15, she had an internship with the Detroit Free Press. “Everybody that worked for them were from MSU,” she recalls. “I found out that the MSU journalism program had a very strong professional network, and that’s why I went to MSU.”
She joined the State News, becoming managing editor, but did not cover sports—opting instead to get a strong news foundation. “(Journalism professor) Steve Lacey was a terrific mentor,” she says. “He taught me a lot about the business.”
She considers herself fortunate for her meteoric rise to columnist. “I certainly didn’t expect it to happen so early,” says Jemele. “I feel blessed that my career has unfolded this way.”