Jemele Hill on Stadium Flyovers, National Anthem: ‘Those Are All Political Symbols’

Jemele Hill
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Former ESPN host and current Atlantic writer Jemele Hill, recently did an interview with Elle magazine in which she spoke on an issue that she is intimately aware of: the politicization of sports.

Hill, who parted ways with ESPN in September of 2018 after a string of politically-charged tweets targeting President Trump and advising fans on the use of boycotts as a form of protest, grabbed national attention in September of 2017. After she tweeted that Trump was a “white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists.”

President Trump responded to Hill’s attack with a tweet of his own, saying: “With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!”

Yet, when asked by Elle to recall her where she was and how she reacted upon learning that the president had tweeted about her, Hill made it sound like she was almost an innocent bystander to the incident.

I was asleep, and my phone started going off. I don’t follow the president on Twitter, but I think he tweets a lot in the early morning. That day my schedule was such that I didn’t have to work until 12:30 p.m. It was surreal. But I took it in stride. When I got to work, we were making jokes about it. Trump criticizing somebody on Twitter is not new. As big as that moment was in my life and career, there’s no specialness with it. He does it all the time. I was just the latest person.

Of course, Hill was not “just the latest person” to be criticized by Trump on Twitter. She had launched a malicious attack on the president and his entire staff, charging them with racism. Still regarded as the most serious and terrible thing one can be charged with in American public life. Also illustrative is her description of the work environment at ESPN. Why would her colleagues be laughing about one of their most prominent voices getting criticized by the president? As if that’s good for business. And, speaking of business, why would they be laughing about their ratings tanking?

At the time of Trump’s tweet, ESPN was only six months removed from having laid off over 100 employees. Largely due to losing millions of cable subscribers and, as the president correctly pointed out, tanking ratings. In fact, Hill’s own show, SC6, was a major ratings disappointment and would be canceled within five months of Trump’s tweet.

What part of that is funny if you’re an ESPN employee?

Though, things would only get more confusing when Hill was asked what she would say to people who think there’s no room for politics in sports:

People who would prefer that they be separate clearly don’t recognize that sports have always been tied to social issues. Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947, almost 20 years before the Civil Rights Act passed. The moment you go to an NFL game, it is inherently political. You have the national anthem, flyovers, a military presence. Those are all political symbols. Also, every time they put up a new stadium or arena, who do they come to for the money? Taxpayers. So I think that people who don’t want politics in sports are just being, frankly, intellectually lazy. They just don’t want politics they disagree with in their sports. There are so many examples of non-sports issues mixing with sports. ESPN has done some incredible fundraising for cancer. I don’t hear anybody say “stick to sports” when that happens. But when it’s Colin Kaepernick, racism, or police brutality, then they want to stick to sports. That has more to do with the subject than them wanting sports to be absent of heavier issues.

If this country continues down the road it’s on, we may very well one day arrive at a time when Republicans and Democrats each have their own Air Force. However, at least for now, we share the same Air Force. Therefore, a military flyover of an NFL stadium is manifestly not a political exercise. The plane or helicopter is neither a Republican or a Democrat. Nor are the political opinions of the pilot necessarily important, since he or she follows orders no matter who the president is.

While we’re explaining things that even first-graders are aware of, the national anthem is also not a political song. One would draw special attention to the word “national.” Meaning the entire nation, and not a song representing a certain political party or ideology.

Hill is correct in referring to cancer as a “non-sports issue.” However, inherent in the concept of a political issue, is the idea that there has to be another side of the argument. And, given the fact that no one other than Beelzebub and perhaps some extreme population control climate change activists are pro-cancer, that also would be categorized as a unifying and non-political issue. Which, makes it in no way relevant to a discussion about the politicization of sports.

Read the rest of Hill’s interview here, if you dare.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter @themightygwinn

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