Jemele Hill

Back in July at media festival OZY Fest, Jemele Hill talked about her post-ESPN plans and said “there are other things I want to do besides sports, ” but noted she was still under contract for two more years, and added on Twitter that she was planning for the next 10-15 years and that there was “plenty I still want to do/will do at ESPN.” Well, it sounds like those post-ESPN plans may be kicking in sooner than many had expected. Jim Miller, the plugged-in media reporter and co-author of the Those Guys Have All The Fun oral history on ESPN, tweeted Saturday night that Hill will be leaving the Worldwide Leader Sept. 1 in an “amicable departure,” which came shortly after she met with new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro:

Hill, currently a senior correspondent for ESPN’s The Undefeated, hasn’t yet tweeted about this. But it’s understandable why this might make some sense for both sides. Hill has talked extensively about some possible career changes (especially in that OZY Fest appearance), including moving behind the camera, taking on institutionalized racism, and giving more of a voice to underrepresented people, especially women of color. And she also said in those comments that she wants to create content on race and gender in the news realm, not just in sports. This buyout could let her do that a lot sooner. It could also let her say what she wants on social media without fears of another suspension.

Meanwhile, ESPN appears more eager than ever to change the “ESPN is too political” narrative, with Pitaro saying over and over again that they’re not a political organization, even though they keep getting dragged into political headlines (as with this recent discussion spawned from President Trump commenting on their plan to follow their usual practice of  not broadcasting the national anthem during NFL games). And Hill’s certainly someone who draws criticism as “political” (although even some competitors have said that’s not a fair criticism of her whole body of work), especially after Trump blasted her and ESPN last fall following her tweets calling him “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists” (and more).

ESPN is also certainly eager to move on from the SC6 show Hill co-hosted with Michael Smith, regularly bragging about the ratings boosts they’ve got from moving on from Hill and Smith and SC6 (a show that executive Dave Roberts, who is also black, reportedly called “too black“). That’s also part of executive Norby Williamson’s wider push for a return to a more old-school news-and-highlights SportsCenter, and Hill isn’t as logical of a fit there; in fact, Smith talked about how he and Hill were “muted” in their final months together (before Hill left the show for The Undefeated in January, and before it was cancelled in March) thanks to the leadership changes.  Hill was still providing value to ESPN at The Undefeated, and drawing less fire there than she did on SC6, but it’s also understandable why the company might be fine negotiating an exit with her, letting her move on to what she wants to do and maybe diminishing some of the “political” criticism they receive in the process.

We’ll see what’s next for Hill. She certainly has a high profile and has found success both as a writer and as a TV host, which could make her a fit for a whole lot of media outlets. She was also named the National Association of Black Journalists’ Journalist of the Year for 2018. If she wanted to stay in sports, there’s been some talk that FS1 could be interested in bringing her in, and it’s also possible she might draw interest from the likes of The Athletic. But if she did really want to move beyond sports, or at least partly move beyond sports, there should be plenty of opportunities for her on that front as well. It will be interesting to watch and see where she lands and what she winds up doing.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.