When people see ESPN personality Jemele Hill sitting among a sea of male prognosticators, effortlessly spewing her valued opinions on current and compelling sports topics, not everyone may agree with her—but you have to respect her gangsta.
Although she was raised humbly in crime-ridden Detroit at a time when poverty was protocol, jobs were leaving town and drugs were rampant, Hill’s love for sports and the encouragement of her mom shielded her from turmoil and sharpened her focus as she worked her way up the sports-TV ranks by being deeply knowledgeable, thoroughly experienced and undeniably original. Not yet 40, Hill enjoys a well-earned celebrity status at ESPN as one of the most recognizable faces and unique personalities working for the sports media empire.
I can’t pinpoint an age, but I remember specifically how and why I developed a love of sports. Baseball was my first love. And in those days, you had to read the newspapers to follow your favorite team and players. Now, we couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription. My mother was on welfare, and to earn extra money, she would clean houses.
One of her clients was an elderly guy, and he subscribed to both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. Since my mother couldn’t afford a babysitter, I would have to tag along when she cleaned his house. The reward was that I got to read his newspapers and follow what the Detroit Tigers were doing. I loved the language and how conversational sports columnists were. I’ve loved newspapers ever since.
I always loved writing and was a voracious reader. My parents had a lot of drug issues when I was growing up, and the one thing I loved about writing is that if you don’t like your reality, it allows you to create a new one. I was also a natural athlete. So I was sold once I figured out I could combine sports and writing, my two passions.
I grew up in Detroit, specifically on the west side. I endured a lot of upheaval and uncertainty growing up. My father and I were estranged early on because of his drug addiction. My mother also struggled with addiction and the psychological trauma of being a victim of sexual abuse.