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In an interview with the N&O, Jemele Hill tells why she’s joining The Atlantic

Jemele Hill worked with ESPN for 12 years and was a sports reporter for The News & Observer from 1997-99.
Jemele Hill worked with ESPN for 12 years and was a sports reporter for The News & Observer from 1997-99.

When Jemele Hill joins The Atlantic later this month, she won’t ‘stick to sports.’

Instead, she will only dive deeper into how sports intersects with race, culture, gender and politics. That’s one of the reasons why she decided to join The Atlantic, she said in an interview with The News & Observer on Tuesday. Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of the publication, announced in a tweet on Monday that they had hired Hill, the former ESPN columnist and anchor.

She said she is also a long time reader and has “always appreciated from afar the kind of journalism they have done.”

“It was perfectly aligned,” Hill said. “I felt like I was looking at the mirror, looking at myself. Looking at my twin.”

How sports associates with politics, race, gender and culture is a discussion that has been at the forefront in recent years, especially after athletes began using their platforms to protest racial injustices. And not everyone liked it. President Donald Trump magnified the discussion when he verbally attacked NFL players at a rally for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality.

Hill was one of the president’s many critics. But when she tweeted in response to someone that she believed Donald Trump was a “white supremacist,” in September 2017, she was criticized herself. Her comments reached the White House, where Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called her tweet a “fireable offense” on national television.

In October, Hill was suspended for two weeks from ESPN for tweeting about Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones. After Jones said he would bench any player who knelt during the national anthem, Hill responded with a series of tweets, including one in response to another tweet suggesting people contact the Cowboys’ advertisers’ corporate offices.

In a first-person account on The Undefeated, Hill wrote that she cried during a meeting with then-ESPN president John Skipper. She said she cried because she felt she had let him down. Skipper, she said, was instrumental in her career and was a supporter and champion for women.

“John understood the reason why I said those things about Donald Trump and that it was not malicious,” Hill recalled. “As a black women in this country, I felt vulnerable and under attack by our own government. He understood that part but that didn’t mean I made his job any easier.”

Hill has since moved on from that suspension, and her stature has increased. She now has over one million followers on Twitter. In January, Hill left as one of the anchors for ESPN’s 6 p.m. SportsCenter show, The Six, to write for ESPN’s The Undefeated. In August, she was given the NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) Journalist of the Year award in Detroit.

And last month, she said she would be leaving The Undefeated to start a new chapter in her life.

Hill said while ESPN crosses many different platforms, the expectation for viewers is that it’s only sports. But with The Atlantic, you know what you’re getting, she said.

“The person who subscribes with The Atlantic is not expecting sports,” Hill said. “You go there specifically looking for that thing.

“The ‘stick to sports’ crowd, I don’t know what they would say to me joining The Atlantic.”

Hill, who was a sportswriter at The News & Observer from 1997 to 1999, said she will start with The Atlantic sometime this month. She said the thing that she’s most proud of is that she’s survived in journalism for 21 years and has grown as a journalist and a person.

“I think I’ve been able to survive in the business as long as I have because I’ve never allowed my integrity to be compromised, and that means a lot to me,” Hill said. “Lord willing I’ll last the next 10 years using that same blueprint.”

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander