Jemele Hill Responds to Sage Steele’s Controversial Comments

In Summary

Jemele Hill gives criticism to the ESPN host’s comments on vaccine mandates, Obama’s racial identity and the appropriateness of women in the industry. 

ESPN’s Sage Steele recently made some controversial comments around vaccine mandates and Obama’s racial identity, which has drawn reactions from many. 

Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, sounds off in response to her comments in an interview with BNC’s Charles Blow. 

“I think there was a lot of levels to what she said. Obviously having worked at ESPN for 12 years, I know how the company operates. And when those comments that she made with the vaccine, let’s start there first,” Hill tells Blow. 

Hill’s hypothesis is that those comments didn’t go over well with ESPN’s parent company Disney, telling Blow the company doesn’t like that type of criticism, at least publicly. 

Sage Steele
Sage Steele arrives at the ESPY Awards at Microsoft Theater on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

“My guess is that probably didn’t play over very well inside the building because that’s a direct criticism of company policy,” Hill added. Since her comments were on such a polarizing subject, they will have definitely angered some in the building. 

Hill believes this whole situation has multiple levels to it, the first being the vaccine. She sees her comments as direct contradictions to each other as Steele is fully vaccinated. Steele did however contract COVID-19 sometime after making the comments despite the vaccine, and has been taken off the air for a week to recover. 

According to an article from CNN, she has apologized for the comments by releasing a statement: 

“I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize. We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time that impacts all of us, and it’s more critical than ever that we communicate constructively and thoughtfully.” 

Related: ESPN’s Sage Steele Critical of Vaccine Mandates, Barack Obama

Hill moved on to the second level, wherein she addressed Steele’s dialogue on her racial identity and that of former President Barack Obama. 

“So, then that’s one layer of it and then you move to the next layer is talking about her mixed racial identity,” Hill comments. 

Related: ESPN Suspends Sage Steele Over Controversial Remarks

This brings into the conversation the dynamic of being biracial and the feeling of having to choose between claiming one race over the other, which most undoubtedly deal with. 

“I mean I know there are some people who feel like you should, and I understand that, but I very much understand the premise of you were raised by two people, you came into this world through two people, and you feel as if I don’t want to pick one side or the other,” Hill said. “I completely understand that. The part that really alarmed folks is then going on to say, well, I don’t understand why the president, the former president, or I’m ‘fascinated’ by the former president choosing to identify as Black when his Black dad wasn’t even around.” 

She believes this is what caused Steele to get “a lot of the smoke she got,” criticizing the message that simply because his Black dad wasn’t present during his youth that he should not have chosen to identify as Black. 

Hill moves on to her third level, discussing the Sports Center’s hosts’ comments on women in the industry. She criticized Steele‘s comments on the “appropriateness” of the way women dress, comparing them to comments involving white supremacy. 

“There have been a number of cases, situations where women who work at networks have complained rightly so about being harassed. That’s been a really big issue in our business. It’s been an issue for female sports journalists who are covering teams and leagues who have experienced the same sort of harassment,” Hill states. 

Hill asserts that those comments are not helpful and serve to promote a negative working environment for women. 

Hill currently hosts the Spotify podcast Unbothered and contributes to various publications. 

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