ESPN personality Jemele Hill thrust herself and her employer into a major controversy when she labeled President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” and “bigot” in a series of tweets on Sept. 12. In response, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Hill’s actions “a fireable offense” in a press conference.
Hill, a former sportswriter at the Detroit Free Press, has risen to prominence as a co-host of the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter dubbed SC6. She and co-host Michael Smith previously starred on the popular ESPN2 show His & Hers, which evolved out of a podcast.
First joining ESPN.com as a Page 2 writer in 2006, Hill successfully transitioned to successive on-camera roles. She has has become a mentor to the network’s young black employees and earned respect and admiration of Barack Obama and Kobe Bryant – who calls her the “Sports Oprah.”
Born in Detroit, Hill was raised by a single mother and spent a part of her childhood in Houston, Texas. Her father was a heroin addict. In high school, she lived with her grandmother in Southfield, a Detroit suburb. She graduated from Michigan State University, where she was roommates with Kelley L. Carter, a culture writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated. Both are active members of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Here are five facts you need to know about Jemele Hill’s family:
1. Hill’s Boyfriend, Whose Identity She Is Keeping Private, Also Attended Michigan State.
Hill is deliberately keeping about the identity of her current boyfriend private. However, in a feature published on The Ringer, she shares that he is a Michigan State alumnus.
In a photo Hill posted to her Facebook profile on Aug. 12, she is pictured in a flower dress with a tuxedo-clad gentleman holding a bottle of Dom Perignon. The photo’s caption reads “My guy.”
While she met her co-host Michael Smith years before they joined forces on ESPN – he calls her his “work wife” – they never actually dated.
2. Hill’s Father Was A Heroin Addict As a Young Adult, Managing To Turn His Life Around While Employed As Bartender at Joe Louis Arena’s Exclusive Olympia Club.
Three years into her ESPN career, in 2009, Hill shared a poignant story about her father. Jerel Brickerson was an avid hockey player until he was 18 years old, at which point “Detroit began to slide into urban decay” and “hockey rinks became less a priority” in his neighborhood.
Hill described how her mother found Brickerson with a needle in one arm and baby Hill in the other. She decided he shouldn’t be a part of her life. Hill would later rebuild her relationship with her dad, coming to understand that he made bad choices but it wasn’t all entirely his fault.
“No hockey meant my father had a lot of free time, and that’s where drugs came into play. At 19, my dad started experimenting with heroin because some of his friends were doing it. When I came along 11 years later, the drugs had taken hold and he was in no shape to be a father.”
Things turned around for Brickerson when he secured a bartending job at Joe Louis Arena’s Olympia Club, serving “suite-holders and bigwigs” and able to watch Detroit Red Wings home games “for the past two decades.”
Hill also writes that her dad earned a master’s degree and began counseling other addicts.
3. When Hill Was 5 Years Old, Her Mother Denise Dennard Was Raped at Gunpoint.
In 1980, five years after Hill was born, she and her mother Denise Dennard moved to Houston. One day Dennard had just left work when she was “pulled into a van at gunpoint and raped.”
Having already experienced sexual abuse as a child, Dennard became paranoid. She was unable to sleep with the lights off and “kept a knife, a bat and a 12-gauge shotgun under her bed.”
Hill and Dennard moved back to Detroit, where Dennard struggled with prescriptions drug abuse and undiagnosed PTSD. Hill would end up moving in with her grandmother in Southfield, a Detroit suburb, as a high-schooler, to get away from her mother.
4. In November 2016, Hill Surprised Her Mother With a Brand New Mercedes-Benz.
Hill’s mother has also left drugs behind and is working towards a master’s degree as well. According to Hill, Dennard was able to overcome her struggle with drug abuse and became clean in her 40s.
To show her appreciation, Hill last year bought her mother a new Mercedes-Benz sedan – and captured Dennard’s reaction with a video posted to Instagram.
5. Hill Is A Highly Respected Member of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Hill’s personal Facebook page features many photos of her MSU roommate Kelley L. Carter. The two are prominent members of the National Association of Black Journalists, which has taken a position in Hill’s defense.
Hill has many friends and associates who she mingled with at NABJ conferences over the years and who remain loyal friends even if out of the journalism profession.
Among them are Keith Reed (above) formerly of ESPN the Magazine and most recently with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.
On Wednesday night, Hill posted a photo with fellow NABJ Sports Task Force members and ESPN employees who’ve come to her support, including host Michael Eaves, The Undefeated’s Marc Spears and more.
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