In the words of the late-great Godfather of Soul James Brown, “Say it loud: I’m Black and I’m proud!” This phrase comes to mind anytime I watch ESPN’s His & Hers with co-hosts Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. They are unapologetically Black, embracing and incorporating Black culture into their everyday work life for the entire world to see—diversity and inclusion at its finest!
In the wake of an unfathomable time for America’s political climate, sports serves as a great outlet for people of varying backgrounds to unite. But particularly for the Black community, the opportunity to view a sports talk show hosted by two people of color on the world’s premier sports network has a multi-layered impact. Allow me to break it down, because it’s deeper than just sports.
Smith and Hill were both sports enthusiasts in their own right prior to joining ESPN in 2004 and 2006, respectively. Both also worked in different capacities with the network before joining each other on Numbers Never Lie in 2013, which was rebranded into what we now know as His & Hers in 2014. But it is what they have done since being in their current positions that makes them special. Using their esteemed platform, this dynamic duo of sports gurus is infusing Black culture and pride into households across America. For example, this Halloween they did a spinoff of the 1991 Black film Boyz N the Hood called “Hiz N Herz N the Hood.” Not only were they talking about sports, but also cracking jokes, using Ebonics, and demonstrating “hood-like” behaviors. On the daily, their show includes a segment called “#DoinTooMuch,” a countdown of videos or images of people doing extravagant things both sport and non-sport related. Their use of colloquial expressions makes the show even more engaging and entertaining. And as a result, they are relatable to their demographic, and able to leverage a growing population of millennial sports fan.
While Smth and Hill have each certifed themselves as culture shifters, individually and collectively, I’m especially here for Hill.
Oftentimes on the show, Hill reminds viewers of her upbringing in inner-city Detroit, Michigan—the “real Detroit,” not the suburban area as she states. Having grown up with a mother who battled addictions, yet still worked to provide for her child since her father was a drug addict, Hill defied many statistics with her success story. She is college educated, being a proud alumna of Michigan State University holding a degree in journalism. Her story is admirable because it shows that with drive and consistency, you can persevere through your situations.
Even more importantly, Hill is a role model for numerous individuals. As a burgeoning sports journalist myself, I look up to Hill for a multitude of reasons. She is very knowledgeable of sports and the industry, she has immeasurable passion for her work, and she is undaunted by the pressures of working in a male-dominated field. I also had the pleasure of meeting Hill this past April at the inaugural Women in Sports Forum in Detroit where she was the keynote speaker. She was just as cool and laid back in person as she is on television, and encouraged people to be ambitious and maximize their potential.
Essentially, it speaks volumes that ESPN executives allow Smith and Hill to boldly be their authentic selves intersecting sports, comedy, music and overall Black culture. Not many employers permit such freedom and creativity because of worry that it may tarnish a brand. I’m sure there may have been initial hesitance, but I applaud ESPN for giving Smith and Hill the chance to be trendsetters in the business. And beginning in February 2017, you can catch Smith and Hill hosting SportsCenter at 6p.m. It doesn’t get much better than that!
For more of Jordan’s take, check out her blog The Watter Girl, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thewattergirl!