Monday, December 18, 2006

Reviewing Jemele Hill's Work on ESPN.com

Back in November ESPN.com hired a new writer, Jemele Hill, ostensibly to replace the departed Jason Whitlock, who went out guns blazing and taking aim at the ‘bojanglers’. TheBigLead.com first reported her hiring and $200K/year salary about two weeks after TheBigLead.com had interviewed her. The first offering of Ms. Hill came out in mid-November and it was not very well received by many (here, here and here), myself included.

Being the impulsive sort, I fired off an email to Ms. Hill criticizing here. Here’s the text:


"Give me two things you believe that logical people think are utterly ridiculous.
1. Oliver Stone's movies are based on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.
2. "Old School" wasn't that funny. "Anchorman" crushed it."

So, was the above statement meant to say that you are an illogical person? It sure sounds like it, which means everything you said prior to that statement and everything after should be considered illogical. Oh well, at least it's not me writing.

The Fan's Attic

Lo and behold, a few weeks later Ms. Hill, to my great surprise, responded:

The Fan’s Attic

Sorry it took so long for me to respond. Thanks for writing.

Just speaking from the heart.

Jemele

I very much appreciate that she took the time to write back, although she didn’t say much. Since she took the time to write back, I thought it would be good to take the time to go back and review her columns and see how she’s doing. Let’s go into the wayback machine and look at her work. Below are her columns on ESPN.com so far.

Just an ol’ Jock Fight - This is her most recent work and it’s about the Knicks-Nuggets fight. She says it was a just a fight between jocks and not a big deal. Ms. Hill also obliquely refers to what may be subconscious racism caused by the use of the word ‘thug.’ I tend to agree with her on these two points and that may color my view of this article, but I think she makes some very good points.

These Guys Are Teflon - This article is about people/athletes she perceives to never have bad stories stick to them. Chief among them for her is David Stern, who she thinks isn’t getting flak for the whole NBA ball fiasco. She calls this skill having “the hook up.” She has a point about Stern but her argument seems to overlook a significant point, namely, that all the other people she names are athletes and their personal travails are not the most important thing to the public—their ability to play a sport is the most important. Second, the people she lists, save Ray Lewis, haven’t done anything too horrific and the public want to like the athletes so they give one or two free passes to them. Given time and enough screw-ups all of these people will use up their political capital, so to speak.

Look at Rosie O’donnell and her bad Chinese joke, she was in hot water because her role is as a talk show host who gives opinions and pontificates on subjects. Shaq, Clemens and others’ who have made borderline racist comments about Asians only have to play a sport. What they say is ancillary to what they do on the field/court/diamond. Interesting concept but a flawed argument.

NFL Selling Smith Short - This story is about how the NFL is under-appreciating Ohio State QB Troy Smith because he has great stats and just wins games. Well, she has a point but Smith did have a lot of other world-class weapons on his team. Put some of these other quarterbacks in the same situation and I wonder how they would do. Also, it’s a bit early to say he is undervalued since I saw one draftboard that had Smith listed as the #2 QB available. Average marks for this one.

Hnida finds peace in telling story – This article is about the first woman to score in Division I-A football, who was at the center of the Colorado recruiting scandal a few years back because she was raped. This was an attempt at providing an update and a new angle on an old story. It was a good effort and poignant because of the tragedy suffered by Hnida. However, and I don’t want to be harsh here, but Ms. Hill injected her own tragic experience into the story, which really has nothing to do with the Hnida story. Yes, it shows she can relate but doesn’t add anything to the story and seems to be emotional pandering.

Not as simple as black or white - Ms. Hill calls out Larry Johnson for his comment that he plays better for a black coach, Herm Edwards, than a white coach, Dick Vermeil, because they have a common experience of being black. I have to say, this was a very good article and it is nice when athletes get called on their BS and hypocrisy.

Groupie Life An Open Book - Ms. Hill argues that pro-athlete groupies are not living up to their end of the bargain when they publish books about the trysts they have with athletes. I am not sure whether this was tongue-in-cheek or serious but my inability to discover the truth makes this an absolutely awful column. I don’t know how a woman can argue that these men should be allowed to use and abuse groupies and at least tacitly support these women essentially prostituting themselves. Utter trash.

A Whistle is a Whistle – Ms. Hill believes that Tom Izzo taking the reins of the Michigan State football program isn’t such a bad idea because great coaches are great leaders, like Izzo, and that will translate to any sport. Interesting argument but I don’t buy since all great coaches have some intuitive knowledge of X’s and O’s for their respective sports as well as being good leaders/managers. She gets good marks for originality even though I disagree.

I’m hearing voices - Ms. Hill’s first article. Lame gimmick introducing herself but I’ll give her a break for her first column even if her jokes fell flat.

Overall, she has improved with her posts and ideas but, I still find her writing lacking in something and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it lacks personality and heart despite her attempts to write in an informal, almost conversational, manner (which, by the way, I can’t stand). Her reasoning often has flaws, in my opinion, but she does make good points. I’m willing to give her some more time to develop her voice but not enough to write another post about it.

What do you think?

29 comments:

Vinnie said...

The only one I'd read was the Larry Johnson one, and I agree that it was excellent.

And yeah, I just read the groupie one now. Definitely tongue-in-cheek. Sort of entertaining I guess.

Tom said...

With the Katie Hnida story, you should say she was at the center of the Colorado "scandal" because she claimed to be raped. Considering she didn't report it at the time or name anyone invovled, it can hardly be considered a stone-cold fact.

Head Chick In Charge said...

She didn't write me back! Heifer...

I think her writing is best when she sticks to sports only topics. Although I didn't agree with the Troy Smith article, that was definitely the best written one so far.

I agree that her writing lacks an "it" factor. She's kinda young so maybe she lacks the introspection to write an article with real heart. In the Hnida article, I really thought her inserting of her own story was kind of cheap. And in the Johnson story, she could have attempting to clarify Johnson statement (i.e., that sometimes the natural human instinct of wanting to be comfortable and familiar is at play instead of racism and it goes both ways, btw) is instead of just focusing on the obvious hypocrisy issue.

ojarhead said...

so far, nothing horrible really, but nothing great either...hasn't become a must read...and i haven't caught the last two columns...so, i guess she didn't hold my interest...middle of the road stuff...and i agree, she seems to make good points or introduce good ideas, but can't really back them up with solid reasoning and logic..

g.m.s. said...

Good analysis. I have enjoyed some of Hill's stuff, as well. But I have also been trying to put my finger on what it is about her writing that I haven't totally latched onto, thus far. I think it is that she seems to be lacking a unique identifiable voice. People make fun of Simmons and Sharnoff for being predictable and formulaic. While there is something to that argument, I think what made them so successful was their identifiable style. Its tricky to keep a balance between voice and schtick. But, if it isnt used as a crutch, voice is essential to building a familiarity with your audience. So far Hill has bounced her voice around from "straihtforward, in your face" like her first column to "gut wrenchingly serious" (Hnida column) to SportsPickle-style absurd satire in the groupie piece. If she is going to be long for page 2, she is going to have to establish her own style to make reading her (often intriguing)columns less of an adventure, and more of a ritual. Thus far she has shown more of a tendency towards borrowing others' style...but like you say, it's still early.

Anonymous said...

Katie Hnida can be another verse in the Eagles' "Get Over It": she might feel better if they gave her some cash - or in the case if enough bored suckers buy her book.

To this day I have yet to hear anyone defend her strictly on the merits of her placekicking. Gary Barnett was tarred and feathered by the usual weepy suspects for speaking the truth: Hnida couldn't break a pane of glass with a kicked football.

Of course, none of that matters to the "sports" columnists like Christine (All Things Kwan) Brennan and Jon Saraceno, folks who never seem to get around to talking about actual sports....thank God for Mike Lopresti or USA Today would be unbearable.

Adam said...

Yeah, I'm not sure what to think of her at this point. She's had some highs and some lows, but she's certainly better than a lot of the other page 2 dreck.

Sammy said...

ESPN attempt at recruiting this demographic is a joke. Take a look at fanzone, and sportsnation, any attempt they make at a webcommunity is more of a marketing scam. From that short email, it seems like she has forgotten her roots.

Anonymous said...

I emailed her after her first article and she responded to me. I have, overall, enjoyed her articles. I do think there's something missing. However, I think that 'it' is just familiarity. Other p2 writers have been there awhile (Simmons) or are recognized from other media (Whitlock). I don't know Hill, so I'm still getting used to her writing.
Once we get more familiar (and at the rate she puts out articles, which is great, this won't take long) I think she'll be one of their best writers.

Anonymous said...

I have only read a couple of her columns and have been put off each time. Her latest one about Kobe being better than MJ made me queasy. Kobe very well could be better than Michael, but her column pushed my opinion the other way. Plus, it just seemed like a desperate attempt to stir the pot and be controversial.

I don't like her stuff. Probably a sure sign she'll be soon acknowledged as a star of the first order.

Anonymous said...

I think jemele is super sexy and i hate that she left orlando before I met her but im happy for her progression in her career

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing she's the awful "fill in" that I just watched on "Rome". My god, is she ever AWFUL! Who is this ignorant, racist, fatty? Where did she play ball, anyway? She had A LOT of completely ignorant "in site" into... NOTHING RELATIVE! I truly hope I never have the displeasure of coming across her on TV or, God forbid, while covering a sporting event! But, I imagine she'd be easy to spot... Hovering down a 5 gallon bucket of nachos... far from the action... AWFUL!!!

Anonymous said...

This chick is the worst!!! Iam not a fan of her tryint o be like jim rome. It is not possible for her to be like Jim Rome. Miss. Hill writes mostly about the racial issue but yet she comes out and uses a "Hitler" reference. ESPN get a clue and get ride of her pleaseee.

Anonymous said...

I recall reading Miss Hill's articles in the school newspaper as a student at Michigan State in the mid 1990's, and remember her articles as frequently making some sort of prejudicial remark that was passed off as some kind of insight. However, I never would have guessed anyone would pay her even a dollar for offering such "insights" when she should instead offer her rantings on some non-descript street corner with a sign saying "will make racist sports comment for food".

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