Through the miracle of social networking I was able to secure a few moments with ESPN’s own Jemele Hill. We spoke about the Redskins, her 49ers, twitter, “Uncle Ron”, fantasy football and her road to ESPN. You can follow her professional account @JemeleHill and go ahead and give me a follow @KMawyer2, while you’re at it. Here is her interview in it’s entirety. Enjoy.
Riggo’s Rag – So, how did you get your start in journalism?
Jemele Hill – I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a sports journalist since I was 15 years old. I lived in Detroit and read both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News sports sections every day. I was a huge sports fan and tomboy. I became involved with my high school newspaper and began working in the Free Press’ sports department, answering phones.
RR- Was working at ESPN an ultimate goal of yours or did the opportunity seem to present itself through the course of your work as a writer? Did you cover any other sports?
JH- I never thought about working at ESPN. I wanted to be the next Gary Smith, and work for Sports Illustrated. I was a newspaper baby. After i graduated from Michigan State, I worked as a general assignment sports reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. I was there for almost two years and then I returned to the Detroit Free Press to cover Michigan State football & basketball. I covered Michigan State for six years, but also got the opportunity to cover the NBA playoffs, and the 2004 Olympics. I left there in 2005 for my first column job at the Orlando Sentinel. I didn’t want to be a columnist, either. But I looked around the landscape and noticed how other columnists were able to use their platform to create multimedia opportunities in radio, television, and online.I did a piece on Willis McGahee, and it was noticed by some people at ESPN. I had a dinner meeting with Keith Clinkscales (who used to head ESPN’s content development department and recently started his own media company) and the rest, as they say, is history.
RR- You’re from Detroit, but you’re a 49ers fan- how’d that happen? How do you like the 49ers chances going into this years post-season?
JH- I know it sounds strange to most people. But my mother went to junior college in the Bay Area and developed a love for the team. Joe Montana is her favorite athlete. So I picked it up from her. The difference is, she also loved the Lions. I never developed that love. The 49ers were winning and I was an impressionable kid. It just stuck.The 49ers are built for the postseason, but are they good enough to beat Green Bay? I just don’t think so. The Packers are so good at imposing their offensive will and there’s no way the 49ers can score with them.
RR- This of course is a Redskins blog, so now I’ve got to ask the obvious… How do the Redskins look this season?
JH- The Redskins just don’t have a franchise quarterback, or a lot of offensive talent. I like their running game and think Roy Helu has a lot of potential. But there’s not a lot of talent at wide receiver. The defense has some building blocks. I just think they need a real offensive star that they can build around.
RR- How long would you give owner Dan Snyder before he pulls the plug on Shanahan?
JH- At this point, I think they have to give Shanahan more time. Yes, he’s made plenty of mistakes, but ditching him creates more problems than it solves. The Redskins aren’t a quick fix. I think they have to develop some continuity, but they will go through some growing pains in the process.
RR- Final prediction for NFC East champ?
JH- My preseason prediction was the Cowboys, and it remains the same. Beware of Dallas when they are under the radar. Or, quiet.
RR- Let’s get back to the Niners really quick; how do you believe the 49ers made the jump to competing regularly? After a lockout during most of the offseason, a new head coach and a virtually untouched roster the 49ers are not only contending but running the NFC West and in position for a two seed. What can you attribute to their success? What could the Redskins take from the way that they’ve done it and possibly apply to themselves?
JH- It’s Harbaugh. This is the same roster that Mike Singletary. He has psychologically revamped Alex Smith. I don’t recognize the player he’s become. It helps they are in a weak division, but this team is playing with unbelievable confidence. They have shown they can play with anybody.
What the 49ers have shown, and what the Redskins can use, is that simplicity works. Run the ball, play tough defense, limit turnovers, and you can win. It’s what the Broncos are doing too.
JH- I joined because Michael Smith browbeat me until I did. He promised that I would get addicted to it, and I did. This has been a tough year (thank you Jamaal Charles, Jay Cutler, and Matt Schaub). Two of my teams are dead in the water. I’m basically tanking for Andrew Luck. In my other two leagues, I’m headed to the playoffs and feel like I’ve got a pair of good teams.
JH- This is tough because Twitter is just one big inside joke. I’d say Uncle Ron is my favorite. I came up with it because Ron Washington just looks like THAT uncle. The uncle that drinks a little too much at the family get togethers, chain smokes, and will fix your muffler for a six-pack of Natty Light and a Big Mac. This is no diss of Washington. He’s a wonderful manager. And he has some of the most epic baseball card mugshots ever.
JH- I think I would have been a great detective. I love crime shows. I like interviewing people. I like figuring things out. Always have loved puzzles and mysteries.
I would like to personally thank Jemele for taking the time out to answer a few questions for us here. Stay tuned for more from Riggo’s Rag and you can catch Jemele Hill online at ESPN.com and on ESPN.