The world of sports journalism is a predominantly masculine field, and while in recent years the number of women employed as sportscasters has grown, female perspectives remain underrepresented in the industry. Jemele Hill is one of many female commentators and writers in the domain of professional sports that is counteracting this imbalance. An accomplished media personality, she has covered everything from the NBA Playoffs to the Olympics during her extensive career at numerous organizations. Hill began writing for a daily newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the late ‘90s but spent the largest portion of her career as a columnist and television commentator for ESPN.
A staunchly outspoken figure, Hill has always sought out opportunities to branch off from traditional sports reporting to discuss other topics within popular culture and politics. In a January interview with Bloomberg, Hill mentioned that an upcoming podcast project was in the works that was geared toward marginalized listeners. The details around Hill’s comment remained unclear until June when Spotify officially announced a partnership venture titled The Unbothered Network.
A longtime advocate of greater visibility for people of color within media production, Hill has devised The Unbothered Network as a space for Black women to openly share stories and ideas. Commenting upon her mission for the program, Hill articulated, “There’s so much about the lives of Black women that haven’t been fully explored, and so many of our stories have either been dismissed or overlooked.” It is not just the program’s content that will be a beacon of diversity, as Hill has emphasized her endeavor to find Black women to work behind the scenes in executive roles.
Christina Tapper, a celebrated journalist who shares Hill’s passion for uplifting Black perspectives, has been appointed as the Head of Content for The Unbothered Network and will be responsible for the project’s creative direction as it develops a presence on Spotify. By finding accomplished Black female figures to organize and run the network, Hill has demonstrated that aspiring creators of color can wield immense influence in a traditionally white field.
However, The Unbothered Network will not be Hill’s introduction to Spotify; she currently has a popular podcast of her own on the platform titled “Jemele Hill is Unbothered.” Her new network clearly derives its name from her existing project, but the upcoming platform is to be more than simply another iteration of her own show. While Hill’s background lies in the world of sports, her podcast, now on its 147th episode, focuses on prominent stories from across the entertainment industry and the world of pop culture.
Numerous episodes of the show contain guest appearances, with prominent examples including Questlove, Roy Wood Jr., Megan Rapinoe and Stacey Abrams. These episodes are the closest existing media to Hill’s blueprint for The Unbothered Network and are the bridge between her current and future work. Each episode with a guest contains a deep dive into their history and accomplishments with the aim of spotlighting the intersection of their identity and career.
In September of 2020, Hill hosted Janelle Monae on her podcast, and the episode offers an insight into the dissemination of cultural viewpoints that The Unbothered Network will provide. During the episode, Monae discusses her then-forthcoming film “Antebellum,” her optimism about disassembling systemic racism, the stakes of the 2020 presidential election as well as different facets of her identity.
Throughout the 40-minute podcast episode, the conversation between Hill and Monae is effortlessly fluid and filled with banter and brevity that would make any listener believe that the two are lifelong friends. The experience is a total immersion into the intricacies of Monae’s career and aspirations primarily because it is brimming with dialogue that speaks to her singular influence on contemporary culture. The intimate connection that Hill fosters with her guests will be indirectly carried over into her new network, manifesting itself in a variety of ways as she explores new formats for sharing information.
Open discourse is another immense component of Hill’s vision for The Unbothered Network and has been underscored by challenges she has faced with past employers. An unapologetically outspoken cultural critic, Hill was often at odds with the corporate stances of ESPN. One of her more well-known comments sparked debate in 2017 when she tweeted about President Trump, labeling him a “white supremacist” and someone that organized his administration with white supremacy at its core.
ESPN claimed that Hill did not speak for the network and broadly condemned her comment, though Hill later doubled down on her statement and iterated that it reflected her honest opinion. Critical commentary of President Trump would have spurred backlash even if Hill was self-employed, but her status as an influential columnist with a prominent network has continually complicated her ability to express herself freely.
The stifling effect of her employer’s desire to stay within the lines of political neutrality undoubtedly drove Hill to envision a platform where she would not have to censor her beliefs. Her decision to partner with Spotify is opportune in this regard, as the company appears to have less stringent policies on controlling expression. Spotify’s Head of Studios and Video, Courtney Holt, has publicly praised the project, expressing her admiration of Hill’s previous work and optimism about her initiative to bring more Black figures to the platform.
Spotify has struggled recently, exemplified by its stock’s underperformance, in large part due to competition from rival platforms. To maintain its stature, Spotify has made efforts in recent months to sign deals to move popular podcast personalities onto the platform, with notable individuals including Joe Rogan and Alex Cooper. Hill’s network will air alongside these newcomers, aiding to create a suite of content that may transform how listeners consume streaming content.
It is worth considering Hill’s goals within the context of the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” American popular culture has continually stolen from African American tradition without acknowledgment, a trend which, when left unchecked, contributes to an erasure of culture and history. In an era in which the public is more aware than ever of the outstanding debt to Black artists throughout history, it is fitting that Hill’s focus is on hosting a variety of Black creators so that their contributions may be recognized rather than stolen.
The proverbial child is the greater cultural awareness fostered by The Unbothered Network, brought to fruition and raised by the coalition of Hill, her many guests and her partners at Spotify who will ensure that the network will reach its audience. The collection of podcasts is the perfect environment to address issues of racial identity because of commentary media’s shift toward more easily digestible and informal audio content.
In her interview with Bloomberg, Hill compared the formats of television and podcasting, saying, “It’s the difference between speed dating and going on a real first date. A podcast is more of a real first date.” Romance is the best analogy for Hill’s network, for it is an introduction to the stories of Black women that will hopefully blossom into a long-lasting exchange between a curious host and numerous voices that refuse to remain silent any longer.