Jemele Hill Says a Lot of People Will Be ‘Embarrassed’ When Colin Kaepernick Documentary Comes Out

“Given the way he was treated, given how his career was stolen from him. That’s an embarrassing moment in the NFL,” the former ESPN anchor tells TheWrap

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Jemele Hill’s memoir “Uphill” just came out, but she has yet another major project on the horizon: a documentary about professional football player Colin Kaepernick that she is producing. And she predicts when the film is released, “a lot” of people will be embarrassed by how they treated Kaepernick.

“We’re in production, and I just am very eager for people to see this. We’re still obviously putting things togethe, but this is one of those moments, and I feel like we go through this so often, a lot of times documentaries come out, and people are reminded of what the tone was, the obstacles people face, the vitriol that they face. And so I think there’s going to be a lot of people really embarrassed,” she told TheWrap.

“Given the way he was treated, given how his career was stolen from him. That’s an embarrassing moment in the NFL. It’s an embarrassing moment in American history that a player who only wanted to bring awareness to what are very obvious problems in this country wound up losing his career for speaking out.” 

Hill added that Kaepernick faced these obstacles “not for hitting a woman, not for some of the other heinous things that some athletes have done and been welcomed back, given multiple opportunities.” 

“I think people will appreciate the fullness of who Colin Kaepernick is,” she added. “He’s much more and much bigger than a protest.”

A chapter in the former ESPN anchor’s book titled “Stick to Sports” recalls the period of Kaepernick’s protests and Trump’s presidency overlapping and its broader impact on the sports industry and sports journalism.

“This was part of the tone of the country that coincided obviously with the presidency of Donald Trump in 2016, and the year that he’s elected president is also the same season that Colin Kaepernick starts his protest in San Francisco, kneeling during the national anthem, to protest against racial and social injustice,” she continued. “And because of the tone being set out of the White House, there was this pervasive mentality that athletes should just stick to sports, that sports anchors and sports commentators should just stick to sports And even though these very serious issues are colliding and intersecting with the world of sports, they wanted us to just talk about the game.”

Kaepernick’s kneeling protests during the national anthem at NFL games made him a target at the time, and Hill reflects on how the moment expanded to her place of employment at the time.

“They wanted Black athletes to just entertain them. They had no interest in hearing about their lived experiences as Black people in this country. That entire chapter is about that mentality and that sentiment, and even how it infected ESPN to some degree when I was there,” she added. “And so I thought it was, you know, important to kind of note that and write about that just because that was again, kind of a very critical time in my career.”

Hill also remarked upon the shift in the journalistic landscape that involves athletes taking the telling of their stories into their own hands.

“One thing I’m definitely seeing is that there is a proliferation of athletes who want to tell their own stories. They’re not relying on us anymore. They can go direct to consumer through social media. They’re developing their own podcasts and platforms, because it’s a byproduct of our failures,” she added. “The entire length of my journalism career 80%, 90% of sports media jobs have been held by white men. There’s not nearly enough diversity, nearly enough inclusiveness in sports media at all.”

“And in the major sports, particularly the two major sports, the NFL and and the NBA, which are dominated by Black athletes, they’re tired of it, they got sick of it. So they decided to cut us out of the process,” she said. “That’s not to say that we still aren’t necessary because we are. But what I would say is that I understand why they felt the need to do that, and a lot of that we’re to blame for.”