In the wake of Jemele Hill’s two-week suspension Monday by ESPN for what the network called violations of its social media policy, Michael Smith declined to anchor the 6 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter” that day without his usual co-host. Another anchor, Matt Barrie, filled in, but Smith was back on set Tuesday without a partner — an arrangement that will last until Hill returns.
As confirmed to The Washington Post by an ESPN spokesman, Smith is expected to host “SC6″ by himself for the rest of the next two weeks. Hill was suspended after posting tweets suggesting that fans could boycott advertisers who work with the Dallas Cowboys, following team owner Jerry Jones’s announcement that any of his players who failed to stand for the national anthem would get benched.
ESPN cited those tweets as “a second violation” of its social media guidelines, coming about a month after Hill called President Trump “a white supremacist.” She was sharply criticized for that comment by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who called it “a fireable offense,” and ESPN reportedly tried to take her off the air that day before Smith refused to do the show and other network anchors declined to fill in. ESPN denied that version of events.
Early Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted, “With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!” The network has reportedly been hit with losses from cord-cutting, as has the cable-TV industry in general, but according to Nielsen figures, it still leads all full-time cable networks among key demographics, including males 18-49.
A noticeably more somber Smith took to the airwaves Tuesday, opening with these lines: “Those who know, know. Those who don’t, it need not be explained. You’re here, I’m here. Let’s talk some sports.”
Whereas his years-long chemistry with Hill — the pair began co-hosting ESPN programs in 2013 — has resulted in an edition of “SportsCenter” that is normally chatty, upbeat and opinionated, Smith frequently introduced topics in a flat tone of voice and lacked his usual energy. Viewers noticed, and many took to social media with their observations.
Earlier on Tuesday, Hill had shared her appreciation for Smith’s support, saying on Twitter that she loved him “for being my biggest supporter, a great friend, terrific husband & father.” She added, “I truly don’t deserve you. See you soon.”
Just as “SC6″ and Smith’s solo stint began, Hill retweeted a photo of Smith on set that was captioned, “MVP.”
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