This post has been updated.
Jemele Hill’s role as co-anchor of ESPN’s reworked 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” lasted less than one year. On Friday morning, Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch reported Hill is leaving the show — which had been rebranded as “SC6″ — to join the staff of the Undefeated, ESPN’s sub-site that examines sports, race and culture and return to “writing and reporting,” which she says she has missed. On Friday afternoon, ESPN confirmed Hill’s departure and announced Hill and Michael Smith will anchor “SC6″ for the final time together Feb. 2.
“There is an old adage that says, the heart wants what it wants,” Hill said in a statement. “I started at ESPN 11 years ago as a columnist and, while I have worn many hats in the time since, my true love always has been writing, reporting and commentary. While I have grown in every way imaginable this last year on the 6 p.m. ‘SportsCenter,’ deep down I knew it wasn’t my calling. I approached [ESPN executive vice president of content] Connor Schell recently and asked if they would consider rethinking my role. And as has been the case throughout my 11 years at this company, ESPN graciously worked with me to determine the best way for me to continue to do meaningful work.”
Hill said her “first choice” was to work for the Undefeated. She will continue to contribute commentary to other ESPN programs, such as “SportsCenter,” “Outside the Lines,” “Around the Horn” and “Highly Questionable.” The move to the Undefeated will also carry Hill from Bristol, Conn., to Washington, where she will “write about the intersection of sports and politics when applicable,” according to an interview published Saturday morning by Variety.
“Every day you get further from the action. You start missing being in the field,” Hill said, discussing the downside of being an anchor.
“While Jemele’s unique array of gifts as a journalist, storyteller and critical thinker has already enriched The Undefeated on a number of occasions, today is an exciting day,” ESPN senior vice president Rob King said in the release. “We can’t wait to see all of the new ways in which she brings her experience and perspective to all of our platforms.”
In October, ESPN suspended Hill for two weeks for violating its social-media policy after she suggested on Twitter that NFL fans could boycott advertisers and vendors associated with the Dallas Cowboys, whose owner, Jerry Jones, said his players will stand for the national anthem or be benched. Hill had called President Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter before her suspension, reportedly drawing a warning from her bosses but no punishment. Hill told Variety that her new role with the Undefeated was not about shuffling her “off to the side.”
“If this was supposed to be a ruse to bury me somewhere in a corner of ESPN, I didn’t get that feeling,” Hill said. “I know it may not be the sexiest story to tell, but the truth is I miss writing and reporting.”
While serving her suspension, Hill told TMZ that she deserved the punishment and said she was sorry only for dragging ESPN into an unwanted political controversy.
“So, here’s how this works: It doesn’t really matter what I think. It matters to people, but here’s the reality: ESPN acted what they felt was right, and, you know, I don’t have any argument or quibble with that. I would tell people, absolutely, after my Donald Trump tweets, I deserved that suspension. I deserved it. Like, absolutely. I violated the policy; I deserved that suspension,” she said.
“The only thing I’ll ever apologize for is, I put ESPN in a bad spot. I’ll never take back what I said. I put them in a bad spot; that’s the truth of it. I regret the position I put them in. I regret, a lot of the people I work with, the position we put our show in. I’ll never take back what I said.
Speculation abounded that Hill would part ways with ESPN in the wake of her suspension. According to Jim Miller, who co-wrote an oral history on ESPN, Hill has three years remaining on her contract.
The weekday 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” occupies a tricky spot on ESPN’s schedule, as the events of the previous night are old news while that day’s games usually have yet to be played. So a by-the-book highlight show clearly is not a good use of that time, and that’s where the idea for a more persona-driven edition of “SportsCenter” hosted by Hill and Smith came to fruition in February. But the new show’s ratings did not considerably improve from the previous edition of “SportsCenter” hosted by the now-departed Lindsay Czarniak, and in September the network reorganized its management structure. As a result, the Big Lead noted, “SC6″ began to resemble the Czarniak-hosted “SportsCenter” more than the freewheeling style Hill and Smith had honed while hosting “His & Hers,” their previous ESPN show. ESPN announced Friday that Smith will continue to host the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter.”
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