Jemele Hill is gone from “SportsCenter,” but considerable bitterness remains, apparently, on the part of her former co-anchor Michael Smith about how ESPN “muted” their banter. In a recent podcast discussion with media reporter James Andrew Miller, Smith expressed great frustration with the direction of the 6 p.m. edition of the show, branded as “SC6,” after ESPN executive Norby Williamson took charge of it in September.
That was around the time that Hill drew rebukes from President Trump and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for calling Trump a “white supremacist.” ESPN suspended Hill in October for what the network described as continued violation of its social-media policies, after she took issue with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’s stated zero-tolerance approach to players possibly protesting during the national anthem.
Hill eventually left “SC6” last month to write for ESPN’s Undefeated vertical and to appear as a panelist on several of its shows, but not before ESPN decided to downplay her “chemistry” with Smith, according to him, for a more traditional presentation. “There was a time we weren’t even talking to each other [on air] anymore,” Smith told Miller on the latter’s “Origins” podcast.
“Like, no more Michael and Jemele — not less, not here and there,” Smith continued. “No more Michael and Jemele talking. No more of their commentary. It’s just strictly live shots and analysts.
“That’s what p—-d me off so much. I was like, wait a second, you all acknowledge that one of the strengths we have going for us as a show is Michael and Jemele’s chemistry, but Michael and Jemele don’t f—–g talk to each other? Now how does that make sense?”
Smith acknowledged that he and Hill that “had a lot of reservations” about whether ESPN executives “truly knew what they were signing up for” by putting them on “SportsCenter,” claiming that “early on, it was pretty clear that we were too far off the reservation, if you will.” Still, he said, he didn’t anticipate that changes would be as “extreme” as they were under Williamson.
Noting that people could tell how “frustrated” he was, on and off camera, Smith said, “We knew we were gonna get s— out of the gate. … But we weren’t built to take it.” He accused the show’s producers of “pushing the panic button” when “SC6” began encountering adversity.
“Instead of saying, ‘No, this is the vision for this show, this is what we’re doing, this show is about Michael and Jemele and their opinions and their chemistry, and they’re going to do ‘SportsCenter’ their way.’ Instead of sticking to that vision, we immediately tried to merge two things,” Smith told Miller.
“They got what they wanted, which was Michael and Jemele being muted,” Smith said. “And that frustrated the s— out of us.”
In her comments to Miller, at least as included on his podcast, Hill was less overtly agitated. She said that, upon leaving “SC6,” she told Williamson: “I know what ‘SportsCenter’ needs to be, but I know what I need to be, too. And I don’t think those two things are on the same page.”
As for his plans going forward, Smith said, “I’m going to do the same s– I’ve been doing the last 14 years at ESPN — and it’s served me rather well, I may say.”
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