ESPN Reportedly Tried to Nix Jemele Hill From ‘SportsCenter’

Co-host Michael Smith apparently stuck up for her. ESPN denies the reports.

ESPN Faces Yet Another Controversy, This Time Courtesy of 'SportsCenter' Host
ESPN's SC6, Michael Smith and Jemele Hill interview Doris Burke before Game One of the 2017 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors on June 1, 2017 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jemele Hill’s tweet-gate saga just got a bit more Nixonian.

According to an exclusive from ThinkProgress, filed yesterday evening, ESPN—in response to blowback from White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who called for Hill’s job—tried to remove Hill from her 6 p.m. SportsCenter slot. But co-host Michael Smith said he wouldn’t go on air without her.

But it doesn’t end there. Two other African-American anchors, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, were reportedly contacted by ESPN producers as potential swap-ins for Hill and Smith, and both refused. Eaves even tweeted, an hour and a half before the Wednesday SportsCenter broadcast, his frustration in the situation. Hill also tweeted a picture of African-American colleagues, including Eaves, that had shown up to support her.

ESPN, of course, denied the reports. (The network also doubled down on the claim in an email to The Washington Post.)

Since Huckabee Sanders’ public call for Hill’s firing, President Trump has followed up with his own tweet, which doesn’t name names, but in a rather Trumpian manner, says that ESPN is somehow bleeding subscribers because of Hill’s six tweets, the choicest of which referred to the president as a “bigot” and “white supremacist.” (The president offered no evidence of a divot in ESPN’s current subscriber base based on Hill’s actions.)

At this point, Hill has yet to apologize to Trump, though she did tweet an apology to her employer Wednesday, one that ESPN responded to with its own statement, saying they’d accepted it and moved on. To date, there have been no reports about ESPN moving to fire Hill.

If the reports of ESPN’s attempt at pulling a SportsCenter host switcheroo are true, it doesn’t paint the network in a very “forgiving” light—at least in the hours before their statement, in which they had apparently accepted Hill’s apology.

To the keen observer, though, it does smack of a move the sports network made three weeks ago when it removed an Asian-American college football host named “Robert Lee” from calling a University of Virginia game, solely because his name could’ve been perceived as coincidentally insensitive. (He was replaced by another anchor at the last minute.) That occurred just weeks after the deadly Charlottesville protest and brought ESPN a wave of criticism.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.