Fair or not, the defining narrative surrounding ESPN’s short-lived SC6 show with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith was politics. Some viewers applauded Hill and Smith’s willingness to discuss subjects related only tangentially to sports, others felt the host drifted too far from scores and highlights, and others didn’t get what all the fuss was about given that the 6 p.m. SportsCenter was, like all ESPN shows, about sports far more than anything else.
Well, it sounds as if new 6 p.m. SportsCenter host Kevin Negandhi is well aware of that messy dynamic and intent on dodging it when he and Sage Steele take over the show, beginning Monday night. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer published Monday, Negandhi implied that narrative had overcome reality when it came to Hill and Smith’s show and that he wanted to avoid the same fate in his run as host.
[SC6 hosts] Michael Smith and Jemele Hill are really good friends of mine. I thought that sometimes narratives can find a way to take over what reality is. I don’t want to be in a position where a narrative suddenly takes over, and something that’s perceived becomes a reality.
I watched that show, and before we did this rotation of anchors, Michael was anchoring SportsCenter like the show I’m doing now. He was doing interviews, he was doing highlights, and I never felt there were political leanings when I was watching his SportsCenter in February.
If you get a subject and a conversation like Colin Kaepernick, you’ll have your analysts there to tell us how it affects football, the locker room and players. My job is to make sure I’m asking the right questions, the smart questions to allow the viewer to understand all the angles about the topic that’s being discussed. As for the politics, I think we live in a day and age where everything intersects no matter what. I don’t want the show to be part of that narrative. When you’re watching SportsCenter, I’m going to give you a highlight. I don’t want anyone wondering what the political leanings on anything is.
In other words: Negandhi will do all he can to avoid being saddled with the “too political” label that followed Hill and Smith.
If one of the two hosts on the new 6 p.m. SportsCenter is going to face questions about politics, it probably won’t be Negandhi. Whereas his non-sports beliefs have never generated any sort of controversy, Steele’s political opinions have made headlines before, such as when she said she was “saddened” that protests over President Trump’s travel ban might disrupt airport schedules. Some observers felt that Steele’s conservative leanings had cost her opportunities at ESPN, which obviously does not seem to have been the case in light of her new promotion.
ESPN has focused in the past few months on returning the 6 p.m. SportsCenter to its roots as a highlight show, subbing news and video for discussion and banter. That means Negandhi and Steele won’t have much room to insert their personal politics, which is presumably just how network executives want it.