After Jemele Hill issued a Twitter statement Wednesday night that she regretted how her tweets about President Donald Trump being a white supremacist “painted ESPN in an unfair light” and the company issued their own statement of “we accept her apology,” it seemed like the flames of controversy could die down a bit. Then a keg of gasoline got added Thursday, with ThinkProgress’ Lindsay Gibbs reporting (with Judd Legum) that ESPN tried to pull Hill off her SC6 show Wednesday but was foiled when co-host Michael Smith refused to do it without her and other African-American ESPN hosts Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan declined to step in. Here’s the key part of Gibbs’ report:

Hill — who was caught in the middle of a firestorm of controversy that began on Monday night when she tweeted that President Donald Trump was a white supremacist, which escalated when ESPN issued a statement on Tuesday reprimanding her comments and which exploded when White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Hill’s tweets were a “fireable offense” — was calm and composed throughout the hour, and the show went on as usual.

However, two sources familiar with the situation told ThinkProgress that this was not the original plan.

ESPN originally tried to keep Hill off the air on Wednesday evening, but Smith refused to do the show without her, the sources said. Both sources also said that producers reached out to two other black ESPN hosts, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, to ask them to serve as fill-ins for the show — but Eaves and Duncan did not agree to take the place of Hill and Smith, either.

…Faced with the possibility of having to replace Hill and Smith with white co-hosts, the sources said, ESPN then called Hill and asked her to come back on her show.

For the record, ESPN PR’s Chris LaPlaca (senior vice president, corporate communications) denies this:

And ESPN’s Rob King told Gibbs having Hill and Smith do the show as they did was “the outcome we always desired”:

“Yesterday was a hard and unusual day, with a number of people interpreting the day without a full picture that happened,” Rob King, the senior vice president for news and information at SportsCenter, told ThinkProgress. “In the end, ultimately, Michael and Jemele appearing on the show last night and doing the show the way they did is the outcome we always desired.” 

Gibbs’ story also notes that Eaves sent out a tweet expressing frustration at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Wednesday, 90 minutes before SC6, and that Hill later posted a photo (seen above) with Eaves and other National Association of Black Journalists members (the organization sent a statement in support of her):

What does this all mean? Well, King’s comment that people outside ESPN don’t have the full picture is probably accurate, and it’s quite possible that the full details may never emerge. There isn’t a ton of room where both LaPlaca’s “We never asked other anchors to do last night’s show. Period.” and Gibbs’ report that two sources said ESPN “tried to keep Hill off the air” and “producers reached out to two other black ESPN hosts, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, to ask them to serve as fill-ins” can co-exist, though. It’s somewhat telling that King’s denial was a bit open-ended rather than a flat denial, which seems to point to that perhaps behind the scenes, some conversations may have been taking place in some corners of the company.

It’s possible that there is some semantic room between “reach out” and “ask” (i.e. maybe ESPN PR doesn’t count feeling out if Eaves and Duncan would take the place of Smith and Hill to be actually asking them to do so). It’s also perhaps possible that they were considering options just in case the controversy ramped up further, perhaps if the president himself weighed in; that didn’t happen, so maybe ESPN wouldn’t have pulled the trigger on replacing Hill even if Eaves and Duncan had agreed to fill in. But there’s a pretty stark divide between ThinkProgress’ report and ESPN PR’s response.

If ESPN did in fact try to pull Hill off the air, that seems like a horrible idea. You can give it a charitable spin of them trying to let the controversy die down by having someone else fill in (not a unusual practice at the company), but many critics were already mad at them for their claim that Hill’s tweets (which didn’t mention ESPN, and weren’t on a ESPN platform) were “inappropriate” and their decision to not stand by her more strongly against the waves of criticism.

Hill is beloved by many of her colleagues, as both Gibbs’ story and Bryan Curtis’ Ringer piece on SC6 illustrate. She received a ton of internal support following the criticism of her tweets, both publicly and privately; the colleagues who spoke to Richard Deitsch are one example, but countless ESPN figures beyond that have tweeted support for Hill, with some backing her tweets fully and some saying that they support her even if they don’t agree fully with what she did. So trying to pull her off the air seems likely to create massive internal rebellion, and Gibbs’ story suggests that’s just what happened.

ESPN was already under siege from many critics for not standing by their employee more thoroughly here, and even claiming that her tweets were “inappropriate.” This report seems likely to further inflame that criticism. It’s not going to make critics on the right happy, either. And it suggests that this story is far from dying down.

[Think Progress]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.

  • Bobby Whitman

    Do not take her off, espn. (Not that really tried to.) The girl is living proof that you’re run by hypocrites. They cry because Obama is gone…and Hillary lost. They name call because they have no ideas. It’s kinda fun watching her and Michael twist in those hot seats. Two liberal soldier ants. Nothing more. Where’s my fly swatter?

    • Deon Hamner

      Take that statement you wrote and that’s what Schilling, Clay Travis and Fox News were doing the last 8 years when Obama was in office… Talking heads on both sides have fluttered our TVs. My suggestion, just the watch the live games.

  • Gaspipe Casso

    Poor Jemele. She’s the victim.

    • Terrance Pitts

      No victims here. She said what she said, only people cryin are those supporting trump’s racist ass

      • souvien

        They really are a weak and feeble lot aren’t they…so easily triggered, and so utterly divorced from reality. Just like their tiny fingered orange Gropen-fuhrer!

      • Nathan Walter

        I don’t support Trump, but it’s nonsensical that ESPN wouldn’t so much as suspend her.

        They suspended Bill Simmons three weeks for far less egregious comments.

        • Terrance Pitts

          You have a point. Perhaps there was some lesson learned from their reaction to the Bill Simmons situation. Maybe they agree with Jemele

      • Gaspipe Casso

        Do you have a specific example of Trump’s racism?

        • Terrance Pitts

          1. Top cabinet picks have a history of prejudice. Steve Bannon from Breitbart, Jeff Sessions who is a known racist
          2. Travel ban targeting muslims
          3. Housing discrimination lawsuits for not renting to blacks
          4. Attack on Muslim parents
          5. Claiming judges are biased because of their race
          6. Racist practices at his casino, removing black card dealers at the request of big spenders
          7. Refusing to condemn white supremacist
          8. And his support for racists behavior before and after his election run

          • Gaspipe Casso

            Nonsense. All of it.

          • Terrance Pitts

            What makes it nonesense? I gave you specific examples. if it walks like a duck…

          • Nathan Walter

            Is there a difference between being a racist and being a white supremacist?

          • Terrance Pitts

            Umm, I believe it’s like cognac and brandy. All cognac is concidered brandy but not all brandy is congnac. All white supremacist are racist but not all racists are white supremacist

    • Troy Burrow

      As you sitting there snotting. You need a tissue?

    • inku palios

      The real victims are the African-American community who are being attacked by Jeff Sessions & President Trump.

      • John Danknich

        Attacked how and where? Details, please.

      • Gaspipe Casso

        How so?

  • baitmando

    Typical ghetto racists.

    • Troy Burrow mad?

  • Terrance Pitts

    I support Miss Hill. President Trump may not be the person she says he is; however, his actions seem to prove otherwise.

  • Al

    I’m curious: What are the ratings for SC6? They cannot be good.

  • souvien

    Sergio Dip on the SC6 !!!

  • Scott Fitzgerald

    Lindsay Czarniak is laughing somewhere

  • alnc

    What a mess. ESPN should get this corrected ASAP and those that have jobs there better watch out. It was not long ago they flat lined the place. Go ahead and pull there terrible show and move on and stop trying to out Fox, dreadful Fox not 1.
    Trying to be like Fox and having Fox punk you is getting old.

  • Tyler

    Umm, blatant racial discrimination? The Asian Robert Lee could sue if it would be more politically correct than a white guy suing.

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  • sportsfan365

    Please don’t cry about the NFL’s nonsensical punishments, as ESPN is no different.

  • John Danknich

    As if this could be any worse for ESPN…

  • Nathan Walter

    From 2008, Jamele Hill’s apology for comparing Celtics fans to Hitler:

    It seems that Hill has a short memory about some of her journalistic misguiding.

    “I got too comfortable with my own knowledge and history of dealing with racial issues. I forgot to ask questions, perhaps subconsciously thinking I knew it all. I’ve served on numerous diversity panels, and regularly work with the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. I had a this-would-never-happen-to-me attitude, instead of a let-me-make-sure-this-doesn’t happen-to-me attitude. I dropped my guard. I got caught up in being cutesy and wrote something stupid.”

    “I once wrote about Don Imus that “speech is free, but consequences are not.” I never want to be the exception to that rule, and I’m not sure any of us want to live in a world where hurtful things are hurled around without cost.”

    “My consequence is losing some of my credibility, and for me, that’s a stiff penalty. You don’t always have to agree with me, but every time you choose to visit this column space, you’re placing a certain trust in me. That trust has been shaken.”

    These were probably genuine at the time. But I’m not confident she ever really learned a lesson.

  • nenadn

    look at the phrasing of this. she got caught up.. she didn’t got caught up, she caused the whole controversy at the first place.

  • MrBeepo

    So ESPN is admitting that the inmates are running the asylum. Nice. They can’t control their on air talent? Time to get new management in there.

    • Terrance Pitts

      Those are some very well educated inmates at ESPN.

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    Jemele is one sassy sista. After she gets fired maybe she can create Media Take Out sports kinda like TMZ sport

  • Jay Eimer

    Why not a non-black co-host then? Is this ESPN or BET?

    For that matter, I watch politics and news when I want. I watch sports when I want a break from doom and gloom news and people yelling past each other (Sunday morning political shows and similar).

    Leave the politics at home on sports newworks – PLEASE

  • Jeffrey Maier

    ESPN. Home of black supremacists.

    • Terrance Pitts

      What’s a black supremacist?

      • Jeffrey Maier


        • Terrance Pitts

          Guess if you don’t have an answer you just make some ish up. Get a life Jeffrey, the internet can be a sad and lonely place

          • Jeffrey Maier

            your momma

  • MrBull

    Espn just keeps creating more issues with how to handle what employees say politically….the double standard is so glaring on who espn ‘sancations’ and who they ‘do not’….
    Hill should have at least been ‘told to take a day off’ like they did to Linda Cohn, but, they didn’t.
    Espn is afraid of the fallout from discipling black on air talent vs White talent – plain and simple….just look at who was taken off the air for what they said or posted online….
    If it weren’t for the live sports, why watch Espn….

  • Jason H.

    Twitter is never worth this kind of hassle.

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