Bristol, CT – January 24, 2017 – Studio X: Michael Smith and Jemele Hill during the SC6 marketing campaign (Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

And on that note, how would you guys respond to accusations or the notion that ESPN has become too liberal in terms of its opinions and programming?

Hill— To pick up on what Mike said, that’s also bullshit [Laughs]. We have plenty of people around here who have conservative opinions. Who have opinions that as long as they are said and expressed in the appropriate manner. And I don’t necessarily mean platform, I mean it in terms of is what you’re saying something that’s responsible, fair, accurate and thoughtful. As long as it meets that bar, then I don’t think there’s any shortage or any kind of concerted effort to suppress those opinions.

A lot of times when people call us a liberal network and make comparisons to other people who may have said things that were controversial, nine times out of 10, those people have had no business saying that shit anyway. Nine times out of 10! That it had nothing to do with expressing views about politics, or wanting to be a concerned citizen in this country. They probably said something or did something that was in direct conflict with the values that ESPN, and I guess by extension Disney, is trying to exhibit as a company.

Furthermore, I think we need to stop throwing everything into the bag of politics. Everything is not politics. Some stuff is just right and wrong. It’s not like people like myself or Mike or other personalities, we’re not coming on TV and breaking down the Affordable Care Act. If we’re talking about say something like the immigration ban, which is simply about the values of our country that we have that are written in plenty of historical documents. That’s a matter of right and wrong. Okay?

Smith— I think it tells you a lot, that on the immigration ban, you have just as many people— or I shouldn’t say just as many— you have an awful lot of people on the right, both in office and private citizens, who have spoken out against the executive order. So that’s not a liberal matter, that something that seems to be universally criticized.

This idea that ESPN is liberal, I find that to be more coded language. I won’t use bullshit this time. I’ll just say coded language. Because when did that kind of commentary start? That started right around the time when Black Lives Matter became a thing. When Black Lives Matter really started to develop, and throughout the entire story of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. So I would like for somebody to tell me how “stop shooting unarmed African American men and women” is a liberal point of view? Why is that liberal? Why is “stop beating women” liberal?

Because to Jemele’s point, we haven’t come on and discussed Roe v. Wade one time. We haven’t suggested who the president should appoint to the Supreme Court one time. We didn’t even really discuss the election. The only time we discussed the election that I recall— as a matter of fact Jemele, you weren’t even on the show [that day]— leading up to November was when Donald Trump had his remarks when he basically admitted to sexual assault. When those remarks were released, his excuse was “that’s locker room talk.”

So what did reporters do? Take that and instead of focusing strictly on him and saying “that’s bullshit,” they took it to the professional athletes and asked them whether they discuss those types of things or they talk like that in their locker rooms. And most of them, to a man, if not all of them said “hell no, we don’t talk like that in the locker room.” So what did it become? A sports story. That’s the only time we even discussed the election leading up to it.

So the people who are saying that ESPN is liberal are the people who really want to say “I wish these black people would stop complaining. I wish black people would stop complaining about the fact that they are profiled or targeted or have been treated unfairly or unequally throughout the history of this country. All these minorities, stop bitching.”

That’s really what they want to say when [they say] ESPN is too liberal. They don’t like hearing people pointing out injustice.

Hill—  There were plenty of people at our network who did not agree with that stance, and those views were expressed. It’s not like there was some undercover talking edict that if you disagree with Colin Kaepernick then you just better shut up. That wasn’t the case at all.

Smith— Right. A lot of people tried to criticize his method and say “this is not the way to do it” because they took offense to him “disrespecting the flag,” to which we said, that’s not the point. Because what manner of protest is acceptable? No manner of protest has ever been convenient or acceptable, be it the airport protest (and I won’t get off into that). Point being, Jemele is absolutely right. If they didn’t like him protesting the national anthem, they said it and were free to say so.

Onto something a little lighter, what feature for the show are you most excited about?

Hill— Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I guess we don’t want to expose too much of what we have in store.

Smith— We’re going to do the show backward, We’re going to start at the end of the show and go forward. We’re going to do it hanging upside down, and some days we may be nude [Laughs]. I’m totally kidding.

We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re not doing television like it’s never been done before. We’re not changing the game. We’re just bringing a fresh approach to SportsCenter in the form of two friends who have hosted a successful talk show for the last three years. We’re going to tweak some things, but I would say— Jemele, would you agree— it’s 80-85 percent the same thing people came to know and love on His & Hers with a few improvements. Right?

Hill— I would agree with that. I guess it depends on who you believe the SportsCenter viewer is. If you watch our show and enjoy what you saw, you will see a lot of those same elements. It’ll be conversation based, like you saw in our show. Maybe that’s a departure from the 6 p.m. SportsCenter as it normally would go, but for us it’s not a huge departure.

I think in general, SportsCenter has been evolving over the last couple of years to a more conversation and personality-driven show anyway. So we’re just kind of following along too. We’ll still have a lot of fun like we did on His & Hers. We’ll still do the movie spoofs and skits and all sorts of things. So that may be different for the audience. But you’ll still get your news, you’ll still get informed and you’ll still hopefully get thoughtful and critical conversation.

What do you think the biggest challenge for doing this show will be?

Hill— I think it just depends on what is considered to be a measure of success. Because everyone has a different model or a different standard for what they think makes for a successful re-launch of a show. You have this prevailing, I think untrue, narrative about SportsCenter and highlights and it being a dead product. In reality, there are plenty of networks and plenty of shows that would kill to have the “problems” of SportsCenter.

So I think if anything, it’s fighting this perception that SportsCenter is behind the times. Because I don’t think that’s true at all. So nobody in charge with far bigger and longer titles than us has ever said to us that if you don’t rate this then it’s not a success. Everything has been about the product being relevant and something people can enjoy.

Last question: If you had one dream guest that could come on the show— he or she has to be alive, we’re not going into the dead or alive thing— who would it be and why?   

Hill— That’s easy for me. It would probably be, this is something about politics, the former President and First Lady [Laughs] to come in and co-host with us. 1A for me would probably be Serena Williams. You get me any of those three and I’m happy.

Smith— You know who I think we’d have the most fun with? And we’ve let it be known that we’d love to have them. You can probably go more famous than this, but you know who would be a perfect fit for us? Jemele, we need to have D-Wade and Gaby  together,

Hill— [Laughs] That’s true.

Smith— D-Wade and Gabrielle Union and me and Jemele would be a nice little…can’t you see us going to dinner, four of us, you know?    

Hill— That’s true. That’s a good one.

Smith— I don’t want to call it a double date. I don’t want to perpetuate the rumors about me and Jemele that some people like to keep going. I’m just saying that those two together, that power couple, they have so much fun together and they’re so interesting and so successful. D-Wade and Gaby.  

About Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a writer and columnist for Awful Announcing. He's also a senior contributor at Forbes and writes at FanSided, SI Knicks, YES Network and other publications.. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, Business Insider, Sporting News and Major League Baseball. You should follow him on Twitter.

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