It’s now been more than two years since Jemele Hill left ESPN amid controversies over tweets about then-President Donald Trump and concerns that she was bringing more political discourse into her SportsCenter show with Michael Smith. (Smith left the network himself a year later.)
Yet Hill and Smith’s rise and fall at ESPN, going from the popularity of their ESPN 2 show His & Hers to getting the coveted 6 p.m. ET timeslot for SC6, their version of SportsCenter, is still a compelling and intriguing story to recall. Especially when mainstream culture seemed to catch up with the sorts of issues regarding racial inequality and social injustice they attempted to raise on the air.
Since leaving ESPN himself, Dan Le Batard has devoted many of his “South Beach Sessions” podcasts to conversations with writers and broadcasters who made an impact or gained notoriety at certain points of their careers. (For instance, talking to Tommy Craggs and Drew Magary about their Deadspin days.)
This week, he invited Hill and Smith to his podcast to talk about the end of their run at ESPN. Yet while that story has been told before with several outlets (including Awful Announcing), Le Batard got a bit more personal with the two commentators. Hill admitted that she worried about how her actions may have hurt Smith’s career and whether or not he held that against her.
Jemele Hill wondered if Michael Smith resented her for the controversies leading to the end of SC6: pic.twitter.com/0HxzvugGIC
— The IC Workstation (@ClippelBoardy) March 12, 2021
“My decision to tweet sent his life in a different direction and that was hard for me to deal with,” said Hill.
“I felt terrible about that. Mike never made me feel that way. He said to me a thousand times, ‘I got your back, sis. I understand. It’s all good. We’ll figure it out.’ Yet in the back of my mind, I was in many ways insecure about that. […] There was a period where our friendship felt awkward for me.”
— Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz (@LeBatardShow) March 10, 2021
Smith was surprised to hear this (as was Le Batard), which made for a candid moment during their interview. Hill thought Smith may have passively shown his grudge by appearing on several other shows to talk about what happened, but not on her podcast. This was a conversation that he and Hill never had before, despite all they’d been through and talking about their difficulties with ESPN at the time.
“I wish you’d have called and told me that,” said Smith. “I wish we’d have talked through that. Damn, Dan — I didn’t know you were a couples counselor too.”
Smith reminded Hill that their demise at ESPN was in progress before the tweets about Trump and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that got her in trouble. Their friendship wasn’t tied to the success and failure of their ESPN ventures and to imply otherwise was reductive.
As Le Batard pointed out, leaving ESPN has worked out well for both Hill and Smith professionally. Hill has her podcast on Spotify, writes for The Atlantic (not The Athletic), co-hosts a VICE TV show with Cari Champion, and is producing several documentaries. Smith has a new show on Peacock, Brother From Another, with Michael Holley and started up a new production company, Inflection Point Entertainment.