When ESPN announced last month that Jemele Hill had chosen to leave the 6 p.m. SportsCenter less than year after taking on that high-profile gig, we were left only to guess at her reasons. But in an episode of Jim Miller’s “Origins” podcast released Wednesday, Hill’s longtime partner Michael Smith seemed to lend some clarity to the situation — even without addressing Hill’s departure directly.
Toward the end of an episode devoted to the origins of SportsCenter, Smith told Miller that ESPN attempted to tone down his and Hill’s voices on SC6 in the wake of Hill’s controversial tweets about Donald Trump and the NFL. The shift began, in Smith’s view, around when ESPN executive Norby Williamson took over oversight of the show in September, right as Hill was suspended for musing whether fans should boycott Cowboys sponsors. When Hill returned to the air, Smith said, producers began downplaying the commentary segments that made SC6 distinct.
“There was a time we weren’t even talking to each other [on air] anymore. Like no more Michael and Jemele, not less, not here and there. No more Michael and Jemele talking. No more of their commentary. It’s just strictly live shots and analysts. That’s what pissed me off so much. I was like, wait a second, you all acknowledge that one of the strengths we have going for us as a show is Michael and Jemele’s chemistry, but Michael and Jemele don’t fucking talk to each other? How does that make sense?”
Smith went on to accuse ESPN of “pushing the panic button” and giving up on the network’s vision for SC6 instead of working to perfect it. In the end, he said, “They got what they wanted, which was Michael and Jemele being muted. And that frustrated the shit out of us.”
Hill was a bit more diplomatic in explaining why she chose to leave SC6 for a role that will see her writing commentary about race and culture for The Undefeated.
“I said to Norby, I know what SportsCenter needs to be, but I know what I need to be too. And I don’t think those two things are on the same page.”
Smith, who will remain host of SC6 even as Hill moves on, emphasized that he would continue “to do the same shit I’ve been doing for the past 14 years at ESPN.”
You can listen to the entire “Origins” episode here.