Michael Smith and Jemele Hill’s version of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” lasted only 13 months.
ESPN’s Michael Smith will follow in the footsteps of his anti-Trump, former co-host Jemele Hill and leave the network’s flagship program “SportsCenter” after hosting Friday’s 6 p.m. ET episode for the last time.
Sports Illustrated first reported the news that Smith would leave “SportsCenter,” and Fox News has confirmed that his last day will be Friday.
“Michael is a talented commentator and we greatly appreciate and value his contributions and creativity. We are in the process of discussing with him potential next ESPN assignments,” ESPN Executive Vice President Norby Williamson said in a statement “Permanent anchors for the 6 p.m. ‘SportsCenter’ will be determined and announced at a later date. In the interim, the program will be hosted by a variety of anchors from the ‘SportsCenter’ team."
Smith and his good friend Hill were tasked with hosting a revamped edition of “SportsCenter” dubbed “SC6” that had an urban feel and aimed to attract younger viewers. However, the show was plagued by poor ratings and became a lightning rod when Hill tweeted, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with other white supremacists.”
ESPN re-assigned Hill “SportsCenter” to a new role at The Undefeated, the company’s site that covers the intersections of sports and race. Smith anchored alone for a few weeks but ESPN discontinued branding it “SC6” once Hill departed.
Smith has “multiple years” remaining on his ESPN contract but the network has not announced his next step.
“Look for Smith to craft a new role at ESPN over the next couple of months,” Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch wrote.
Industry insiders have speculated that Smith would follow Hill out the door, as the two have been extremely close over the years. Last month, Smith appeared on James Andrew Miller’s “Origins” podcast, discussed what occurred behind the scenes at ESPN and accused the network of silencing the outspoken duo.
In the interview that was taped before Hill left the show, he explained that “SC6” was created because of the natural chemistry between the co-hosts, but they were forced to dial back the dialogue.
“There was a time we weren’t even talking to each other [on air] anymore,” Smith said. “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 analysis. That’s what pissed me off so much.”
ESPN initially declined to punish Hill for her comments about Trump but then sidelined her for two weeks in October when she violated the company’s social media guidelines a second time by calling on fans to boycott the Dallas Cowboys’ advertisers after owner Jerry Jones told players they would be benched if they did not stand up during the national anthem.
“SC6” was criticized for being an attempt to reach younger, diverse viewers with hot takes and opinions instead of simple highlights, but the ratings never took off with Hill aboard. Smith said the duo “knew we were gonna get s–t out of the gate” but they “weren’t built to take it” and “started pushing the panic button” before network executives eventually forced changes.
“Instead of saying ‘no, this is the vision for this show, this is what we’re doing. This show is about Michael and Jemele and their opinions and their chemistry, and they’re going to do ‘SportsCenter’ their way.’ Instead of sticking to that vision, we immediately tried to merge two things,” Smith said on the podcast. “It was very frustrating.”
Smith said “behind the scenes and on camera… [ESPN] got what they wanted, which was Michael and Jemele being muted. And that frustrated the s–t out of us.”
Smith’s candid remarks about the inner-workings of ESPN resulted in media watchdogs to believe it was only a matter of time until he left the network’s flagship program.
"SC6" only lasted 13 months.
Since leaving “SportsCenter,” Hill appeared on ABC News’ “The View” to double down on her infamous tweet. Hill told the panel on “The View” that she stands by what she said about President Trump, but she doesn’t think “his supporters are white supremacists” as a whole.
“What I would say, though, is that they have the benefit of privilege to be able to distance and dissociate themselves from certain issues. Me, as a woman of color, I feel vulnerable to certain behaviors, certain policies and certain things that he’s said and done,” Hill said.
Hill told the panel that the feeling of vulnerability contributed to her controversial tweet and said that it’s probably hard to understand her position if you’re not in her situation. Hill then asked Trump supporters to understand that her perspective is coming from a place of vulnerability.
“In this time, and in this moment, it feels like people of color are under attack,” Hill said.
Both ABC, which broadcasts "The View," and ESPN are owned by parent company Disney.
Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.