As first reported by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, Jemele Hill is leaving the 6pm ET SC6 edition of SportsCenter on ESPN. Hill will leave the show February 2nd to take on a role with The Undefeated, ESPN’s website dedicated to the intersection of sports, race and culture, and as an on-air commentator on programs such as SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, Around the Horn, Highly Questionable, Pardon the Interruption, E:60 and various radio programs and podcasts produced by ESPN Audio.
“There is an old adage that says, the heart wants what it wants,” said Hill. “I started at ESPN 11 years ago as a columnist and while I have worn many hats in the time since, my true love always has been writing, reporting and commentary. While I have grown in every way imaginable this last year on the 6 p.m. SportsCenter, deep down I knew it wasn’t my calling. I approached (ESPN Executive Vice President, Content) Connor Schell recently and asked if they would consider re-thinking my role. And as has been the case throughout my 11 years at this company, ESPN graciously worked with me to determine the best way for me to continue to do meaningful work.
“My first choice was to work with The Undefeated, a site that covers the intersection of race, African-American culture and sports in creative and compelling ways,” she added. “I admire, trust and have unconditional respect for (ESPN Senior Vice President & Editor-in-Chief) Kevin Merida and The Undefeated staff. I have no doubt we will create amazing content together. I’m also thankful to Connor for not only hearing my request, but being immensely supportive throughout this process. I have longed for some time to return to my roots, so to speak. I’m ecstatic to be in such a supportive environment to explore the next phase in my career.
“I’d also like to thank my co-host Michael Smith for his encouragement, generosity and support,” she said. “I will be cheering him on as the 6 p.m. SportsCenter evolves with him as lead anchor. The SC6 staff also has my utmost gratitude and affection. Thank you for your hard work and contributions.”
Although the narrative being pushed by ESPN suggests Hill requested the role change, others aren’t buying it. FOX Sports Radio host Clay Travis, who’s broken numerous stories on ESPN, has been saying on the air for weeks that Hill would be gone from SC6 after the Super Bowl because the show’s ratings were abysmal.
It’s well documented that Hill put a massive bullseye on ESPN’s reputation when she took President Trump to task on Twitter, labeling him a white supremacist. That was followed up by encouraging Dallas Cowboys fans to boycott sponsors of America’s team, an act which earned her a suspension.
Complicating matters even more was that Hill and Smith’s former program, His and Hers, was drastically different than SportsCenter. When the network attempted to mesh the two together and develop SC6, it left a bad taste in the mouth’s of many traditional viewers, leading them to reject the program. That approach also placed Smith and Hill in a box to deliver a stylistically different version of their show, rather than the one which they were most comfortable executing.
The decline of the program’s ratings, coupled with the dissatisfaction of the show from many involved, led to internal role changes for ESPN managers Rob King, Dave Roberts and Norby Williamson. The Big Lead pointed out that turmoil had existed behind the scenes for quite some time, but there was a possibility of Hill and Smith returning to the daytime lineup to reprise their His & Hers program. Once Smith parted ways though with the duo’s mutual agent, Evan Dick of CAA, it became clear that the pair would soon be heading in different directions.
While Hill may be pursuing a new challenge, the network is counting on Smith to become the lead anchor of the 6pm ET SportsCenter.
“The telecast continues to evolve as our primary mission is serving sports fans no matter the time of day,” Williamson said. “We have clearly learned that viewers expect the most comprehensive news coverage and compelling analysis during the 6 p.m. hour. Michael Smith is an experienced journalist and seasoned commentator and I’m confident that his talents can help us achieve our objectives as we move forward.”
What will be interesting to follow is how Hill adjusts to her new role and if it’s enough to satisfy her long term. It’s certainly possible she could become a permanent fixture on The Undefeated, but her passion for discussing topics beyond sports, and the growth of her profile are likely to earn her future attention from outlets such as CNN or MSNBC. Her current employer could also pursue utilizing her on ABC if they feel a fit makes sense.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
FanDuel TV Strikes Deal With ONE Championship Martial Arts
“We’ve long respected the content the ONE Championship team is producing and are looking forward to bringing their action to our audience through FanDuel TV and FanDuel+.”
FanDuel TV and ONE Championship Martial Arts have struck a deal that will see the MMA, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and submission grappling series air weekly events on the newly launched channel.
“We’re eager to continue expanding the variety of content we’re offering at FanDuel TV to introduce our audience to emerging sports,” said FanDuel Chief Commercial Officer Mike Raffensperger. “We’ve long respected the content the ONE Championship team is producing and are looking forward to bringing their action to our audience through FanDuel TV and FanDuel+.”
ONE Championship is a top-five global sports property for digital viewership and engagement according to Nielsen measurements.
“We are thrilled to join the FanDuel TV lineup and give our passionate U.S. audience yet another way to engage with ONE Championship,” said ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong. “Having a quality partner in FanDuel will help raise the profile of our company in the region and provide their viewers with action-packed martial arts events like they have never seen before.”
Bob Costas Re-Lives First Announcing Assignment For NBC
“My biography usually says I began with them in 1980, but technically the first time I was on the air with them was in December 1979.”
Legendary sports broadcaster Bob Costas appeared on KNBR’s Tolbert & Copes Thursday to discuss the death of Baseball Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. But before the conversation turned to the recently departed pitcher, the show asked Costas about what he has announced that would surprise someone. He reminisced about his first time on the air for NBC.
“My very first assignment for NBC, my biography usually says I began with them in 1980, but technically the first time I was on the air with them was in December 1979,” Costas recounted. “There was a program on NBC then called Sports World. It was an anthology series that was their answer to the gold standard, ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
“So they traveled the globe, like Wide World of Sports did. So they sent me, wearing a red NBC jacket, to Tokyo to cover a sumo wrestling tournament with seven-time world power-lifting champion Larry Pacifico as my color man. Now, this is all the Japanese I learned as we came on the air: ‘Minasan kon’nichwa watashinoamaeha Bob Costas’, which means ‘Hello everyone, my name is Bob Costas’. If ever there was typecasting, when they sat and looked at their roster of announcers and went ‘Who should we send to the sumo wrestling? It’s gotta be Costas, who’s entire body weight would constitute one meal for the sumo wrestling champion.”
Costas departed NBC Sports in 2019 after 40 years with the network, announcing MLB, NBA, and the Olympics, in addition to his work with the network’s sumo wrestling coverage.
Matt Leinart, Alex Smith Make Wager Over Pac-12 Championship Game
“I gotta be honest with you: I’m not that nervous. I know that sounds kind of arrogant and confident.”
FOX Sports analyst Matt Leinart and ESPN analyst Alex Smith have made a friendly wager over the upcoming Pac-12 Championship Game.
USC, Leinart’s alma mater, is slated to play Utah, where Smith attended, in the game Friday evening on FOX from Las Vegas.
The two agreed to don the other player’s jersey. “At least it will be 11,” Smith said, noting he and Leinart both wore the number during their playing days.
“I gotta be honest with you: I’m not that nervous,” Leinart said when presented with the offer. “I know that sounds kind of arrogant and confident.” Smith jokingly responded by calling USC “Free Agent University”. He added he would overnight Leinart a jersey to ensure he had one if the Utes were victorious.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.