EXCLUSIVE: ESPN tried to kick Jemele Hill off the air and replace her with another black host

Her colleagues, including co-host Michael Smith, weren't having it.

Jemele Hill, left, and Michael Smith attend ESPN: The Party 2017 held on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)
Jemele Hill, left, and Michael Smith attend ESPN: The Party 2017 held on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)

At 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening, just three hours after the White House encouraged ESPN to fire her, Jemele Hill sat next to her co-host Michael Smith on the set of their daily SportsCenter show and, after a warm welcome to her live broadcast audience, began discussing the Cleveland Indians’ historic 21-game winning streak.

Hill — who was caught in the middle of a firestorm of controversy that began on Monday night when she tweeted that President Donald Trump was a white supremacist, which escalated when ESPN issued a statement on Tuesday reprimanding her comments and which exploded when White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Hill’s tweets were a “fireable offense” — was calm and composed throughout the hour, and the show went on as usual.

However, two sources familiar with the situation told ThinkProgress that this was not the original plan.

ESPN originally tried to keep Hill off the air on Wednesday evening, but Smith refused to do the show without her, the sources said. Both sources also said that producers reached out to two other black ESPN hosts, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, to ask them to serve as fill-ins for the show — but Eaves and Duncan did not agree to take the place of Hill and Smith, either.

At 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Eaves expressed his frustration with that day.

Faced with the possibility of having to replace Hill and Smith with white co-hosts, the sources said, ESPN then called Hill and asked her to come back on her show.

ESPN refutes this account.

“Yesterday was a hard and unusual day, with a number of people interpreting the day without a full picture that happened,” Rob King, the senior vice president for news and information at SportsCenter, told ThinkProgress. “In the end, ultimately, Michael and Jemele appearing on the show last night and doing the show the way they did is the outcome we always desired.” 

“We never asked any other anchors to do last night’s show. Period,” ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz emailed ThinkProgress after this story was published.

Hill did not address the controversy during the show on Wednesday night, but she did release two statements on Twitter that evening. In one, she posed for a photo with men from the National Association of Black Journalists and thanked them for their support. Eaves was one of the men in the picture.

Hill has not deleted any of her tweets from Monday night, which came amid an interaction with some of her followers on Twitter about her outspoken political views.

“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself [with] other white supremacists,” she tweeted, adding that he is an “an unfit, bigoted, incompetent moron” who is “unqualified and unfit to be president.”

“[I]f he were not white, he never would have been elected,” she tweeted.

Hill has not apologized for her comments; however, she did tweet on Wednesday night that she regretted the fact that the comments “painted ESPN in an unfair light.”

Last month, Trump praised some of the participants of a violent, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. White supremacists openly cheered his comments.

Thursday afternoon, Trump stuck by his incendiary comments. “When you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying and people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump may have a point.’ I said there’s some very bad people on the other side also,” Trump told reporters on the way back from Florida.

Additional reporting by Judd Legum. This story has been updated to include an additional comment from ESPN provided to ThinkProgress after publication. 


 

UPDATE (9/15): On Friday, ThinkProgress published an update to this story, with additional details about Wednesday’s timeline and ESPN’s response.