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First, she tweeted that the president is a white supremacist, stirring the ire of trolls and the support of fellow celebrity activists. Then, the White House suggested her tweets were “a fireable offense” during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Now, Think Progress reports that ESPN actually tried to replace Hill with another Black anchor for Wednesday night’s broadcast, but her co-host Michael Smith and several of her Black co-workers refused to appear on-air without her.
Two sources have confirmed to the website that the network “originally tried to keep Hill off the air on Wednesday evening,” but Smith notified them that he would not be doing the show without his co-host. Producers then reportedly “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,” as Think Progress described the scenario.
Think Progress points out this would certainly explain this late afternoon tweet from Eaves:
Man.. this day got me like..— Michael Eaves (@michaeleaves) September 13, 2017
The well of potential Black replacements was apparently dry after that, so—faced with the alternative of replacing the first Black duo to command the Sports Center desk with a pair of white hosts—ESPN allegedly circled back around to Hill and asked her to do the show Wednesday afternoon.
ESPN refuted that part of the story, though. Rob King, senior vice president for news and information at Sports Center , said: “Yesterday was a hard and unusual day, with a number of people interpreting the day without a full picture that happened. 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.”
Hill did not mention the firestorm on-air at all, but she did tweet twice later that evening.
First, she shared a picture of herself with members of the National Association of Black Journalists, including Eaves. She thanked them for their support, writing, “Love that my @NABJSports brothers came to check on me.”
Then, thirty minutes later, she tweeted a screenshot of a note in her phone that read simply, “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”
Considering the amount of negative press they ostensibly avoided by not replacing Hill and Smith with two white hosts, ESPN should probably count their blessings the pair was willing to be ride through the storm.
Christine Friar is a writer and editor in New York who focuses on streaming entertainment and internet culture. Her work has appeared in the Awl, the Fader, New York Magazine, Paper Magazine, Vogue, Elle, and more.