ESPN denied a report that the network tried to replace Jemele Hill with another African-American host for a show Wednesday on the heels of Press Secretary Sarah Sanders calling the “SC6” anchor’s anti-Trump tweets a “fireable offense.”
Citing “two sources familiar with the situation,” Think Progress reported on Thursday that ESPN executives wanted to sideline Hill and reached out to other black hosts to fill her seat next to co-host Michael Smith. According to the website, Smith refused to do the show without her -- and two African-American ESPN hosts declined to fill in.
"We never asked any other anchors to do last night’s show. Period,” an ESPN spokesperson told Fox News.
“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists,” Hill, the face of ESPN’s “SC6,” a relatively new version of SportsCenter with an urban feel, tweeted.
Citing the sources, Think Progress reported that ESPN didn’t allow Smith and Hill on the air Wednesday night until it became clear that they’d have to be replaced with white co-hosts.
“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,” ESPN Senior Vice President Rob King told Think Progress.
Hill and Smith have a long history and are known to be extremely close. They co-hosted shows together on several platforms before being promoted to the network’s new version of its flashsip show.
Hill is an outspoken liberal who currently has a pair of photographs with Barack and Michelle Obama pinned atop her twitter feed. Hill did not address the controversy on Wednesday’s show, but did tweet a photo of members of the National Association of Black Journalists, thanking them for support. One of the men in the photo is ESPN’s Michael Eaves – who was among the possible replacements mentioned in the Think Progress report.
“The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate,” the network said in its initial statement.
Hill eventually tweeted that she had regret for painting ESPN in an “unfair light” but stood by her comments about the president.
“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,” Hill tweeted.
ESPN’s public relations department sent Hill’s tweet to media reporters, so network executives are clearly OK with the non-apology.
The controversy bubbled all the way up to the White House during Wednesday’s press briefing. Sanders weighed in to say calling President Trump a “white supremacist” is a fireable offense.
Hill’s comment came amid increasing criticism of ESPN for introducing liberal political bias into its sports programming. In one prominent, recent example, the channel pulled an Asian-American football broadcaster from a college football game at University of Virginia because his name was Robert Lee, same as the Confederate general. Despite widespread speculation that ESPN’s leftward tone has turned off viewers, it does not appear that Hill will be punished for her anti-Trump rhetoric.
Eaves did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment
Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News.
Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.