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What I Learned – Jemele Hill talks Colin Kaepernick, ESPN, ‘worst’ experience on ‘SportsCenter’

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1. It was announced earlier this week that Colin Kaepernick made a deal with Disney/ESPN to produce content including a docuseries on his past five years. One of the producers for the series is Jemele Hill, who had a rocky exit from ESPN in 2018.Hill joined me on this week’s SI Media Podcast to discuss how this all came together and clear up two important narratives about Kaepernick. According to Hill, Kaepernick definitely wants to play football again, and he has never said he’d come back only as a starting quarterback.Hill also said that Kaepernick reached out to get her side of her exit from ESPN before he agreed to get into business with the network. During the podcast, Hill shed a lot of light on the end of her tenure at ESPN. I asked her whether she thought ESPN gave her and Michael Smith a fair shot with the 6 p.m. SportsCenter. Here was her answer:”No, I don’t, and I never will think that. And I’m sure he agrees with me. There’s a difference between a chance and an opportunity. What we got was a chance and I think they thought they were giving us an opportunity. “Of all the many jobs and roles that I got a chance to have at ESPN, that job is always gonna sit on the side as being the one that was the worst that I had there. Everybody came in well-intentioned. There’s a lot of blame to go around. I certainly accept mine and, I guess, by extension, Mike’s, in the sense that there were definitely things we could’ve personally done better. “It wasn’t a lack of support, it was the kind of support we were shown that was not really adequate, and so we wound up catching a lot of stray bullets for things that frankly we didn’t deserve. And what will never really sit right with me is that a lot of the things that went wrong were just so preventable had they just listened to us. In real time, I knew how this was gonna play out, I just did not expect it to play out somewhat involving Donald Trump and not even a year into the entire exercise. It’s just always gonna leave a bitter taste in my mouth.”I asked Hill to elaborate on not getting the right kind of support and what could’ve been done differently to help the show succeed.”If you go back, His and Hers did not end until December, and we were due to be on the air the day after the Super Bowl in February. Considering the colossal amount of marketing and everything behind it and what they wanted it to be, it made no sense to rush this show on the air. We had less than five rehearsals. We didn’t know what the show was. We weren’t allowed to pick our coordinating producers, which I think was a big mistake. “Given what we were trying to execute, we were looking at this in the vein of what they did with Scott Van Pelt, because that was the comparison they kept giving us when they sold us on the idea of why this would work and why this may fit. Scott got given a very long time to craft out, plot out his show. He also was allowed to bring everyone with him on his show. We were not given that same leeway. “Now we understand that we were gonna have to merge a little bit of staff because the 6 p.m. SportsCenter had a producing staff. We got that. In fact, the show producer for the 6 p.m. was somebody we wanted to keep, and she was terrific, Jasmine Ellis, but there were other parts of the show that we didn’t have as much say so and autonomy and I just don’t really think they got us. “I think they liked a lot of the things we did on His and Hers. The things that made us an attractive fit were not things that necessarily fit SportsCenter. They loved all the viral stuff we did, like when we re-created Anchorman and re-created Step Brothers and Coming to America and even a lot of the conversations that we had, but they got so fixated on the viral stuff, and I think back to that ad campaign they ran for us for SportsCenter where it was movies music and more. Since when has the 6 p.m. SportsCenter been about music and movies? “And even on our own show, His and Hers, 90 percent of the show was about sports. We had our fun in between we would it was always about sports. And so they put out this narrative that our show wasn’t about sports, and we never got from up under it. It was a well-intentioned but poorly thought-out ad campaign, and nobody understood what the ramifications of that would be, because one of the first bad fake narratives that got out about our show was that we weren’t about sports, and that was not true at all.”Hill later elaborated further.”Shows take time. They need to grow into something and grow into their identity. We didn’t have that benefit of time. There was a lot of publicity around us taking over the 6 p.m. SportsCenter, so I think there this expectation we were gonna have everything figured out once we got to air and we really didn’t. And not even halfway through the early part of our show we got a major leadership change, when Norby Williamson took over for Rob King, and Norby was not the one who wanted us on the 6 p.m. SportsCenter. “So then it felt a little bit like we were these highly drafted quarterbacks who got to a franchise and they fired the GM and they fired the head coach and they want us to run a completely different offense. So then everybody is on the wrong page from the beginning. “So we just had, as I’ve explained to people before, Donald Trump didn’t get me off SportsCenter. That whole controversy was really unrelated. I was unhappy before that happened. I knew before that happened, and Mike and I had this discussion privately many times, I was going to be done with the show when our time commitment was over with. That’s even not to arrogantly suggest that they would’ve wanted me back because they might not have, but we were guaranteed a certain amount of time on SportsCenter in that slot. And I knew once that time was up, I was done. If anything, Donald Trump did me a favor because he sped up the timetable for me or allowed that to be something that was infinitely possible.”You can listen to the podcast below or download it on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play.2. The NBA on TNT crew was back together Thursday night, and, as usual, it was wonderful. Charles Barkley revealed his top 10 players of all time, and Shaq was not on the list, which led to this amusing exchange.Even more amusing was this promo video the show released earlier.3. It’s not surprising that Joel Embiid has had the best social media post on the meals in the NBA Orlando bubble.4. J.J. Watt’s hair has had an excellent quarantine.I interviewed Watt in early May, and he talked about how people who don’t tip their barbers generously enough probably won’t be able to get a haircut appointment for a long time. Hmm …5. Just a reminder: There won’t be any fans at any MLB games during this fake season, yet MLB will still enforce its outdated and ridiculous blackout rules during a pandemic. You really can’t be worse at marketing and PR than MLB.6. Better late than never, Dez.7. RANDOM VIDEO OF THE DAY: I normally would never post a two-hour video in Traina Thoughts, but since it’s the weekend and many of you are staying home, Dez Bryant has inspired me to give you the table read from the last episode of The Office.8. SPORTS VIDEO OF THE DAY: College football in 2020 is in big trouble. So let’s remember happier times. Here’s legendary play-by-play man Keith Jackson calling an 88-yard touchdown RUN by Oklahoma tight end Keith Jackson, who would later get drafted by the Eagles.Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on Apple, Spotify or Stitcher. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter and Instagram.


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