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Michael Smith: ESPN panicked and 'muted' him and former 'SportsCenter' co-host Jemele Hill

Jemele Hill at The 49th NAACP Image Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Jan. 15, 2018 in Pasadena, Calif. (Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA/TNS)

Now it's apparently ESPN's Michael Smith's turn to be outspoken.

Smith is teeing off on ESPN management for stifling him and Jemele Hill, his former "SportsCenter" co-host who recently welcomed the move to the company's The Undefeated website, where she will be free to be a commentator.

For now solo anchor of "SC6," the early evening edition of "SportsCenter" he once shared with Hill, Smith shed light on what drove Hill away, ripping ESPN bosses for "pushing the panic button."

Hill took heat for tweets last year critical of President Donald Trump and suggesting a sponsor boycott in response to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' effort to discourage NFL players from protesting injustice during the national anthem. ESPN disavowed Hill's anti-Trump tweets, which included calling the president a "white supremacist," and suspended her after she again violated its social media policy with the boycott tweet.

But in unfiltered remarks on the latest edition of "Origins," a podcast from James Andrew Miller, co-author of the ESPN oral history, "Those Guys Have All the Fun," Smith said ESPN leadership also tweaked "SC6" to marginalize him and Hill.

"There was a time we weren't even talking to each other (on the program) anymore," Smith told Miller. "Like no more Michael and Jemele, not less, not here and there. No more Michael and Jemele talking. No more of their commentary. It's just strictly live shots and analysts. That's what pissed me off so much.

"I'm like, so wait a second, you all acknowledge that one of the strengths that we have going for us as a show is Michael and Jemele's chemistry, but Michael and Jemele don't (expletive) talk to each other? How does that make sense?"

On Miller's podcast, which reviews the history of "SportsCenter," Hill recalled telling ESPN executive Norby Williamson she would rather be a commentator with the ESPN website focused on the nexus of sports, race and culture.

"I said to Norby, 'I know what "SportsCenter" needs to be, but I know what I need to be and I don't think those things are on the same page," she said.

Smith is more blunt about "SC6" (which is named for its East Coast time slot) and how what it was conceived to be got derailed.

"We knew we were going to get (expletive) out of the gate ... but we weren't built to take it," Smith said. "Immediately we started pushing the panic button. Instead of saying: 'No, this is the vision for this show. This is what we're doing. This show is about Michael and Jemele and their opinions and their chemistry, and they're going to do "SportsCenter" their way.' Instead of sticking to that vision, we immediately tried to merge two things."

Ultimately, Smith said, "They got what they wanted, which was Michael and Jemele being muted. And that frustrated the (expletive) out of us."

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