What to do with the mess that is ESPN SportsCenter, or "WokeCenter" as Clay Travis calls it? That became a $64,000 question today as several people weighed in on the program-in-crisis on the Worldwide Leader in (Liberal) Sports.
Travis, of the Outkick The Coverage blog and a frequent critic of ESPN, said the SportsCenter 6 experiment of the past year has been a huge failure. Michael Smith (in photograph), the surviving member of SC6 since the departure of Trump-hater Jemele Hill, is spewing bitter words about the state of the show. Former SC host Steve Levy says it's now unrecognizable from what it used to be, and ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady says there's still juice left in Sports Center, though an industry expert says he's not so sure of that.
Travis's lead story today centers on Smith confirming that Hill did not leave SC6 of her own accord when she recently transitioned over to ESPN's black culture blog, The Undefeated. Last year, ESPN gave the liberal duo millions of dollars to re-shape SportsCenter into a let's-not-stick-to-sports package. It fell flat, and no one was watching. To make matters worse, last fall Hill drew a strong White House rebuke for calling President Trump and his supporters "white supremacists." Later she got suspended for another rant on social media. Since she became toxic and the show was doing a Tom Petty free-falling rendition, why didn't ESPN just dump her?
Travis said ESPN was afraid of Al Sharpton types playing the race card, so it allowed her to explore other career options in hopes of shedding her hefty salary. Not even MSNBC and or CNN would take her, so ESPN elected to drive Hill off the show by, as Travis describes it, "stripping all WokeCenter out of the broadcast. Eventually they stifled the show enough that Jemele Hill asked off, leaving Michael Smith alone by himself. (The hope is that eventually Smith will ask off as well.)"
Smith has a volatile temper and he came unglued, indicating Hill didn't leave on her own and complaining that they weren't allowed to continue doing commentary:
“There was a time we weren’t even talking to each other (on the show) anymore. 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 was like, wait a second, you all acknowledge that one of the strengths we have going for us as a show is Michael and Jemele’s chemistry, but Michael and Jemele don’t f------- talk to each other? How does that make sense?
“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. It was very frustrating …They got what they wanted, which was Michael and Jemele being muted. And that frustrated the s--- out of us.”
Travis says viewers are the winner in all of this because ESPN finally looked at the ratings and realized the public wanted SportsCenter, not WokeCenter.
ESPN's Brady said SportsCenter has been "the sun in ESPN's solar system" ever since day one in 1979. "SportsCenter is facing challenges and facing a future that seems less certain than ever." Foolishly trying to fix what isn't broken, the ESPN "sun" began to experience a nova when it changed the focus from reporting to personalities like Hill and Smith. Brady and ESPN contend that Hill left on her own because "recent changes to SportsCenter made it less of a fit for her." Hill's talent and passion "remain a big net plus for ESPN," said Brady.
Brady indicated ESPN is too stubborn, though, to pull back from a personality-driven SC focus. He said turning back to pure highlights is not an option, but ESPN is still "wrestling with a lot as it charts SportsCenter's future course." Without an obvious road to success.
Steve Levy, the longest-serving anchor of SC, said it all: "The show could not have changed any more. It's almost unrecognizable from the show I started on in 1993." "I'm not sure it's really fixable," BTIG cable analyst Rich Greenfield told Yahoo Finance. "People don't watch sports news on TV when highlights are on your phone 24/7, and when the NFL has highlights on Twitter and Snapchat. People don't need SportsCenter like they used to."
Brady still refuses to count SportsCenter out. "There's still a lot of juice left in the brand," he writes. Well, there's a thing called invisible ink and maybe there's "invisible juice," too. WokeCenter may have put too many viewers to sleep to ever prosper again.