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Hollywood Reporter Sheds Light on ESPN Divide Over SC6

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A new story in the Hollywood Reporter written by Marissa Guthrie sheds some light on the behind the scenes drama that surrounded ESPN’s attempt to report the 6pm SportsCenter with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith. It’s something, she writes, that still has Bristol divided.

Internal discord over the 6 p.m. SportsCenterexperiment co-hosted by Jemele Hill and Michael Smith — and yanked after less than a year despite four-year deals worth $10 million each — still lingers.

The whole piece focuses on ESPN’s obsession with reversing the whole “MSESPN” image that Fox Sports Radio’s Clay Travis helped cement last year in his numerous media appearances and written pieces complaining of the network’s liberal bias. Travis is also the one who dubbed Hill and Smith’s take on SportsCenter as “WokeCenter,” which apparently was a real problem for some ESPN executives, who saw Hill’s exit as a good thing for the brand.

When Hill, who became a lightning rod with critics dubbing the show “WokeCenter,” left in February, Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vp and executive editor of studio production, quipped in front of a room full of people: “One down, one to go.” Four ESPN employees tell THR that Dave Roberts, ESPN’s vp content, was heard characterizing the show as “too black.” (Through a spokesperson, Roberts, who is African-American, vehemently denies saying this.)

Still, not everyone shared this opinion of Hill or Smith or their take on SportsCenter.

“It’s not that they were too woke, or too black, the problem was they were too new,” says a veteran senior executive. “They were too unfamiliar to the 6 p.m. audience. From the second they started they were up against internal crap, the traditionalists shitting on them, and they faced harsh criticism externally. It was panic from moment one. And the network didn’t do a good job of defending and supporting them.”

ESPN has attempted to remove any potential controversy from the SportsCenter brand by putting Sage Steele (who may step in some PR hot water from time to time, but those times are never on air) and Kevin Negandhi in the anchor chairs at 6pm. Guthrie also notes that in other areas, ESPN is adding conservative voices, particularly on First Take.

Among its biggest stars is First Take‘s Stephen A. Smith, who has professed support for Donald Trump, though not on every issue. Meanwhile, Will Cain, a conservative who has had stints at The Blaze and CNN and has been an ESPN contributor since 2015, got his own ESPN Radio program in January and is now part of the ESPN TV firmament. And Roberts, say three sources, has suggested replacing First Take moderator Molly Qerim with Cain.

Guthrie’s piece focuses on the factions within ESPN. She posits that there are people who believe a return to the opinion-less highlights-driven content the network was built on is the only way to survive. Others say that ESPN has to experiment to find its groove in a world that is full of more choices for sports fans. That is why Hill and Smith were allowed to try something new with SportsCenter. The same is true of Scott Van Pelt’s midnight show and the company’s investment in digital products like the Snapchat edition of SportsCenter or ESPN+.

“Norby is pushing antiquated SportsCenter stuff wherever he can,” says an on-air personality. “There are good creative people there. I don’t think it’s an accident that if you did a happiness quotient, the farther way from Bristol people are, the happier and the more productive they are.” Or as one source puts it: “It’s a battle for the soul of ESPN.”

You can read the full article here.

 

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Bomani Jones: I’m Better At Talking About Political, Social Issues Than Most In Sports Media

“I personally am better at talking about those things than most people who work in this industry. Like I feel like I can say that fairly and then it not really be an arrogant thing.”

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Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James found himself in a few headlines last week when he questioned reporters for not asking him about the recent Washington Post story and photo surrounding Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and ESPN commentator Bomani Jones took the opportunity to discuss the revelation.

Jones was pictured as a 14 year old among a crowd during an early stage of integration of public schools in Arkansas during the civil rights movement.

LeBron pointed out that he would field questions when there’s a controversy surrounding a Black person and spoke about the situation with former Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving, but he found it curious that no one had asked his opinion on the Jerry Jones story. LeBron had long considered himself a Cowboys fan, but in recent years he’s stopped supporting the team over Jones’ mandate that Dallas players stand for the National Anthem.

On his ESPN podcast The Right Time, host Bomani Jones talked about LeBron and circled it around to how he and other ESPN personalities caught a ton of flack for speaking about political or societal issues that often don’t fall within the confines of sports.

Jones said that being able to talk about political and societal issues comes easier to him than it does to most members of the sports media.

“I personally am better at talking about those things than most people who work in this industry,” Jones said. “Like I feel like I can say that fairly and then it not really be an arrogant thing.”

Jones said it comes down to the fact that there’s a bias at play. Are people going to take offense to what you’re saying because they disagree, or are they going to like what you’re going to say because they agree?

“They’re reinforcing the fact that you’re reinforcing what it is that you want to hear,” Jones said. “But the truth is that most people are not qualified to talk about these things before the world, because talking about these things before the world is very, very difficult.”

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John Jastremski Fires Back After Craig Carton Criticism

“I’m not listening to a crook. So you know what? Go take a f—ing hike. How about that.”

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Earlier this week, WFAN afternoon host Craig Carton said John Jastremski — a former WFAN host now hosting a podcast for The Ringer — “shunned” his radio career advice.

During his New York New York podcast Thursday, Jastremski strongly condemned Carton’s remarks.

“I don’t like going here with this stuff, ’cause I know this plays right into what this guy likes to do,” Jastremski said. “This is his M.O. This is what he’s done his entire career. It’s what he’s done for his entire career and he’s had success doing it. He lives for this stuff. But it really set me off. It set me off because I gotta see it on Barrett Sports Media while I’m on vacation. Like I wanna be bothered with this shit, number one. Number two, it’s just tone-deaf, insulting, and flat-out rude every which way.

“Number one: going after people who work at McDonald’s? Who the hell are you to do that? Number two: You’re insulting a multi-billion dollar company where I work. I have a great job, a great platform, a great producer. I have two great jobs, I might add. And you’re insulting both of them. By the way, you’re on that network. Five days a week. And you’re insulting that network. How stupid are you? Taking shots at people of the network you’re on, I’m on. And I could tell you, it pays well. I do ok.

“As for career advice? Guess what? I listen to legends. Bill Simmons, you ever hear of him? Worth a lot more than you. Mike Francesa? My boy Adam Schein? I listen to those guys. I’m not listening to a crook. So you know what? Go take a f—ing hike. How about that.”

Calling Carton a crook harkens back to the WFAN afternoon host’s stint in federal prison for participating in a ponzi scheme that scammed investors out of $5.6 million that he in turn used to pay off gambling debts. Carton was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison before serving just over a year in prison before being released in 2020.

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The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz Moving To New Studio

The show continued to be recorded inside the studio at the Clevelander after it departed ESPN Radio’s national lineup in 2021.

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Dan Le Batard Show

The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz is leaving its home at the Clevelander hotel on South Beach in Miami and moving into a new studio next year, according to a report from The Big Lead.

The show continued to be recorded inside the studio at the Clevelander after it departed ESPN Radio’s national lineup in 2021. It has remained the home for the show since Le Batard and John Skipper formed Meadowlark Media.

After a $50 million distribution deal with DraftKings was secured, the Meadowlark podcast network has grown in both reach and talent, allowing for an expanded studio space.

No immediate details were given on where the new studio space would be located.

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