After ESPN, Michael Smith struggled with it becoming 'trendy' to say 'Black Lives Matter'


Michael Smith joined ESPN in 2004, and became one of the network's most versatile personalities, appearing as a panelist on "Around The Horn," among other notable programs on the four-letter network.

Smith was joined by Jemele Hill as a co-host on the ESPN2 show "Numbers Never Lie" in 2013, a show that was eventually rebranded to reflect the show's tone, switching to the name "His & Hers."

Because of the show's popularity, ESPN moved Smith and Hill to the 6 p.m. slot of SportsCenter in January of 2017, once one of the most must-watch programs on television. The show was dubbed as "SC6," and there was initial hope that as the show moved into a more conversation format - as opposed to the traditional highlight-heavy show - it would draw in a young audience that had pivoted to the internet.

Ultimately, though, Hill left the show in January of 2018, with Smith departing a couple months later. The two were outspoken on topics of social justice, perhaps quicker than parts of America were ready for such a show. Eventually, because of very vocal criticisms of the two - Hill specifically - from some powerful people, the two weren't able to really structure the show in the way that they sold.

Two-and-a-half years later, mainstream America is much more open to discussions about racial equality and police brutality. The turning point appears to have been in early June when a video emerged of George Floyd being killed by officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. Still, Smith was left to wonder why this instance of an unarmed black man being killed was when it became acceptable to discuss police brutality in America, as opposed to prior incidents, like Eric Garner, Terence Crutcher or Freddie Gray, among others.

"Why is this different? Unarmed black people have been getting killed on camera...that's what we were talking about," Smith told Julie Stewart-Binks of Fubo TV. "We were talking about police brutality. It's not like it's a different subject matter. It's not like there's a different take on the matter. It's not like there's some discovery that led us to feel like 'Oh, well this is different.' This is literally the same subject. He was just killed in a different manner. I was like 'So, now it's cool, but less than two years ago it wasn't and I'm a living example of that?'"

"So what it had me doing was questioning - and not just ESPN - but everybody...all of America...all of the corporations who were lining up to say 'Black Lives Matter'...all of the networks who were putting the Black Lives Matter collection on their streaming voices on their streaming games had a Black Lives Matter declaration when you open up the video game. I'm like 'Oh, so it's trendy now?'"

Still, Smith says that he ultimately learned to appreciate the fact that the discussions he was trying to have a few years ago with Hill are now being had across all platforms.

"...And so, there was a lot of resentment at first, just given what I had been through. But, over time, I realized, yeah, I'm entitled to my feelings, but I try not to make it about me. The most important thing is better late than never, and here we are having these conversations. And more importantly, others who came behind me are now getting an opportunity to speak their truth and speak that truth to power. So be it. I've moved on. I'm at a better place than I would have ever been at ESPN quite frankly. And maybe it just took them a while, but here we are."

Smith has landed on his feet, as he now co-hosts the show "Brother From Another" on Peacock with Michael Holley. The show premiered in September.

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