Last Thursday, at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention and Career Fair, Hugh Douglas, the former Eagle and current NFL analyst for ESPN, was very drunk. A day later he would be both drunk and combative, and, as The Big Lead first reported, he and an ESPN colleague would nearly come to blows. But what went down on Friday had its roots in what happened on Thursday.
Douglas was at the Gaylord Palms Resort hotel, along with his Numbers Never Lie co-hosts, Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. Smith and Hill were speaking to "hundreds of conventioneers." Smith and Hill, both former print journalists, have been buddies for a while. They started doing a podcast a few months ago, in addition to their ESPN TV show. The podcast is called His & Hers with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, and they were explaining to potential ESPN job recruits how it came to be. Just as they were wrapping up, Douglas approached them.
Two people told us that Douglas was drunk. Not tipsy. Wasted. We've also been told that Douglas has felt uncomfortable ever since Hill's addition to the show a few months back. Smith and Hill, after all, are old friends, and the show was now two journalists plus an ex-jock, with some loose talk that new hire Nate Silver might have some role on the show, too. A source speculates that Douglas, outnumbered by non-jocks, felt left out.
As Hill was just about to finish speaking to the group of 100-plus, Douglas came up to her, and demanded the microphone, even though he wasn't scheduled to speak at the event. He might have been slurring, and he was certainly talking loud enough for others to hear it. Hill said no thanks. She apparently had to make some effort to keep the mic out of his hands. Douglas was not happy, and neither were Hill and Smith. This was embarrassing.
And that was just the start of the meltdown.
The next night, there was a party at the club, House of Blues, in Orlando. Douglas was, again, very drunk. Lots of people were drinking, so this was less of a big deal, but then he started making some movements toward the stage at the club. ESPN has had experience with drunk commentators doing regrettable things in public, as with Dana Jacobson in 2008. Things seemed to be headed in that direction. One person told us that Smith—who wasn't drinking—told Douglas not to go up. It would be a mistake. Douglas apparently wasn't in a state to be reasoned with. He didn't go up there, but a few minutes later, Douglas was angry enough to finally tell Smith off.
"Uncle Tom," Douglas told Smith, according to two people familiar with the altercation. Smith apparently did his best to ignore this. Shortly thereafter, Douglas had more words to say to Smith. He grabbed him by his arm. He threatened to beat him up. Some people, including security, had to break it up.
ESPN has said it's looking into the matter. Douglas wasn't on the show yesterday, and won't be on again today, when it airs at 2 p.m. "I just can't comment on this," Douglas said when I reached him by phone. "No comment."