With Stick to Sports, Jemele Hill and Cari Champion Refuse to Do Exactly That

Illustration for article titled With i Stick to Sports,/i Jemele Hill and Cari Champion Refuse to Do Exactly That
Photo: Jasmine Durhal for Vice TV

Stick to sports.

It’s an age-old adage that we’ve heard time and time again.

Yet oddly enough, while LeBron James and Kevin Durant were lambasted for speaking out against Donald Trump’s tyranny, Laura Ingraham, the same Fox News host that told them to “shut up and dribble,” had an entirely different response in June when NFL star Drew Brees spoke out against kneeling during the national anthem.

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According to Ingraham, the future Hall of Fame quarterback should be “allowed to have his view of what kneeling and the flag mean to him.” She also wasn’t feeling the “scalding cauldron of hate” that Brees, proud owner of the complexion for protection, was subjected to after expressing his opinion outside of sports.

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Imagine that.

“This is beyond football, though,” she said on The Ingraham Angle. “This is totalitarian conduct. This is Stalinist.”

No stranger to a similar degree of opportunistic scorn is Jemele Hill. In 2017, her former employer, ESPN, suspended her for calling out Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after he threatened to bench any player who took a knee during the national anthem.

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The award-winning journalist sure as hell didn’t stick to sports then, or now, with her and Cari Champion’s new show, Stick to Sports, set to debut Wednesday on Vice TV nearly three years later, that modus operandi remains the same.

“What comes to mind is liars,” Hill told The Root, in discussing how she feels about the phrase “stick to sports.”

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“They’re lying because they’re just being dishonest. The whole mentality behind it always came from a disingenuous place. It usually came from people who were uncomfortable with the idea of opinions being expressed that differed from their own.

“Also historically, when it comes to Black athletes and just Black people period, they’ve always wanted us to stay in grateful mode and to ‘know our place.’ ‘Stick to sports’ was always an insult, frankly, because of who it was always directed at. This is our opportunity to rub that phrase in people’s faces because we plan to do everything but stick to sports.”

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If Hill and Champion’s family reunion on-screen comes as a surprise, it shouldn’t. The two forged an inseparable bond during their days at ESPN and were often seen not only hanging out together around ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., campus, but unknowingly putting their chemistry to the test on the social media.

“This show is the intersection of it all,” Champion told The Root. “Sports, culture, politics, entertainment. We will meet in the middle. And they’ve always gone together. There’s always a commonality among those ideals and those topics, we just haven’t been able to explore it.”

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The Stick to Sports co-hosts are also mindful of the cultural impact and irrefutable influence that Black women collectively wield, but that is far too often suppressed or misappropriated.

“I think it’s a beautiful thing right now that Black women are being able to be unapologetic about their excellence and being unapologetic about their intelligence,” Champion said. “It’s not an anomaly, it’s very common. And now the world gets to see how common it is for us to actually lead the conversation. I can’t think of any other show that has two Black women leading the conversation.

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“Jemele and I are the definition of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps.’ But like Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘It’s unfair to say that to a shoeless man.’ And while we may have been shoeless, we pulled ourselves up. And now we’re going to show the world what they have been missing and what they’re entitled to as well. There needs to be equity in every aspect.”

“We’re basically just trying to mirror the condition of Black women in this country,” Hill added. “We’ve gotten to a point where we’ve all drawn a line and said, ‘Enough.’ In many ways, we’re the conscience of America, but this is now a power that we need to see for ourselves.”

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Illustration for article titled With i Stick to Sports,/i Jemele Hill and Cari Champion Refuse to Do Exactly That
Photo: Jasmine Durhal for Vice TV

In learning from their previous experiences at ESPN, they’ve also made it a point to approach their latest endeavor as entrepreneurs as opposed to merely just talent.

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“There were some valuable lessons and input we were able to learn from being at a place like ESPN,” Hill said. “The difference between when we last launched a show individually is that we weren’t necessarily business owners then, and now we’re both business owners. So we’re coming into a show approaching it as not just the talent, but entrepreneurs of the show itself. So that has added a more exciting and exhilarating wrinkle to what we’re doing. There’s a certain amount of control that we’re required to have now that probably two years ago it wouldn’t have been the same requirement.”

And in being mindful of that growth, they also had some advice for other Black journalists, especially women, looking to follow in their footsteps.

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“Never, ever, ever become a possession of a company, or an entity, or an idea that is not yours,” Champion said. “Whenever you stay focused on whatever the mission is for your career, for your life, for your passion, you will always be empowered. Don’t get caught up in all the hype of what someone else is selling. Don’t forget where your power really is.”

She stressed: “My power is in telling the stories of other Brown and Black women who look like me. My power is in ensuring that these women have an opportunity to do the things I wasn’t allowed to do. And for me, to hold the door open, to usher them through the way Jemele did me when I was at ESPN. That’s where your power is.”

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“I think we need to understand that helping others does not make you less powerful,” Hill concluded. “I think we get conditioned that any opportunity that another Black woman gets is less of an opportunity for us. We can all eat at the same table. And we are much stronger in engaging in collective support as opposed to undermining each other along the way. We can’t get caught up in this mindset that there can only be one of us that succeeds. We have to be invested as a group and more than just individuals.”

Stick to Sports premieres August 19 on Vice TV.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.

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DISCUSSION

ColonelHotdog
ColonelHotdog

I want to watch a camera feed of Jim Spanfeller when he gets super excited by the title of this show, then tunes in...

I bet it starts like this scene in Scanners, and ends the same, too.