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Cari-Champion
Career & Money

The Champion's Path: How Cari Champion Is Redefining Roles For Black Women In Media

Cari Champion has had many dream jobs. All of them have helped inform what she does and does not want for herself moving forward. “I get more and more curious. My dreams evolve. My desires change,” she said. “And I feel sorry for people who can’t experience that because it’s a beautiful feeling, it’s a beautiful challenge, and it makes you everything that you are.”


When we speak in late April, the journalist and media personality is preparing for a visit to Atlanta for The Black Effect Podcast Festival. The trip would allow her to spend time in a city that she said taught her a lot about herself and working in the media industry.

Champion was still early in her career when she worked for Atlanta’s CBS affiliate news station, where she was fired, reinstated, and subsequently quit after being accused of accidentally cursing on air in 2008. (“I didn’t. They knew I didn’t. I said ‘mothersucka,’” she said of the hot mic incident.) Still, the Los Angeles native insists she only has the fondest memories of her time in the southern city.

“I grew up in West LA, then moved to Pasadena, and those kinds of familial, tight-knit Black groups just didn’t exist. LA is spread out in a lot of ways,” she said. “To me, Atlanta ultimately built this woman that I am today and [is] why I speak so comfortably for us and for Black people. I had to have that entire experience.”

"To me, Atlanta ultimately built this woman that I am today and [is] why I speak so comfortably for us and for Black people."

It’s been 16 years since Champion moved from Atlanta and her career, as well as her desire to center Black voices in her work, has soared. After working as an anchor and court-side reporter for The Tennis Channel, she spent nearly a decade working as a host and anchor on ESPN for shows such as First Take and SportsCenter.

By the time she began hosting Cari & Jemele: Stick to Sports, on Vice TV with Jemele Hill in 2020, Champion had increasingly become determined to shun the notion that only sports reporters and athletes could credibly discuss sports. The Vice show featured guests such as LeBron James and Magic Johnson, but also Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Sen. Cory Booker.

At a time when America was reckoning with its racial history, Champion solidified herself as a trailblazer for Black women in sports media, as well as a crucial voice for cultural commentary. Today, she regularly appears on CNN discussing sports, culture, and politics.

Champion is now hosting the fourth season of the podcast Naked with Cari Champion on The Black Effect Podcast Festival, which is a partnership between iHeartMedia and Charlamagne Tha God, a media personality and a friend. “We kind of grew up together in this game. And when we first started figuring out or getting attention on a different type of level than we were used to, we learned a lot together,” she said of Charlamagne. “He put this network together for people who are beginning [and] people who are old-heads in the business. He wanted to make sure that all of us had a voice.”

It’s been an adjustment for a traditional TV reporter to transition into podcasting, but Champion said she’s found the medium to be a “much more freeing world.” When she’s speaking to guests such as talk show host Tamron Hall, singer Muni Long, or retired athlete Sanya Richards-Ross, she can “get lost in a conversation” and embrace a more casual environment than the structure of a cable TV show would allow.

Behind the scenes, Champion’s still doing her part to make sure there continues to be a pipeline of Black and brown women in journalism and beyond, too.

In 2018, she launched the nonprofit Brown Girls Dream and enlisted her celebrity friends to help mentor young women in a way that she felt she was never able to receive in the early years of her own career. “When I was at ESPN, I used to get all these emails from different Black and brown girls in the business. They wanted to talk to me about how they could [have the opportunity to] do the same thing [as me],” Champion said. “It fills my heart to see somebody actually get an opportunity to talk to somebody who can guide them through their career.”

Current Brown Girls Dream mentors include journalists Jemele Hill and Nichelle Turner, marketing executive Bozoma Saint John, and more. “These women are just the dopest ever and they take time out to give back to brown girls,” Champion said. “It’s special.”

When she reflects on representation in sports media roles, the Naked host said she’s inspired by the women of color she sees on television today. “I think women of color are doing great. It’s become more and more common to be on air and be Black girl magic,” she said.

“I think that the next level for us, in terms of Black and brown women in this business succeeding, is having true power over what our words are and what the content is,” she added. “Because, when push comes to shove and we want to really tell a story, we sometimes have to acquiesce, and we can't tell the story the way we want to. The next level is that we actually do have editorial control.”

"I think that the next level for us, in terms of Black and brown women in this business succeeding, is having true power over what our words are and what the content is."

Ultimately, Champion is still dreaming and looking to make an impact. She said she wants to eventually launch her own Black news network. “I would love to have a huge platform that focused on the stories that I think Black and brown women care about,” Champion said. “There are so many stories that are being missed.”

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Featured image Emma McIntyre / Staff/Getty Images

 

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