When Vice TV announced in June that former ESPN anchors Cari Champion and Jemele Hill would be getting their own talk show on the network, the working title was Disruptors.
While that would’ve been fitting for any number of reasons, namely for the fact of being two Black women who rose to prominence in sports journalism and are now holding court in the still too white and male late-night space, their show eventually changed to Stick to Sports—a title that’s just as charged as the conversations they’ll be having.
— VICE TV (@VICETV) August 13, 2020
“Stick to Sports came to us because it’s something we often hear,” Champion says. “Especially while we were working at ESPN, we would hear it whenever we talked about something that someone deemed wasn’t our particular area of expertise.”
Case in point: When Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
“We would often hear, if we tried to defend Colin or say that we understood his point of view, that we should just stick to sports,” Champion says. “It’s not fair to tell our athletes to stay in whatever bubble they want them to stay in, i.e. stick to sports, but then turn around and ask them to join us in the fight against cancer. Whenever it’s an uncomfortable topic, i.e. police brutality, social justice, people don’t want to have that conversation. So this is an ironic title in so many ways, because we’ll do anything but stick to sports.”
With Stick to Sports, Champion and Hill will give their takes on everything from pop culture and news (and yes, sometimes sports) with special guests (first up: LeBron James), all through their particular lenses as Black women.
“Most of this conversation, particularly in media, has been framed by men,” Hill says. “And the unique position that Black women are in is that we have to deal with both misogyny and racism at the same time. We’re hoping to bring some of these issues to light and have nuanced conversations about them.”
And having a show on a network like Vice means those opinions are far less bound by racial and social sensitivities, as Hill experienced back in 2017 when her tweet calling Donald Trump a white supremacist led to a public reprimand by ESPN.
“What was probably most important for both of us is creating an environment where we felt like not only will we be heard and listened to, but where we had a certain amount of creative control,” Champion says. “We both have encountered situations at different points of our career that not having that ownership in what we’re doing created a lot of problems. The content kind of takes care of itself. It was, can we find the right fit and be in a situation with people who truly and genuinely want to amplify us?”
And, in the process, amplify the dynamic between Champion and Hill.
A show format of two people riffing on topics lives and dies by the chemistry between the hosts, and Champion is confident that their genuine bond will be something that will resonate with audiences.
“She’s one of my best friends,” Champion says. “I have lots of stories that I could tell if you want to call me afterwards. But there is such a high level of mutual respect. That’s going to be the key to this.”
“I have witnessed, both up close and from afar, television partnerships that have destroyed friendships or because there was no friendship there to begin with, they turned on each other,” Hill says. “Cari and I both have the same approach to how we want to keep not just our relationship respectful, but also make sure that regardless of what happens with this show, the friendship is intact. I would walk away before I saw our friendship ruined if things ever got that bad.”