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Cari Champion: I Planned My ESPN Exit Long Before It Happened

“We were all both on the same page that it was not working out. I was not happy and it was not a place where I felt like I could commit a few acts of journalism in the way in which I wanted to.”

Ricky Keeler

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It is rarely easy for a notable personality to leave a prominent network in sports media such as ESPN. However, if being at a place doesn’t make you happy, then you may have to make the move, as tough as that might be. 

On the latest episode of the That’s What She Said Podcast with Sarah SpainSpain had a conversation with former ESPN personality Cari Champion. Champion, who is known for hosting SportsCenter Coast-To-Coast and First Take, now co-hosts of Cari & Jemele (Won’t) Stick To Sports alongside Jemele Hill on VICE TV and the Naked with Cari Champion podcast. 

At the beginning of the episode, Champion talked about how she signed a deal with ESPN in October 2019, but she was always ready for another opportunity to happen, which she had when she was a part of The Titan Games on NBC. Spain asked her if she knew a pandemic was coming, would Champion have still made the move to leave ESPN and it was an easy answer.

“I signed the deal knowing that if I get another opportunity, I would just leave and give enough notice,” Champion said. “We were all both on the same page that it was not working out. I was not happy and it was not a place where I felt like I could commit a few acts of journalism in the way in which I wanted to.”  

Champion did mention that she had been planning her departure from ESPN for a period of time and had recorded a pilot episode of a show with Jemele Hill that became Cari & Jemele (Won’t) Stick To Sports, but her agents would try to talk her out of it. It ended up being Kate Fagan who inspired her to make that bold career decision.

”(The agents) were looking at the market and saying ‘Cari, on the outside looking in, you have the destination gig. People are like why would she want to leave there? It has to be some scandal.’

“No one was leaving. I’ve seen people leave because their contracts weren’t renewed. Kate Fagan inspired me because when she said she was out of it, I believed her.”

As the leadership at ESPN and even in our country changed, Champion admits that she got exhausted by all of the politics and did not feel the same joy that she used to have hosting SportsCenter.

After leaving ESPN, Champion had specific goals she wanted to accomplish. She told Spain that she realized that she needed to lay out a plan and not hit the job market blind and desperate.

“I thought here are the 3 things I had locked in: Titan Games, Olympics, and another project. Now, when I start getting all of these opportunities, you don’t want to say yes to everything which is unfamiliar to people who are always told no. What I did was I sat with two people, my business manager and my agent and I said these are the things I want to do, what do I need in terms of finances for the next year at bare minimum?

“We were very clear about the kind of gigs we were going to take that allowed me not to just ask questions, but to have an opinion. Not only have an opinion, but an opinion that allows me to be informed and that’s scary in itself.” 

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Nick Wright: The Best Version of First Things First is What We’re Doing Now

“I used to approach the TV show with the perspective of I have to prove how smart I am to the audience every single day.”

Ricky Keeler

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Nick Wright has been a co-host on First Things First on FS1 for the last five-and-a-half years. The show has evolved over the years and according to Wright, he has evolved as a broadcaster from the time he got cut from doing play-by-play at WAER in Syracuse to now.

Wright was a guest on The Colin Cowherd Podcast this week and he said that when he first appeared on television, he wanted the audience to think he had all the answers, but the mindset has changed for him and he said the new version of the show that he does with Kevin Wildes and Chris Broussard every weekday is the most successful version of the show.

“When I got on TV, I think the first year maybe, I thought the job was to always have all the answers. To have the facts exactly right, to never be wrong. I’ve now done the show for five-and-a-half years. By a country mile, the most successful version of the show is the one I’m doing right now — this moment — with Wildes and Broussard. It’s the funniest and that’s why.

“I used to approach the TV show with the perspective of I have to prove how smart I am to the audience every single day. Now I approach it as our entire goal is to put on a show that people smile while they are watching and have a good time and that has enough meat to it where it is not all empty calories. There’s got to be the information, there’s got to be the analysis, but there’s also got to be a lot of bells and whistles and funny stuff and guys messing with each other and that’s what works. That took me a while to figure out.”

The only time when Wright didn’t think he had to prove how smart he was when he first appeared on TV was when he would appear on The Herd as Cowherd’s guest and he had a goal in mind whenever he would appear on the show.

“Early in our relationship, I was really, really trying to impress you and I wanted to make you laugh. Every time I came on, I was like ‘It’s successful if I made Colin laugh’. I was too stupid to realize I should just be trying to make the audience laugh, too… That was the best version of me at the time. I felt like you knew I was smart, so I wasn’t trying to prove it to you. I could be the best version of myself.”

While Wright knows he is not a traditional broadcaster, he mentioned to Cowherd that there is one skill set he definitely knows he has.

“The point is I’m not a great broadcaster, like a traditional broadcaster. I can’t read off a teleprompter, but there is a specific thing I can do, which is confidently argue, whether it’s 1-on-1 with my wife or in front of a million people.”

Even though Wright got cut from doing play-by-play at Syracuse, he told Cowherd he was doing talk shows at the station still and it led him to where he is today.

“I was fortunate that I was already working on the talk-show staff. Growing up, I thought I wanted to do play-by-play, but what I wanted to do was color commentary. I would watch the NBA on NBC with Bob Costas, Bill Walton, and Steve ‘Snapper’ Jones and what I wanted to do was the color, but I didn’t realize you can’t do that unless you are a former player or a former coach. They aren’t hiring me to do commentary

“I was crushed, but it made me fully pivot to talk shows. Now at WAER, the talk show studio is named after me and my picture is on the wall. I am a Hall of Famer there. Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Nick Wright, those are the three studios there.”

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Outside the Lines Won’t Return to ESPN Weekend Schedule

The show, which debuted in 1990, aired as a daily show from 2003 to 2019 and aired a Sunday-edition from 2000 to 2017.

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ESPN has decided to not return Outside the Lines to its weekend lineup, ending the show’s linear television run.

A report from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal claims ESPN told OTL staffers that the show wouldn’t return to the network after the Super Bowl.

The show, which debuted in 1990, aired as a daily show from 2003 to 2019 and aired a Sunday-edition from 2000 to 2017. Outside the Lines was often regarded as the “moral compass” of ESPN, and was often the source of some of the more investigative reporting employed by the network.

Outside the Lines — which was airing at 9:00 AM on Saturday mornings — averaged 303,000 viewers in the timeslot. Meanwhile, SportsCenter: AM has seen an average audience of 572,000 in the same window.

The Outside the Lines brand will continue being utilized during the Noon ET SportsCenter, as well as ESPN digital platforms, including the network’s YouTube page.

Jeremy Schaap will continue to host the Outside the Lines segments during SportsCenter, but will also be the host of a new iteration of The Sports Reporters that will air on ESPN’s YouTube channel. Schaap’s father, Dick, was the host of the ESPN Sunday morning program from 1988 until his death in 2001. The show aired on ESPN from 1988 to 2017.

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CBS: Calling Meeting With Tony Romo ‘Intervention’ is ‘Complete Mischaracterization’

“We meet regularly with our on-air talent.”

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An opening question in broadcasting circles is ‘What happened to Tony Romo?’, with even CBS reportedly pondering the issue.

During The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast earlier this week, The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand claimed CBS attempted “an intervention” with its lead NFL analyst.

The intended mission of several alleged meetings with CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus and CBS NFL producer Jim Rikhoff was to return Romo to his previous heights, which were widely regarded as the best NFL analyst in the business.

CBS Sports has responded to the insinuation that the meetings would be classified as an “intervention” with a strong denial.

“To call this an intervention is a complete mischaracterization, we meet regularly with our on-air talent,” CBS Sports spokeswoman Jen Sabatelle told Marchand

Marchand added that CBS Sports officials plan to attempt to rectify the issues it sees with Romo again this offseason. Romo — who signed a 10-year, $180 million contract with CBS Sports in 2020 — is slated to call Super Bowl LVIII in 2024 with Jim Nantz.

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