James Brown boldly proclaimed in one of his most famous songs, “this is a man’s world.” He then quickly came to his senses and clarified that statement by saying, “it would be nothing without a woman or a girl.”
Since the beginning of time, girls and women worldwide have been building strong spaces as they lead and excel across various industries. And if one wants to talk about excellence in journalism, some prominent names such as Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, and Robin Roberts come to mind.
However, you can’t let the list keep running without the commentary of younger Black women who are also forging paths and making waves, like Angela Rye, Jemele Hill — and Cari Champion.
Champion is a noted journalist and broadcaster known for her unapologetic commentary, insightful dialogue, and championing (no pun intended) gender equity. And much of her power manifested during Super Bowl LVII weekend as she partnered to celebrate the Black women journalists making headline-worthy strides and bringing their perspectives to the stories told in sports.
However, that weekend was just one moment on the grand scale of support and advocacy Champion has for people of color, especially Black women, in media.
Setting The Record Straight
In a September 2022 episode of NPR’s podcast, The Limits With Jay Williams, Champion outlined her advocacy and how she is actively working to make sure Black women have a seat at the table.
“I’m not bubbly, friendly, sweet. None of that fits who I am,” Champion noted on the podcast. “But what I am is trying to create a world in which we can all have a seat on the table, talk to the table, build our own table so that it’s not so rare. Right?”
The New York Post reported on Champion’s experience at ESPN with her explaining how the organization treated her and made it clear she did not matter to them. So it is through her passion and personal experience that Champion stands on the hill, ensuring those behind her don’t face the exact same challenges.
One of the ways she is walking it like she talks it is leaning into the power of collaboration, an effort she believes has been a long time coming.
“I recently had the opportunity to talk with Robin Roberts. So, I think of where she is right now on ‘Good Morning America’ and how she began her career early on in local TV and then went to ESPN — things have come so far from when she was just trying to make her way as a journalist at ESPN,” Champion described to AfroTech. “I am thrilled by what I’ve been able to notice in terms of our access, how we’ve been able to take up certain lanes and make them our own. I think that you are seeing the rise of Black women and sports journalism and journalism, period — but in sports specifically, and it’s really beautiful to watch.”
She added: ‘We are creating a voice that cannot be denied in this space.”
Making Space And Sitting At The Table
Taking up space and having an unmistakable voice is evident in Champion’s work daily, but it was on full display in her collaborative work with Jemele Hill on their show, “Cari and Jemele (Won’t) Stick to Sports.”
“We created something really magical,” Champion said. “I believe it showed that our voices are collective and they’re unified, and they’re not to be denied in the sense that we can speak on all topics because, at the end of the day, there’s just this commonality in our humanity.”
And in those spaces where humanity intersects in so many ways, Champion believes the beauty of storytelling comes alive. Whether in sports, on a podcast or via television interview, the nuances and diversity of stories make the human experience unique.
"I think we tell our stories through our lens, and for me, that's revolutionary," Champion noted.
She further acknowledged the power of storytelling by showcasing it through a partnership with CÎROC during the most recent Super Bowl weekend. Through their partnership with NABJ, CÎROC is donating to the organization to further its mission to support and advocate for Black journalists.
Champion wasn’t the only notable woman taking part in the Super Bowl weekend event. Joining MJ Acosta-Ruiz, Kelsey Nicole Nelson from the NABJ, and Elaine Welteroth, the four women participated in a special panel discussion at NFL House. The conversation recognized these powerful women, explored their inspirational stories and spirit, and toasted their success as they pave the way for others to do the same.
Gems For The Future
For those looking to enter or advance in journalism or sports journalism, Champion believes that authenticity is the key to success. And she admitted that it’s not always easy to authentically take up space initially, but the more comfortable one becomes, the more rooted one will be in their space. She described this as the art of “doing it for you.”
She often reiterates this guidance in her foundation and to her mentees, which is why the work with CÎROC and NABJ aligned with her.
And while the goal posts are different for everyone, there is a collective universal truth about greater equity and inclusion for women in the industry. As Champion has learned, with experience comes wisdom. Considering that, she has sage advice for her younger self newly navigating the field.
“Time will tell your story, and you cannot let anything else distract you. And by distractions, I mean people who don’t believe in you, people who are giving you a temporary no or not right now, or those who can’t see the vision you see. Because your vision is truly not a conference call, it’s just for you,” Champion explained.