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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.”

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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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Peter King: ‘Tom Brady Needs To Study Cris Collinsworth’

“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is.”

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Peter King dedicated a not-insignificant portion of his “Football Morning in America” column this week to advice for Tom Brady. FOX announced last week that the Buccaneers’ quarterback will become the network’s lead NFL analyst upon his retirement.

Brady’s decision and his reported salary have been the source of much speculation and prediction amongst his soon-to-be colleagues.

King is optimistic that Tom Brady will be entertaining and informative when he makes his FOX debut. He did offer the GOAT a little bit of advice about what he should be doing in the months leading up to calling it quits on his playing days and starting his new career.

“I think what I’d do if I were Brady is study Cris Collinsworth—and honest to goodness, I don’t say that because I work for NBC,” he wrote. “I say it because Collinsworth knows how to talk X’s-and-O’s conversationally, he’s an easy listen, and he can criticize when the time comes.”

Interestingly, last week, Collinsworth says he hears from most former players that are getting ready to make the jump to broadcasting. He was surprised he never heard from Tom Brady before FOX announced their deal.

King had two other suggestions. The first was that Brady watch multiple games from start to finish so that he can hear what the give-and-take between a broadcaster and analyst sounds like. The other is that he has to commit to being interesting and not censoring himself. King has faith that Brady will be able to do that.

“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is. On that LeBron James show last year, Brady said, ‘Ninety percent of what I say is not what I’m thinking. There’s a part of me that doesn’t like conflict, so in the end I always just try to play it super-flat.’ That has to end once he’s on TV if he wants to be any good.”

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Nick Wright Critical Of ABC Crew As Giannis Antetokounmpo Struggles In Game 7

“He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.”

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Giannis Antetokounmpo started hot in Game 7 on Sunday. By the time the game ended though, the Boston Celtics were on their way to Miami for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the defending champions were headed back to Milwaukee.

The Celtics’ defense gave the Milwaukee Bucks fits in the second half. The ABC broadcast put a special spotlight on Antetokounmpo, who got multiple drives to the basket that he could not finish.

“The best has got to show up when the best is needed, and Giannis has been disappointing,” said Mark Jackson over a package of highlights of Giannis missing shots. “As great of a player as he is, given credit to the Celtics’ defense, but he has struggled offensively time and time again.”

Nick Wright of FS1 noticed and he didn’t appreciate it. He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.

Mike Been, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy were not particularly hard on Giannis. The trio made the typical comments we hear when things aren’t going a great player’s way.

Wright did not harp on the issue beyond the single tweet. The outcome was not in doubt as the clock winded down. He gave credit to the Celtics rather than tweet about the Bucks or Giannis.

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Stephanie McMahon: WWE Is A Better Advertising Investment Than Sports

“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys.”

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Everyone knows that professional wrestling is scripted. The storylines, the outcomes of matches, all of it is predetermined. But in the eyes of WWE, that’s what makes their product so different, and better than traditional sports.

WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon told Deadline that when it comes to pitching advertisers, sports entertainment allows room for a range of different approaches to make something work.

“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys,” she said. “We have a leg up on sports. … You may object to what we do, but you’re never going to be bored.”

McMahon added that WWE has a much easier process in dealing with sponsors. Everything is handled in-house.

“We own all of the IP,” she said. “When brands deal with us, they just deal with us. We create something together.”

WWE is coming off a positive Q1 earnings report, which had the company up 27% in total revenue. Its two weekly primetime shows, Monday Night RAW and Friday Night SmackDown, continue to do well in ratings, and all special and pay-per-view events, in addition to its streaming platform WWE Network, are all housed on Peacock.

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