Mon. Jan 25th, 2021

Chiney Ogwumike Never Wanted To Do Just 1 Thing

“The first lesson I learned at ESPN, is that you have to be authentically yourself, because as humans we can tell when we are bottled up or we are not showing our entire selves.”

As ESPN prepares for the August 17th launch of their new national radio slate, we have had a chance to familiarize ourselves with the talent and time slots for each show. The sheer amount of talent and depth on their roster is truly astounding. Demetri Ravanos spoke with Jay Williams, Brandon Contes spoke with Keyshawn Johnson, and I had the privilege of speaking with Chiney Ogwumike, host of Chiney and Golic Jr, on the opportunity, her future in the WNBA, and being part of a team that is shattering the backboard and glass ceiling for athletes and broadcasters, as they have become ‘the first’ in many respects. 

ESPN’s Senior Vice President of Production David Roberts spoke on the duo. “They are relevant, youthful, energetic and committed to being the very best. Chiney is the first African-American woman on network sports talk radio Monday-Friday in the country. It’s a testament to her talent and unlimited potential.“

Chrissy Paradis: There is definitely this stereotype that exists as well that females aren’t helpful to one another or they can’t be a resource in a competitive industry. I’m like, that could not be like any further from the truth. Because, who doesn’t want for another female to succeed in a business setting?

Chiney Ogwumike: Big facts. And that hasn’t been my experience I just think until we have Enough numbers to tell that story, then that will change. We’ll do it one by one, right?

CP: Right! And, it’s interesting because you and I have a lot in common already, I know that you are a big Annalise Keating / How To Get Away With Murder fan…

CO: Oh my gosh. Don’t even play me right now—

CP: I struggle with if I could just hang out with Olivia Pope or Annalise Keating for a day, who would it be and I go back and forth. And when I was looking online and saw Viola Davis (who plays Annalise Keating on How To Get Away With Murder) followed you, I was thinking, ‘Okay, this interview was meant to be!’ When they did the crossover episodes. I think that Annalise did get that TKO in..

CO: Yes! Yes! The funny thing is that I used to tweet so much about Scandal, I was a live tweeter. I feel like, that, to me, was the biggest follow I’ve ever had on social media. I went nuts. 

CP: And that actually is one of my questions, which three powerful, boss women, would you like to spend a day with, Viola Davis being one? Are there two others you’d like to add?

CO: Let’s see, the people that I’d love to hang out with. One is, obviously Viola Davis, and two, Naomi Campbell. Three, Beyoncé. 

CP: That is a lot of talent and power in one room! I did want to start out with something serious. I was on your Instagram. The first feature piece that you had worked on with ESPN was the Breonna Taylor piece. What did and does that opportunity mean to you?

CO: Yeah, I think for me it was my first opportunity to provide a voice, for those who have been overlooked.

And I think it’s not just women, especially in sports, but black women in sports, and those women I know because I play in the WNBA. So, as we we’re coming to return to sports in the middle of these pandemics with coronavirus and racism and everything that is happening in society; by nature of my not playing the season because of my medical history, meaning my injuries, not having enough of a runway to play, I didn’t want to put my body in unnecessary risk after overcoming these injuries.

My first opportunity within the company was to help story-tell the league that was returning—basketball is back and the women came back first. The WNBA! But, this is the message that they want to show by playing, this is what they are feeling through their communities. And for me, I was moreso a vessel. I was sharing the mic with people that I love and care about that made a courageous decision to go into the bubble and leave their families and to, possibly leave the safety and security of their homes to do this. So, that’s where the genesis of this piece came from. 

I thought that I was going to be in the bubble, playing with my sister but my own personal choice was supported by my team and coaches and organization. And I’m so lucky that my own personal choice, sort of created an opportunity for me to highlight them in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened if I were in the bubble. 

The piece is celebrating the women of the WNBA who have been doing this, even though people do not know that. This is their purpose in the middle of this moment. I was just lucky and fortunate to be put in a position to execute that with ESPN.

CP: It’s a message that is so powerful. And you’ve done great work in bringing awareness to social issues, injustice, voting awareness. It seems that you are as transparent and genuine on air as you are off air. What is your process and school of thought on preparation?

CO: The first lesson I learned at ESPN, is that you have to be authentically yourself, because as humans we can tell when we are bottled up or we are not showing our entire selves. So number one, is me being authentic and speaking on the things that I care about passionately, authentically. 

And then secondly, it’s about relationships. I think it’s all about relationships. The beauty of me getting this opportunity, is that I know about a lot of stories that are hidden in plain sight. Because I’ve been hidden in plain sight. I’m the 6’3 black woman that would pace the halls at ESPN—

CP: You’re selling yourself short, right now! 

CO: Ahh, I know, I honestly would run from hit to hit just trying to get everything done! So, a lot of people, they knew me but they didn’t know my grind. My process is: preparation, being myself authentically, because if you’re not you can tell it and people know it, and then lastly, it’s speaking to the relationships that you know, and that you’re passionate about. 

I think by nature of me having this opportunity at such a young age, and having a new perspective, I didn’t realize I when I said yes to this opportunity, I was the first black woman in this category or the first WNBA Player in this category with a national ESPN Radio show. I think the idea is that by being in the room, we’re now seeing what was hidden.

And that’s not just me, that’s my perspective that could create new stories that can come to the light. So, when I go into interviews, I know that we’re doing something special because we’re doing something different than what was before. We’re creating a new platform for others, like me to hopefully follow too. So, I think it’s all about authenticity and preparation and then, it’s just storytelling, from your real life experiences. 

CP: I wrote down a tweet of yours during The Last Dance, ‘Every success requires sacrifice. Every win takes failure. Every star shines brightest in the dark.’

I enjoyed the reaction videos you made about the series because you do have so much to contribute in that you’re an expert in both arenas.

What advice would you have for young people, young women trying to break into the sports media industry that feel like they’re facing obstacles?

CO: Women, I understand the obstacles, because as much as there are obstacles for everyone, there are added obstacles for women because we are questioned on our opinion, especially in sports. It’s not limited to just one group of people or one gender of people, I think, the way I like to discuss these challenges is that now, we’re all in a special point in society where we have been forced to stop and to look at one another and to humanize one another, not just care about ourselves, our pastoral vision, and not just look at our phones, do our jobs, go home and not worry about your impact. 

Now, we are all thinking about, and have time to breathe and digest the impacts that we have with words, with actions; and not just on ourselves but on our neighbors, our friends, our family and even the strangers that we meet in our day to day encounters. 

I think one thing we realized is everyone in life has challenges. No matter how much you have or what you look like there are going to be challenges. If you aspire to do something more, because we’re all a part of this new rising generation, this millennial generation, where we’re not following in the exact footsteps of those who came before us, we are creating our own path. 

Before, the ladder of success used to be ‘alright, for you to be successful you have to go to high school to go to college, and then you have to go to graduate school. You have to wait for your time and get tenure to get the opportunity. We’re in this technological generation, where we can fast track our own success based on our own creative genius.

You can create an app, or you can start a company, while you’re working at those steps on the ladder to get somewhere. You can have a hustle and also a side hustle, not realizing that your side hustle helps your main hustle. Through working and creating a platform, whether it’s academics being your main hustle, now having that platform helps your side hustle be even more successful. 

So, for a lot of people that feel like these challenges are too much, understand that we’re in a generation where we aren’t doing things the same way. We are creatively finding ways to build our own cultural impact, our own financial impact, our own societal impact. And we’re not alone, there are so many. We’re the generation of the doers and the changers, the not ‘staying on autopilot’ type of generation.

Whether you’re a black woman, a white woman or whether you’re a man or a woman or however you identify as, every obstacle will be tough but everything can be achieved by seeing that you’re capable and finding allies that can help you enhance that. So that’s always been my message. Like through me doing the hard stuff, hopefully it will create an opportunity for an executive to say ‘oh she can do it. I’m gonna hire a whole slew more’. And now that I know what’s possible, we can open the door for so many others. And it’s not just one person, one look, one kind, it is all of us that are capable of doing things differently and creating change in real time, not just waiting for it to happen.

CP: As it does come back to authenticity and relationships, how is your relationship with Golic Jr. and what do you like the most about Mike’s style?

CO: I love everything about him, you can never let him know that though. I love everything about him. I love his family and I love how he treats people and I think that’s why I feel so great about this partnership. We are very similar.

We were the most different looking human beings, right? We’re opposites, but I think where we are friends is that we are the same in everything that matters and that’s where society is now.

We come from big loud boisterous, groundbreaking families. We both play sports; his football, mine basketball. We both care about having intellectual discussions, but also being authentically ourselves, as we are both millennials, in this generation. So, It’s a seamless partnership, it’s the seamless introduction of a new team and a new show. I think what people have seen, especially with Golic & Wingo’s last show, is that he has such a big heart.

He focuses on everything that matters and then uses sports to bring it all together. That’s what he learned from his father, his mother and his siblings. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that family? That’s why I’m really thrilled to work with him and I’m the lucky one because I have someone who I know is going to be my family in this.

There are not many people in this business that you will wake up at three in the morning to drive to get there at four to do a radio show with. You have to actually really like someone to their core to agree to do that. But for him, I would do that because there was something about him that I just really, really loved.

I think that everyone has seen that with his father and how we’re saluting his Hall of Fame career. I think now Junior’s going to step into his own shoes and show people his own impact and I’m so excited to have a front row seat, courtside to see all of that happen.

CP: I feel like Golic Jr. is the person you want on your team. He is the person who truly wants you to honor what is important to you, and still you can lean on him for advice or help. It seems like this makes for a very symbiotic relationship and very helpful dynamic should you resume playing basketball again?

CO: The cool thing about ESPN is that in this show, in this pair, you have two former athletes, right? And the cool thing ESPN, I think with me, took a unique role because I was doing both and they haven’t really had many people—I don’t know if there are many people that actually play and broadcast at the same time.

So, I think they saw it as an opportunity where we could have some really cool engagement and experiences. By playing, I’m around players in the WNBA and NBA. That allows me to say one thing on air and then get hit up by a player that’s been listening. The next thing you know that player is accessible to coming on air.

Between my relationships as a current athlete and his understanding of that, and ESPN’s valuing of that, it allows the show to be whatever we want to make of it and be creative in how we do it. 

And the beauty of the WNBA, is that it’s during the summer so you know if the choice comes towards her to play during our show time, there can be creative solutions to anything.

I think even so much so that Jr. will probably be cool coming to LA to do a show and I would be cool to come into Connecticut. It’s all been very versatile, very mobile, very open minded because I think the realization has been that no one is a ‘one trick pony’ anymore. If we can figure out different ways to do different things, especially with these young people that are unashamed to try new things, why not experiment and see what happens? I think that’s where Junior‘s at in supporting me, where I’m at in supporting him and where the company’s at in supporting us.

CP: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Congratulations! Can’t wait for the debut.

Mike Golic Jr. has a response to the same question I asked Chiney, in case you were wondering about the drive, respect and connection the partners share approaching the launch. Here is what he said about Chiney Ogwumike:

“As far as Chiney and I’s relationship, we are genuine friends which is such a cool thing to say about a person you’re getting to work with. So often you forge those relationships as shows get going and start growing. We’ve been friends off-air since she started at the company. Being peers age-wise helps that a lot, but we have so many similar interests in music, shoes and life. And what’s even cooler is we’ve been able to translate that friendship on-air in a way that isn’t always easy to do. She’s a blast to work with, has such great instincts and throws 100% of herself into this,” Golic Jr shared.

Mike Golic Jr to Call One of the Biggest Events of the Year

“My expectations for us as a team are to bring locker room conversations that we’ve both been a part of to the national stage. We have a unique background where both hosts on a show have a backgrounds in high level athletics. It’s going to be a fun, high energy shot of life for your car ride home. We can’t wait to get everyone involved from our friends, to the biggest names in sports, and everyone listening at home or in the car.”

It is incredibly rare to be a true fan of any show, from it’s inception. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to be a OG/CG fan with so many others who have been eagerly anticipating the unstoppable and incredibly dynamic duo of Chiney & Golic Jr.    

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