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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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Kathryn Tappen Joining NBC’s Big Ten Coverage

“Tappen was in line to replace Michele Tafoya as the sideline reporter for Sunday Night Football but was passed over by the network in favor of Melissa Stark.”

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NBC has tabbed Kathryn Tappen as its sideline reporter for the network’s upcoming coverage of Big Ten football, according to a report from Andrew Marchand of The New York Post.

According to Marchand, Tappen was in line to replace Michele Tafoya as the sideline reporter for Sunday Night Football but was passed over by the network in favor of Melissa Stark.

Tappen has hosted Notre Dame football’s studio coverage and Peacock Sunday Night Football Final. She also worked as NBC’s lead interviewer for its coverage of the PGA Tour, but left that broadcast team at the end of 2022 as part of the network’s larger shakeup of its golf coverage.

The appointment of Kathryn Tappen conceivably concludes the Big Ten on NBC broadcast crew. Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge are expected to pair as the network’s play-by-play announcer and color analyst, respectively. NBC has yet to officially unveil its coverage plans for the 2023 college football season.

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Peter King: Sean McVay Wants to be a Star, ‘Not Just Some Guy on TV’

“I do think he had some regret over not taking a two- or three-year hiatus last year and taking one of the big TV jobs. Amazon? Maybe FOX? But if he really wanted to jump after winning the Super Bowl, he would have.”

Jordan Bondurant

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L.A. Rams head coach Sean McVay will remain at his post for the 2023-24 season. The team tweeted that news Friday afternoon, seeming to, at least for now, put the rumors of McVay leaving coaching for a TV job to rest.

ProFootballTalk’s Peter King wrote in Football Morning in America on Monday that McVay understands the kind of position on television he’s looking for may not necessarily be there for him.

“I don’t think that was the only thing about TV that appealed to him, but I don’t think McVay was interested in being Just a Guy on TV,” King wrote. “I do think he had some regret over not taking a two- or three-year hiatus last year and taking one of the big TV jobs. Amazon? Maybe FOX? But if he really wanted to jump after winning the Super Bowl, he would have.”

King noted that McVay has been told to “Do what makes you happy” by folks with the Rams. He also said he believes coaching is what Makes McVay happy. Especially with a chance to shake up his coaching staff and being involved in trying to bring the team back from a 5-12 season in their follow-up campaign to winning the Super Bowl.

“He wants to be challenged, and this staff wasn’t doing it,” King said. “Offensive coordinator Liam Coen may not have been what McVay wanted in an OC—a coach who would challenge him and bring new ideas to him—and that could be why he’s going back to the University of Kentucky as a coordinator.”

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Lisa Salters Makes Monday Night Football History Completing 11th Season on Sideline

“Salters has been with ESPN for almost 23 years. She started as a general assignment reporter before moving to sideline reporting in 2006.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Monday night’s Cowboys/Bucs wild card playoff game set a new milestone for ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters.

The network tweeted that Salters completed her 11th season in that role. That makes her the longest tenured reporter in Monday Night Football history.

Salters has been with ESPN for almost 23 years. She started as a general assignment reporter before moving to sideline reporting in 2006.

“When I first got the call to do Monday Night Football, I would have never thought that 10 years later I would still be doing it,” Salters said last year in a video reminiscing on ten years on Monday Night Football. “I was at home and I got a phone call from my boss Vince Doria and he said, ‘Hey, I was wondering if you would be interested in being a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football‘, and I couldn’t believe what he just asked me.”

Salters is also featured on network coverage of the NBA, something she’s been doing since 2005.

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