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Cari Champion: My Job on ‘First Take’ Was To Ask Questions and Lay Out

“When Ray Rice was on the elevator punching his then fiancée now wife, we all had to talk about it. They were very clear that I couldn’t weigh in. What does that look like? We’re talking about domestic violence and you have the only woman in the show not being able to discuss it.”

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From 2012-2015, Cari Champion was the moderator for First Take on ESPN with Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smith. While she was a part of the show, she was not able to voice her opinion on the topics that were being discussed.

Champion was a guest on the I Am Athlete podcast with Brandon Marshall, Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, and Nick “Swaggy P” Jones. She knew Bayless and Smith were hard workers, but she did not feel like she was valued by ESPN:

“They [Skip and Stephen A] are exactly who they are. Super-talented, they worked hard, they taught me work ethic…They did the homework, they came prepared. The problem was for me as a black woman in that position at the time, nobody was Monday-Friday on a popular 2-hour TV show that was a black woman. They let me know I didn’t matter, intentionally or unintentionally. It was obvious. You don’t matter. Just be happy that you are here. Don’t talk. Ask questions. Just be happy that you are here.”

When she first started at First Take, Champion said that Jemele Hill was a huge help to her, especially when people were criticizing her for pronouncing names wrong:

“The first few weeks were crazy. I went from 500 followers on Twitter to thousands and thousands. Aggressive a** fans. I don’t like your hair, your shoes, you don’t know what you are talking about. My whole world is rocked. I figured it out, but I figured it out with help from people who did it before like Jemele Hill, like when they used to be on my a** for pronouncing names right.”

Champion mentioned that the show went from talking about more than sports when the Ray Rice domestic violence incident happened in 2014. Everyone was asked to weigh in on the situation, except Champion:

“My job was only to ask questions and lay out. Then, we started to talk about more than just sports…When Ray Rice was on the elevator punching his then fiancée now wife, we all had to talk about it. They were very clear that I couldn’t weigh in. What does that look like? We’re talking about domestic violence and you have the only woman in the show not being able to discuss it. By they, I don’t know who made the decision, but it became so awkward and noticeable that people started to write about it…It was so foreign to have women debate.”

However, Champion mentioned when she watched the show after she left and Molly Qerim became the host, she noticed Qerim was allowed to talk more than she ever was and it did upset her:

“It was upsetting because then, the following host, Molly Qerim, in the beginning, they would let Molly talk all the time. Molly could talk and I was told specifically not to talk. The reality is because I was the first, I had to go through things that people didn’t have to go through. I felt a way because I went through it tough because I just wanted to say my opinion.”

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NTT IndyCar Series Reportedly Nearing Media Rights Deal with FOX Sports

Terms of the agreement remain unknown, but it has been reported that IndyCar was looking to have one partner for its full season within its forthcoming media rights cycle.

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NTT IndyCar Series
Courtesy: NTT IndyCar Series

The NTT IndyCar Series, which includes the Indianapolis 500 and other races throughout the year, is reportedly closing in on signing a media rights deal with FOX Sports, according to a new report from Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal. The deal is reportedly expected to be announced “within days,” a development that comes after IndyCar expert Tony Donohue reported that FOX Sports offered IndyCar a complete network television package starting with the 2025 season and beyond. Potential occupants for IndyCar Rights are said to have been down to FOX and NBC in recent weeks, the latter of which is in the final year of its three-season contract with the open-wheel car racing league.

Terms of the agreement remain unknown, but it has been reported that IndyCar was looking to have one partner for its full season within its forthcoming media rights cycle. If this ends up being the case, it would presumably end the property’s relationship with NBC following the conclusion of the racing season in September. Penske Entertainment owns the NTT IndyCar Series, which attains a reported $20 million per year in media rights fees from NBC Sports.

News of the reported agreement between IndyCar and FOX Sports comes after the Indianapolis 500 averaged 5.34 million viewers on NBC and Peacock despite a four-hour weather delay. The broadcast marked the largest audience for the Indy 500 in the last three years and was also up 8% year-over-year from the 2023 iteration of the race.

INDYCAR removed the local blackout of the race in Indianapolis, Ind. and secured an 18.15 household rating and 54 share in the locale. The first six races of the 2024 IndyCar season averaged a total audience delivery of 1.95 million viewers, five of which were televised on NBC while the other one was on USA Network.

NASCAR announced new seven-year media rights deals with FOX Sports, NBC Sports, Amazon’s Prime Video and Warner Bros. Discovery beginning in 2025, collectively worth a reported total of $7.7 billion. FOX Sports will no longer air the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend because of how the new NASCAR media rights deal is structured, with the race moving to Prime Video.

Media rights for Formula 1 are currently held by ESPN and expire following the 2025 racing season, and there is reported interest from Apple to bid $2 billion per year for exclusive global rights to the property. FOX Sports previously broadcast Formula 1 races through its SPEED Network for 17 years through the conclusion of the 2012 season.

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NBC, TNT Sports to Join FOX Sports as Big East Basketball Partners According to Report

For Warner Bros. Discovery/TNT Sports, this will be the third sports media rights package it will have secured since reports started to leak out it will most likely have a reduced NBA package or no package at all.

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As jockeying continues for any available live sports programming, NBC and TNT Sports are reportedly on the verge of adding coverage of men’s and women’s basketball from the Big East. A report from Andrew Marchand of The Athletic says the two networks are expected to join current Big East partner FOX Sports in airing games starting with the 2025-26 season.

The report says while no agreement has been finalized, it appears FOX Sports will remain the top partner and is expected to continue airing the Big East Tournament, although Marchand says NBC and Peacock could end up with some tournament games. It also notes NBC plans to air most of its Big East games on Peacock.

What is not known yet is how CBS, another current Big East partner, may factor into the deal. According to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch, the few games CBS has carried are sublicensed from FOX Sports.

For Warner Bros. Discovery/TNT Sports, this will be the third sports media rights package it will have secured since reports started to leak out it will most likely have a reduced NBA package or no package at all. Earlier this week, the company announced a 10-year deal for the US rights to the French Open tennis tournament. That followed the announcement in May they had reached a 5-year deal to sublicense College Football Playoff games from ESPN. TNT Sports also carries NASCAR and has a partnership with CBS for NCAA Tournament games.

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Jen Lada to Appear on Around the Horn

Lada will become the 58th panelist all-time on the show.

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Graphic for Jen Lada appearing on Around the Horn
Graphic Courtesy: ESPN

Jen Lada, ESPN host and reporter and also part of the morning show team at ESPN Milwaukee, will make her debut later today on Around the Horn. Lada will become the 58th panelist all-time on the show.

In her time with ESPN, Lada has been seen on College GameDay, College Football Live, SportsCenter, First Take, Outside the Lines, E:60 and more. Lada started with ESPN in 2015 and she joined College GameDay as a features reporter and College Football Live as a host in 2016.

Prior to ESPN, Lada was an anchor and reporter for two and a half years in the Chicago area for Comcast SportsNet.

Around the Horn has been on the air since November, 2002. Woody Paige is the all-time leader in guest appearances on the show, which is nearing 3,000 times. Jackie MacMullan has the record for most appearances by a female panelist, she has appeared on 890 episodes.

Around the Horn is hosted by Tony Reali and airs weekdays at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN and on the ESPN App.

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