Don’t Tell Jemele Hill and Cari Champion to Stay in Their Lane

Jemele Hill and Cari Champion have been told to “stick to sports” throughout their careers as former sports journalists on ESPN, but on their new late-night talk show, they do anything but. The program, premiering tonight on VICE TV, features the former colleagues and longtime friends engaged in unfiltered conversations about the latest headlines and with each other and special guests. The discussion can swiftly flow from LeBron James, to polling trends, to who’s worth canceling. This is not your dad’s late show.

After Hill and Champion met with Vice in March, the idea quickly turned into a reality, but the concept for Stick to Sports had been brewing since before the COVID-19 pandemic and global protests against police brutality and systemic racism. With the show’s arrival in the wake of these events now, it’s more relevant than ever. “All of that coincides with what Jemele and I had been discussing and what we wanted to show,” Champion tells BAZAAR.com. “We wanted to have a show that talks honestly, candidly and in a very pure way about being Black in America, being a woman in America, being a Black woman in America, and working in a corporate environment.”

She added, “We’re journalists at heart. And so just by our nature of curiosity and our professionalism, we want to be watchdogs of society, but we also want to help people be better. We want to show the inequity.”

It’s that desire to hold people accountable that made Hill and Champion susceptible to “stick to sports” insults. In 2017, Hill became the textbook example when she called Donald Trump a white supremacist; for Champion, she first heard the phrase during discussions about football player Ray Rice, who allegedly assaulted his wife. Champion likened the comment to the sexist, “stay in the kitchen” insult. “Whenever a woman has something to say about sports, we get told one of those two things, right?”

“I think there’s a theme there, that usually the people being told that are people who tended to have been marginalized,” Hill adds. “Women, women of color, Black people, people of color, those are the people getting told to ‘stick to sports.’ You don’t see many white people being told that.”

She continues, “There is just this idea in America that people of color should always be grateful as opposed to fighting for the respect that we’re often not given. And whenever we fight for that respect, people start to tell us to go back to our place. And so ‘stick to sports’ is just the new, ‘get in your place.’ So it always started from a disingenuous, intellectually dishonest place.”

Choosing to name their show Stick to Sports, then, is their way of saying “Kiss our ass!” Champion interjects.

I don’t want to be labeled anything. I just want to get our just due.

One also can’t ignore the significance of a late-night program hosted by two Black women in a genre historically dominated by white men. Hill and Champion are proud to show representation matters in this space. “It means a lot to us,” Hill says. “We understand what it has meant for our careers when we see other Black women in non-traditional places because they didn’t have representation. We hope we’ll inspire other people to do what we did in terms of going for something that they dreamt about pursuing, something that a lot of people probably told them was unlikely.”

They’re also keen to point out that they don’t represent all Black women; they’re not a monolith. “We see things very differently and we may have grown up alike, but we see things very differently based on how our experiences in life have been brought to us,” Champion says of herself and Hill. “There are a lot of commonalities, yes, don’t get me wrong, but we hope that the friendship is the story here, but more importantly, that we are able to show what happened as a result of women sticking together, working together. I don’t want to be labeled anything. I just want to get our just due.”

Indeed, Hill and Champion’s palpable friendship and chemistry are at the heart of the show. Their story began years ago when they were up for the same job at ESPN’s First Take, but Champion landed the gig. Wary of ruffling feathers, she tried to keep her head down when she started the job, but Hill reached out to befriend her.

“And at first I didn’t want to be her friend,” Champion remembers. “She loves to tell that story, but thank God I was able to get over myself. I have one of the best friends in the world who was often a mentor and I seek her for advice. She’s someone who just evens me out in a lot of ways. I could not be more than thrilled and grateful to have a show with someone who’s so easy-going.”

Even so, Champion was taken aback by Hill’s warmth at the time, because early in her career, she had seen how professional women antagonized each other to get ahead. “Sometimes I think we as women have been always taught to compete with one another and not necessarily be together. Instead, we only believe that there can be one, especially when there’s only one woman in a room or only one woman of color in the room.” But now, Champion calls her friendship with Hill “a true story of sisterhood.”

While reflecting on the significance of Stick to Sports, Champion refers to a viral quote she read about the social justice movement: “We’re not asking for revenge, we’re asking for equality.” “I think women are often asking for that. And we shouldn’t have to ask for that,” she says. “It just should just be a given because we’re the soul [of] America.”

Stick to Sports premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on VICE TV.

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