In January, after seven years at ESPN, Cari Champion left what some considered a dream job as the host of the network’s flagship program, SportsCenter. “I think for a long time, I wasn’t able to tell stories that mattered. And I was really upset. I was losing my je ne sais quoi, my passion for what I initially tried to do in this game,” she says. Since then, she’s co-hosted NBC’s The Titan Games, an athletic-competition show with Dwayne Johnson, and another on TNT called The Arena, alongside Charles Barkley, Draymond Green, and Dwyane Wade, which focuses on social-justice issues. This week, she’s launching Stick to Sports, a weekly talk show with her longtime colleague and friend Jemele Hill, which the pair will host and executive produce for Vice. She lives in Los Angeles with her miniature poodle, Coco. Here’s how she gets it done.
On a typical morning:
I wake up at the earliest about 7 a.m. I’ll make myself overnight oats with almond milk and a little bit of cinnamon, and I’ll put a banana in there. I have a call every morning at 7:30 with our team on the Vice show. I try to make sure my schedule is free between nine and 11 so I can get some form of physical activity. Otherwise, I’ll feel like I’m just sitting at my desk doing nothing. From 11 to 12, I’ll usually do voice-overs for my NBC show. And then interviews for all my various projects.
On life in quarantine:
The situation is pretty good, actually. At first, I was like, I’m over it. But then I settled in, and now I’m like, I don’t know if I’m in five-day-a-week-work shape. My favorite neighborhood spot is closed, so I do a lot of pickup and cooking, which is much healthier. I’ve become quite the chef.
I’m going on the vegan situation. I know it’s hard. Ooh, it’s so hard. Especially because bacon is one of my favorites. There’s no way to get around it. You just have to realize the candy of meats is out of your life. It’s like a really tough breakup.
On leaving ESPN:
I think I always knew that I was going to be a broadcast journalist since I was a kid and saw Oprah on TV. But until I was at ESPN, I didn’t realize that my purpose was to show brown girls that it can be done, and that it can be done in a way that you can be unapologetic about who you are. A lot of women in sports would come on TV and try to hide the fact that they’re a woman. And I’m like, Well, that’s dumb. So I would go on TV, like, I’m a woman, and I’m smart, I’m sassy, and if you think I’m sexy, that’s on you.
ESPN gave me an amazing platform and helped me narrow my focus on what mattered. I went from First Take to my own show on SportsCenter. That was growth. But at a certain point, I just felt like I wasn’t growing. I could have stayed on TV five days a week on a very popular platform being very basic. But I knew that I had more.
And to be honest with you, if I was with ESPN, I couldn’t speak on social-justice issues and police brutality. I just couldn’t have done it without feeling as if the company would say, “We really don’t want to be associated with that.” When I got to that point at ESPN where I wasn’t able to do something, I said, “Okay, that’s my nonnegotiable. It’s time for me to jump.”
On working with her close friend:
Jemele has an ability to make everybody think that she is their best friend. She’s so easy and open. I’m not her best friend, but we’re very, very close. And we’ve been through a lot together. She’s always taken care of me and been a mentor. When I first got into the sports game, I was relatively unknown, and people didn’t want to let me in for various reasons. People tried to pit us against one another because they believed there could only be one. So many times we, as Black people, fall into that trap. And Jemele refused to let that happen.
Working with her is really easy. We’re very loyal. We’ve been around the game long enough to know that everyone has something that they shine at really well. So there was no divide and conquer. You have to come through both of us if you want something. With this show, we were committed to making sure Black women have a real, true platform and a voice to be heard, because since the beginning of time, we’ve been pushed to the back burner and not given the proper respect, or the proper pay, or the proper light and shine. And we decided, No more.
On knowing what she’s worth:
I’m working on a project now where we’re back and forth on contracts. And immediately they don’t want to give you your worth because they think you don’t know. Traditionally, Black women don’t know. Or even the people who work for you, like maybe my agent, may not go for the amount she would for her male white client.
Sometimes we’re just so happy to be in front of the camera. But we need to walk in the meeting and be able to know our worth, and demand it, and not expect less. For me, that’s still a work-in-progress, no matter how far I’ve come.
I think it’s building the empire — not necessarily in terms of just money but a communications empire. I use the example of Ryan Seacrest — he is on 17 different networks; he owns his own production company; he is doing shows that he loves, and no one’s questioning whether or not he should be able to do all these different things. Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I have a job on different networks and have my own production company (which I do). I want to make valuable deals where I go out of my way to employ other Black and brown women to do the same.
When I have downtime, I work on other projects that are very important to me. That’s my way of being an activist. I am protesting in the way in which I can protest.
Right now, the country is in such a hyperaware state of what’s going on with our government and voting and social justice and police brutality. So I use my platform in every possible way and try to donate my time to projects that are trying to amplify the voice of Black people. I worked on a project called Share the Mic, where Black women took over platforms of white women with bigger platforms to tell our stories about being Black women in America and how, oftentimes, we’ve had to suppress our feelings. But now that the dam is broken, we’re letting everything out.
On skin care:
Skin care is a ritual. It’s meditation. At a really young age, I started washing my face day and night and developing a routine. And I’ve never stopped. I can’t even think of a time in my life since I was 18 years old that I’ve never not washed my face at night. You know how you go out, and you’re really tired, and you just pick up the makeup wipe … I won’t even do that. It’s been so ingrained in me to wash my face, have a routine, put on toner, make sure you put moisturizer on at night and eye cream, all of that. And then, of course, genetics don’t hurt. My grandmother’s 90; she has very few wrinkles.
On winding down:
I literally go through the entire day with my TV off. I think it is so bizarre that I’ll call people and they’re watching TV. So at the end of the day, when I turn it on, I try to consume what I want to consume. That’s how I escape. I get excited when I find new ridiculous things. There’s this show that my friend found, Doctor Foster, and we have been killing it. I’ve also been watching a lot of Chris Evans movies, believe it or not. I was like, Save us, Captain America. Save us. Otherwise, I’m just off. The beauty and the blessing of a global shutdown is knowing what you need to restore yourself.