Just like most television shows, ESPN’s hit sports show “First Take” has seen its share of changes over the years, from Skip Bayless leaving for FS1, to Max Kellerman pretty much being forced out. But one departure that seemed to change the trajectory of the show was when moderator Cari Champion stepped away in 2015 after just three years on the job.
The UCLA graduate was hired by the Entertainment Sports Network in 2012 after three years on the Tennis Channel.
After a rigorous interview process, where she says it seemed like she might not land the job, Champion was chosen. Champion’s job was to try and control Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, two loudmouth, energetic sports talking heads. Basically, keep SAS from hollering (impossible) and keep Skip on task as it pertains to the subject (also impossible). But, Champion did her very best daily. It wasn’t an easy gig, and what Champion brought to the show wasn’t always appreciated by management.
During a recent appearance on the “I Am Athlete” podcast, Champion went into detail about her time on the hit sports talk debate show. She was truly a part of broadcast history and should be remembered in the history books when the rise of the sports debate show is discussed.
“The problem was, for me as a Black woman in that position — and at the time nobody was Monday through Friday on a popular two-hour TV show that was a Black woman — and they let me know I didn’t matter. Intentionally, unintentionally, it was obvious. It was like, ‘You don’t matter, just be happy you’re here.’”
— I AM ATHLETE (@IAMATHLETEpod) July 4, 2022
What Champion is saying is the show was about the two men on the mic, and her input was considered useless.
Champion Leaves Show After Less Than Three Years: But Stays At Network
After less than three years as the show’s moderator, Champion left. Although still under contract with ESPN, she would no longer appear on “First Take.” Instead, after six months of petitioning and requesting to be an anchor on ESPN, she got her wish and joined “SportsCenter.”
In 2019, Champion re-upped on a new deal but was always waiting for that next big opportunity outside of ESPN. During an April 2021 interview with Sarah Spain on the “That’s What She Said” podcast, Champion had this to say:
“I signed the deal knowing that if I got another opportunity I would just leave and give enough notice,” Champion said. “We were 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.”
"You don't matter, just be happy that you here." pic.twitter.com/jVHdkE6eYb
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) July 4, 2022
Champion did many segments for “E:60,” including her network journalistic debut on former NFL MVP Cam Newton in 2014. There she showed her wide range of journalistic skill and wit.
Champion Leaves ESPN Altogether
Champion left ESPN in 2020 to join former co-worker and media conglomerate Jemele Hill. The two strong-minded, brilliant African-American women became co-hosts on a show called “Cari & Jemele (Won’t) Stick To Sports.” That show ran one season and had 18 episodes running from August 2020 to February 2021, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two media powers were to reconnect on a new venture, this time on CNN+ with “Cari & Jemele: Speak.Easy.” But with the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery, the show never came to fruition.
— CNN+ (@CNNplus) February 10, 2022
Regardless, Champion seems to have landed on her feet after her divorce from ESPN, and to this day no moderator on “First Take” was as bright, captivating and instinctive as CC was daily.