Champion during a broadcast of First Take in 2014
Pasadena, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Broadcast journalist, television personality|
|Notable credit(s)||Tennis Channel (2009–12)
First Take (2012–15)
Cari Champion (born June 1975) is an American broadcast journalist and television personality. She has worked as an anchor and reporter for the Tennis Channel and as the host of ESPN2's First Take. In July 2015, Champion became an anchor for ESPN's flagship program SportsCenter.
Champion was born in June 1975 and raised in Pasadena, California. Champion attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she majored in English and minored in mass communications. She wrote for the Daily Bruin and was inspired to pursue a career in journalism by UCLA alumni, including Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times, who spoke in her classes. Champion was drawn to journalism with goals of transforming negative stereotypes of African Americans: "I wanted to give people a voice that didn't have a voice. I'm always fighting for the underdog. I don't know where I got it from, but I've been like that all my life. That's why I love journalism." In her junior year, she studied in Washington, D.C. and earned an internship at CNN. Champion graduated from UCLA in 1998, with an English degree.
Early broadcasting work
Champion began her broadcasting career at several television stations. She moved to West Virginia for her first reporting job. She later said of working there: "I was a one-man-band carrying a camera and a tripod and that was God-awful. But I loved it because I wanted to do it. I always wanted to be a reporter." She was a reporter at the Orange County Newschannel in Santa Ana, California before joining WPTV-TV in West Palm Beach, Florida in the same capacity in 2002.
In November 2007, while working as an anchor for WGCL-TV in Atlanta, Champion was fired for allegedly uttering a profanity over the air. She appealed the firing and said in an interview for the Maynard Institute that the floor director had not cued her and her co-anchor following a commercial break, and that the microphone picked up a conversation they were having about an unhandy mechanical screenwriter: "I called the screenwriter a 'mothersucka' not the f-bomb." She was rehired in January 2008, but left shortly after in March for a broadcasting job outside of Atlanta.
After moving to Florida, Champion covered news such as human interest stories and devastating hurricanes in the state. While working as a reporter there, she developed an affinity for tennis after covering players such as Venus and Serena Williams: "They made me love the sport even more. They opened the door to tennis for so many different people." She subsequently auditioned for the Tennis Channel's burgeoning news department and was one of three women selected from a pool of more than fifty candidates. She joined the network in 2009. Champion worked as a courtside reporter, and anchored the channel's Court Report news segment. She also worked as an entertainment reporter for the Starz network and shows such as The Insider and Hollywood 411.
Career at ESPN
On October 1, 2012, Champion joined ESPN as the new host of ESPN2's live debate show First Take. She was hired over Heidi Watney and Jemele Hill for the job. As the show's host, she moderated debates between sports pundits Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, who she said had "the biggest, strongest personalities in the building". After proposing ideas for stories to ESPN, Champion made her journalistic debut for the network on November 4, 2014, when she profiled and interviewed American football quarterback Cam Newton in a segment for E:60. That same day, she was the target of racist and sexist tweets from comedian Artie Lange, who jokingly portrayed himself and Champion in a sexual fantasy set during slavery. Lange tweeted an apology to Champion the following day, and ESPN issued a statement to Sports Illustrated that rebuked Lange's tweets, while Champion did not respond publicly.
After petitioning ESPN for six months to become an anchor on SportsCenter, Champion was promoted to the position in June 2015. She hosted her last episode of First Take on June 19 and began anchoring morning editions of SportsCenter in July.
Champion was forced to apologize on SportsCenter after stating, "I gotta problem with these. #3 should have been #1," after a special needs kid with Down syndrome hitting a free throw was number one on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays. CBS' Boomer Esiason called for ESPN to suspend her on his popular Boomer and Carton radio program. Co-Host Craig Carton guaranteed that she would not be fired but that she would be suspended.
Champion grew up as an avid basketball fan. She is a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and the UCLA Bruins. According to her, she is 6 feet 1 inch tall "with heels". Before working on the show, Champion was an avid watcher of First Take: "I love the barbershop debates that make First Take feel different than other programs".
- Nesheim, Jay Jay (September 26, 2012). "Cari Champion Joins ESPN as Host of First Take as Show Ratings Surge". ESPN MediaZone. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
- "Next: ESPN's Cari Champion". Vibe. December 27, 2012. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
- Feinberg, Paul (February 4, 2013). "ESPN's Referee - Web Exclusive". UCLA Magazine Online. UCLA Marketing & Communications and UCLA Alumni Association. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
- DeFrancesco, Tracey (August 2011). "Cari Champion: The Purpose Driven Reporter". Tennis View Magazine. Seminole. 4 (5). Archived from the original on August 3, 2011. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
- Broadcasting & Cable. New York. 132: 53.
- Ho, Rodney (December 19, 2007). "Cari Champion gets a 2nd chance". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
- Eldridge, Richard L. (March 20, 2008). "Changing Channels". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved June 13, 2013. (subscription required)
- "Cari Champion". Tennis Channel. Archived from the original on June 13, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
- Zaldivar, Gabe (September 10, 2012). "ESPN Reportedly Welcomes Tennis Channel's Cari Champion to Host "First Take"". Bleacher Report. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
- "ESPN’s Cari Champion Promoted to ‘SportsCenter’ Anchor (Exclusive)". Yahoo!. June 18, 2015. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- Kreiswirth, Carrie (November 4, 2014). "First Take's Cari Champion debuts as E:60 correspondent, profiles Cam Newton". ESPN Front Row. Archived from the original on November 6, 2014. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
- D'Zurilla, Christie (November 5, 2014). "Artie Lange explains his racist sex fantasy about ESPN's Cari Champion". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 6, 2014. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
- Bonesteel, Matt (2015). "Cari Champion escapes ESPN’s ‘First Take’ for ‘SportsCenter’". The Washington Post (June 19). Archived from the original on June 19, 2015. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- "CBS' Boomer Esiason calls on ESPN to suspend Cari Champion for Down syndrome slight". Retrieved February 24, 2017.
- Best, Neil (July 25, 2015). "Cari Champion: ESPN's First Take 'needs to evolve'". Newsday. Melville. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
- Collins, J. J. (May 2012). "Q&A with renowned sports journalist Cari Champion: An interview by J.J. Collins". Catalyst eNewsletter. International Working Group on Women and Sport. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
- Harris, Christopher (2015). "Cari Champion Joins SportsCenter! [INTERVIEW]". Ebony (July 31). Archived from the original on August 2, 2015. Retrieved August 2, 2015.