ESPN's The Undefeated Goes Online At Last
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now some news from the world of sports. It's no secret that sports is about more than throwing, catching or hitting a ball. It's always been that way, but right now we're in a moment when the 360-degree reality of sports - health effects, racial issues, gender dynamics - are in the news as never before. That's one reason ESPN spent much of last year trying to get a new website up and running to focus on the intersection of race and sports called The Undefeated. It was supposed to have been led by a famously provocative sportswriter named Jason Whitlock, but he was removed. Now the site has a new leader, Kevin Merida, a former managing editor of The Washington Post. It's back on track for a 2016 launch. And I asked him - why leave a plum job at a prestige outlet like The Post for a venture some might consider risky?
KEVIN MERIDA: First of all, the subject matter interests me. And then it was just -I wanted to innovate all of these new websites - different digital properties. That's where the experimentation is going. We're not creating any more magazines or newspapers, but we are creating new properties, new ways to reach audiences.
MARTIN: Why do we need a site that focuses on race and sports, in your opinion?
MERIDA: I think that, as you've seen, the subject, the material just keeps coming at you, you know, whether it's - the athletes at the Missouri football program decided that they wanted some changes in the leadership, and they said they weren't going to play a game. We've seen recently with a campaign that's been on Twitter - a hashtag campaign - started to try to get LeBron James to sit out games because of the decision about Tamir Rice not to indict police officers. So, you know, I think that there will be lots of material, and there's an audience for it.
MARTIN: It's interesting that, you know, there may be an audience for it, but is there patronage for it? Because one of the arguments that athletes - not just African-American athletes have made to me, but athletes of all races have made to me is that the corporate owners are not interested in hearing the totality of views of these people - that they are very interested in sports as entertainment. And they are not very interested in anything that disturbs the equanimity of the consumers of sports because there are a lot of people who just don't want sort of the politics of the moment or these other issues interfering with their enjoyment of it. And a lot of people think that the sports media has been complicit in that - of sort of treating these athletes as commodities and not as people.
MERIDA: You're kind of helping them make the case for The Undefeated, I think, because athletes occupy such a great place in our imagination. They're heroes, leaders. And, you know, I would like to delve into more of how they think, how they feel beyond sports. You know, there are lots of subjects that deserve some particular attention, like black quarterbacks. We're seeing this year Cam Newton, who is having an MVP season. There's been a lot of discussion about everything from his dance moves to just how he goes about his business on the field. You know, there's a lot of territory. There's a lot of room for us to run. And it starts with me, the editor-in-chief - the sensibility and identity that I think is going to stand out.
MARTIN: When can we look forward to the first edition?
MERIDA: You know, I'm going to say this year.
MERIDA: The year 2016.
MARTIN: All right.
MERIDA: But before the year is too old. It's like - you cook...
MARTIN: When the soup is done.
MERIDA: Yeah. You don't want to have the gumbo before the gumbo's ready.
MARTIN: That's Kevin Merida. He's the new editor-in-chief of the forthcoming website The Undefeated. It's dedicated to the intersection of race and sports. Kevin Merida, happy New Year. Thanks so much for joining us.
MERIDA: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.