ESPN Launches “Black History Always” Initiative, Expanding on Black History Month

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ESPN Launches “Black History Always” Initiative, Expanding on Black History Month

Television Specials, Features and Digital Content Among Highlights of Celebration

Expanding a commitment that dates back 25 years, ESPN has launched “Black History Always,” a company-wide content commitment initiative to highlight Black stories beyond the traditional Black History Month in February. Black History Always began with Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and The Undefeated will identify opportunities throughout the year to resurface and integrate relevant content under the Black History Always theme.

Powered by The Undefeated, ESPN’s content initiative exploring the intersections of sports, race and culture, Black History Always launched Jan. 18 with a series of vignettes featuring well-known athletes and coaches appearing across ESPN television and digital platforms. The celebration will continue year-round, every year.

“ESPN has recognized Black History Month with special programming and events since 1995,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content. “For Black History Always, we are expanding that commitment by further leaning into what The Undefeated already does, deepening our celebration of Black History across all ESPN platforms year-round.”

“We are asserting the commitment to supporting the Black sports community in all aspects: athletes on and off the court, storytelling and culture,” said Raina Kelley, managing editor of The Undefeated, who is overseeing the Black History Always initiative. “This initiative will highlight moments and stories on and off the field that empower and inspire; moments of athletic heroism and moral heroism; moments that signify change and progress, and moments that show us how much work is still to be done. We want to show Black fans that we are always there for them, we represent and reflect them, and we celebrate and appreciate them.”

Among highlights of upcoming Black History Always content on ESPN platforms, with more programming and content to be announced in the coming weeks:

ESPN and ABC Television

  • Jan. 31 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) – Black History Always: A half-hour program introducing the ESPN concept of “Black History Always.” Hosted by The Undefeated’s Clinton Yates, the program will use a mix of new productions, music and other elements to show that sports are always writing Black history and what it means to be game-changing. The program will re-air on ABC at a later date. (Produced by Lois Nam) VIDEO EXCERPT 
  • Feb. 28 (Noon, ESPN) – The Undefeated Presents: A Room of our Own – Groundbreaking hour of television that explores the relationship Black athletes have to music and its transcending impact in powering social movements in celebration of Black History Month. The program will re-air on ABC on Sunday, March 7. (Directed by: Jams x Bash).
    • Some of the music for the special will be from the “Music For The Movement/Black History Always” EP, set for release Feb. 26. The EP is the second volume of the ongoing project between ESPN’s The Undefeated platform and Hollywood Records

The Undefeated

  • Feb. 1 — Downloadable Black History Always posters with inspirational quotes by Black athletes such as Alyson Felix, Trae Young, Sloane Stephens and Bubba Wallace.
  • Feb. 2 – Black NFL quarterback MVP’s (TheUndefeated.com; visual timeline).
  • Black & Brilliant — Three digital short stories celebrating Black excellence in the community. (TheUndefeated.com).
  • Feb. 18 — March on Washington: Keepers of the Dream – Tracing the ongoing journey of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of the heroes who marched for justice and equality in the 1960’s, and the experiences of those on the front lines of the current fight for racial equality. Produced by The Undefeated In partnership with National Geographic Studios and airing on National Geographic (10 p.m.). (Directed by ESPN’s Emmy award-winning filmmaker Marquis Daisy and produced/written By, The Undefeated’s senior writer Jesse Washington).
  • Feb. 22 — The stories of struggles and triumphs of the players, both famous and unknown, who served as the “Jackie Robinson” of their respective pro teams. (TheUndefeated.com)
  • Feb. 25 – The women of color impacting the sneaker industry (TheUndefeated.com).
  • The Undefeated social handles – Daily content related to Black History Always across The Undefeated’s social handles on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram:.
    • Tribute to Black coaches
    • This Day in Black History
    • Favorite moments in Black sports history from The Undefeated staff.
    • More to be announced.

First Take (ESPN, weekdays, 10 a.m.)

  • ESPN’s popular morning debate show First Take, with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and host Molly Qerim Rose, will virtually showcase four HBCU’s with special shows every Wednesday during February beginning with Winston-Salem State University, Smith’s alma mater, on Feb. 3. Howard University (Feb. 10), Morehouse College (Feb. 17) and Jackson State University (Feb. 24) will also be featured throughout the month. The shows will include special guest appearances by Terrence J and Deion Sanders, debate questions from students for Smith and Kellerman and much more.
  • “Moments in Black History” vignettes, voiced by Smith, and produced by First Take and The Undefeated will also air during shows throughout February.
  • An additional First Take video series will also feature prominent athletes, coaches and more speaking on the personal impact and wide-ranging significance of Black History Month, including Natasha Cloud, Stephen Curry, Darius Leonard, Anthony Mackie and Doc Rivers.

ACC Network   

  • From Trailblazers to What’s Next?: A one-hour virtual roundtable including five segments with a specific discussion for each. Hosted by Dalen Cuff, the show will feature former ACC trailblazers, current coaches or administrators, and current student-athletes. All 15 schools will be represented.  (Monday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m.).
  • Darcy Bourne Feature Story: A freshman Duke field hockey student-athlete from Esher, England. As a young Black woman, she attended a protest last summer in London and a picture of her carrying a sign “Why is Ending Racism a Debate?” went viral. Even as a freshman and new to the country, she was a leader on her team for social justice and racial equality. The feature will air within In Play and in other studio programs from mid-February.

Longhorn Network

  • Kenneth Sims Conversation: Kenneth Sims, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December, was Texas’ first Lombardi Award winner and the first pick in the 1982 NFL Draft, discusses what his time at the University of Texas was like for a Black man.
  • Logan Eggleston & Asjia O’Neal: UT volleyball players Logan Eggleston and Asjia O’Neal were among many other Texas athletes who were outspoken about making changes to UT’s campus to make it a more inclusive campus for students of color.
  • LBJ Library Presents: Each Monday throughout the month of February, Longhorn Network will feature back-to-back hour-long specials highlighting notable Black figures, including Valerie Jarrett, Hank Aaron and Kevin Durant as part of the LBJ Library Presents Additionally, LHN will debut LBJ Presents: Darren Walkeron Monday, Feb. 15, at 9 p.m. Walker, a member of the first class of Head Start in 1965 and Texas graduate speaks on his mission to shift the foundations of philanthropy from generosity to social justice. The discussion is moderated by Dr. Victoria Soto, an assistant dean in the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
  • Racial Geography Tour: Texas student-athletes released a list of requests to UT Administration last summer in an effort to make UT a more welcoming campus for Black students. Tours of UT Austin are being conducted that show how racism, patriarchy, and politics are baked into the landscape and architecture of the campus.
  • Vignettes: Various Texas student athletes on the importance of their voice in the fight for social justice.

SEC Network

  • Beyond the Whiteboard: SEC Coaches Conversation – Debuting on Monday, Feb. 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET, Maria Taylor sits with six Black women who are head women’s basketball coaches in the SEC: Nikki Fargas (LSU), Nikki McCray-Penson (Mississippi State), Yolett McPhee-McCuin (Ole Miss), Dawn Staley (South Carolina), Joni Taylor (Georgia) and Terri Williams-Flournoy (Auburn). Featured discussion topics include racial injustice, Black women in leadership on and off the court, the importance of trailblazers in the sport and more. Kentucky interim head coach Kyra Elzy also provides her perspective. (Produced by Jalaine Edwards).
  • Breaking the Barrier – A half-hour special, originally filmed in 2018, celebrating the Southeastern Conference’s integration pioneers. Airing at Monday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m., Nate Northington, the late Houston Hogg, Wilbur Hackett and Godfrey Dillard join host Maria Taylor on the program, along with Mel Page representing his late brother, Greg. Football pioneers Page, Northington, Hogg and Hackett played an essential part in the integration of SEC athletics. In 1966, Northington was the first Black athlete to sign with an SEC school with Page soon to follow. As the first Black team captain in any sport in SEC history, Hackett, along with Hogg, were the first Black athletes to complete their collegiate careers at Kentucky. Vanderbilt’s Dillard, who with teammate Perry Wallace was one of the first Black basketball players in the SEC, is also featured. (Produced by Jalaine Edwards).
  • SEC StoriedSEC Network will kick off the month with the re-airing of two SEC Storied films immediately following Breaking the Barrier on Monday, Feb. 1:
    • SEC Storied: The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway Story (airs at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 1) explores the story of Condredge Holloway, the first Black quarterback at an SEC school (University of Tennessee). Holloway didn’t get a shot in the NFL, although he went on to be an all-star player in the Canadian Football League.
    • SEC Storied: Croom (airs at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 1) shares the story of Sylvester Croom, the first African-American center at the University of Alabama and one of the school’s first Black players. Croom earned All-American honors, won three SEC championships and later became the first Black head football coach in the history of the conference when he was hired at Mississippi State.
  • SEC Network Celebrates Black History Always with a series of vignettes about SEC trailblazers set to air throughout the month of February across SEC Network’s linear, digital and social platforms.
  • SECNetwork.com created the “Racial and Social Equality” hub, a website where the latest equity efforts from across the Southeastern Conference can be easily accessed and explored.

ESPN Deportes

  • Somos Afro-Latinos: As part of Black History Always, ESPN Deportes will air Somos Afro-Latinos, a special that will bring together a lineup of Afro-Latino athletes from the U.S. and Latin America, from across sports and generations, for a conversation on the intersection of race and the Latino culture. The one-hour program will be co-hosted by ESPN’s baseball analyst Eddie Perez and ESPN FC co-host Alexis Nunes and air on ESPN Deportes Thursday, Feb. 18. at 7 p.m. and re-air Thursday, Feb. 25, at 10 p.m. (Produced by Ian Rodríguez).

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  • Taneka Sandiford as-told-to: Sandiford, 25, is the first Black Bahamian female caddie on the
  • Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. Sandiford, who has been playing golf competitively since she was 10, was diagnosed with MS in 2018. In the essay, she’ll speak on how the diagnosis shook her to her core, but how she pushed through to pursue the game she loves by caddying for Amy Olson, who most recently placed second at the US Women’s Open in December. Includes a foreword by Olson. (early February)
  • Around the Rim Presents: “I’m Speaking” with LaChina Robinson debuts with accompanying essay.

SC Featured

  • The storytelling brand of SportsCenter will have “Black Diamond,” a Black History Always-themed feature, airing on the morning editions of SportsCenter on Sunday, Feb. 28. At a time when African Americans on the ski slopes were a rarity and black ski clubs were an exception, Ben Finley and Art Clay were not deterred from their vision to create a national Black Ski Summit. In 1973, they moved forward with a proposal to bring together 13 black ski clubs for an event at the summit of Ajax Mountain, here the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) was formed. The purpose was “to identify and discuss problems and subjects which were unique to the black skiing population, ski and socialize”, according to Finley. Since the first summit the NBS has worked to advance African American presence in winter sports, through youth programs and sponsorships of rising talent. One of the main objectives of the group is to have a NBS member on an Olympic team. “Flyin” Brian Rice, a 16-year-old from Michigan, is the NBS’ most promising hope of achieving that dream that started over 50 years ago. SC Featured will dive into the history of the NBS and also take a deeper look into their rising star.

UFC on ESPN/ESPN+

  • The UFC is celebrating Black History Month with a look at some of the most astonishing knockouts to come from the UFC’s deep roster of Black athletes. Viewers can relive classic KOs from the early days with Gary Goodridge and Rampage Jackson, all the way to modern icons like Derrick Lewis and Jon Jones.:
    • Ultimate Knockouts: Black History Month – Epic Knockouts debuts Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. on ESPNEWS. Athletes include Derrick Lewis, Francis Ngannou, Joaquin Buckley, Kevin Holland and more.
    • UFC Ultimate Knockouts: Black History Month – Classics debuts Feb. 23 at 9 p.m.on ESPNEWS. Classic knockouts featuring Jon Jones, Rampage Jackson, Gary Goodridge, and more.

ESPN Social Handles

  • Highlighting 28 athletes and coaches throughout the month of February through a combination of daily and weekly posts across ESPN Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the ESPN App. The campaign will continue with additional athletes at various times throughout the year in the spirit of Black History Always.

ESPN programs and platforms including SportsCenter, Get Up!, NFL Live, The Jump, NBA Countdown, ESPN Radio, ESPN Audio Podcasts, ESPN Classic and others also will have content related to Black History Always.

Black History Always Vignettes that began on MLK Day will continue throughout Black History Always and will include sports moments in Black History, Black Sports inventors and athletes making a difference.

ESPN PULSE — ESPN’s Black and African American employee resource group, PULSE, will recognize the month with a series of internal virtual events focusing on unity, commemoration and celebration. PULSE also is supporting ESPN Corporate Citizenship’s new relationship with My Brother’s Keeper Alliance for a mentoring program to support boys and young men of color.   .

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Media contacts: [email protected] and [email protected]

NOTE: The images above were commissioned by The Undefeated for the “Music For The Movement/Black History Always” EP. They are (L-R) Winter in America, performed by Freddie Gibbs, cover artwork by Matthew Dicks; Wake Up Everybody, performed by Tobe Nwigwe, cover artwork by Cristina Martinez; and Eden, performed by Brent Faiyaz, cover artwork by Mike Reesé.

 

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Andy Hall

I’m part of a team that handles PR/Communications for SportsCenter, including the SC Featured brand, and ESPN’s news platforms. In addition, I’m the PR contact for ESPN’s coverage of golf, motorsports (Formula 1), and the sports betting program Daily Wager. I’m based in Daytona Beach, Fla., and have been with ESPN since 2006.
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