ESPN’s The Undefeated Marks Five-Year Anniversary Today

The Undefeated

ESPN’s The Undefeated Marks Five-Year Anniversary Today

From Book Publishing to Television Specials, Platform Grows Beyond the Written Word

Five years ago today, The Undefeated, ESPN’s multiplatform content initiative exploring the intersections of sports, race and culture debuted. Former Senior Vice President and Editor-In-Chief Kevin Merida, who joined ESPN from The Washington Post, assembled what he called “an amazing, eclectic collection of talent” and described The Undefeated’s motto at launch as ‘Not conventional. Never boring.’

From its inception, the platform has certainly lived up to that expectation.

On May 17, 2016, The Undefeated’s first published stories included:

  • The poignant article “The Waco Horror,” by senior writer Jesse Washington, about one of the most infamous lynchings in American history;
  • “36 Hours in Beast Mode,” where senior writer Lonnae O’Neal reported on then newly-retired NFL player Marshawn Lynch in his hometown of Oakland; and
  • The Man Who Put Marvel in the Black,” a profile of producer Nate Moore, by senior entertainment writer Kelley Carter.

The past five years, The Undefeated has grown expeditiously. While adhering to its creative blueprint of innovative storytelling, original reporting and provocative commentary, the platform has extended beyond ESPN and sports through a variety of initiatives and unique collaborations across The Walt Disney Company and beyond.

A handful of The Undefeated’s many creative highlights include: an entertainment-themed digital series (Another Act with Kelley Carter); television specials (A Room of Our Own); a children’s book (The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World); album production (Music For The Movement/Black History Always); themed content (50 Greatest Black Athletes); and award nominations (Outstanding Short Sports Documentary – Sports Emmy, 2021).

Top Five Moments
Some of the most memorable moments in The Undefeated’s first five years included:

  • October 11, 2016 – The Undefeated hosts A Conversation with President Barack Obama,a student forum at North Carolina A&T State University moderated by SportsCenter anchor Stan Verrett with the first African American U.S. President.
  • March 8, 2017 – The inaugural class of Rhoden Fellows,an internship for aspiring African American journalists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). The fellowship is named after award-winning sports columnist William C. Rhoden, who joined The Undefeated in February 2017.
  • September 2, 2019 – TheYear of the Black Quarterback editorial series debuts as senior NFL writer Jason Reid and other contributors highlight African Americans playing one of the most important positions in the NFL.
  • September 29, 2020 – The Stop: Living, Driving and Dying While Black” television special examining the experiences Black Americans have with law enforcement through the voices of athletes, experts and police. The special earned The Undefeated two of its first three Sports Emmy nominations last month.
  • January 28, 2021 – ESPN launches the “Black History Always” initiative powered by The Undefeated, expanding sports, race and culture content beyond the traditional 28 days of Black History Month in February.

Honors and Awards
The Undefeated has been recognized with notable awards and honors the past five years, including:

  • Recipient of the 2017 Editor & Publisher EPPY Awards honor for “Best Sports Website.”
  • Recognized by The Webby Awards in the Sports (2017), Best Writing Editorial (2018) and Cultural Blog/Website (2020) categories, in addition to a Sports nomination (2020).
  • The Digital Media winner for Online Project: Feature and Sports categories at the NABJ Salute to Excellence Awards (2019).
  • THE UNDEFEATED, a book based on a poem published by com, won three awards from the American Library Association, including the 2020 Caldecott Medal as the top picture book for children.
  • Associated Press Sports Editors Awards recipient for columns written by Jesse Washington, William Rhoden and Marc Spears in 2020.

Raina Kelley, The Undefeated’s veteran managing editor since November 2015, was recently promoted to Vice President and Editor-In-Chief, succeeding Merida. Kelley described the opportunity ahead for the platform: “While we will be taking these next steps without our fearless founder, The Undefeated is taking those steps fearlessly and we’re going to look good doing it too.”

Anniversary Week
The Undefeated homepage will debut four notable new pieces this week, all from under its Culture:

  • DJ Lynnee Denise: A feature about social media pages and timeline threads documenting Black history in real-time and this genre’s influence on the future.
  • Poet Roger Reeves: Will the second wave of athlete-activists make a significant change in the current landscape?
  • Journalist Kimeko McCoy: What the tearing down of statues and renaming of buildings says about the direction in which the country is headed.
  • Writer Evette Dione: A reported story on Black women and their heightened visibility during the last five years.

Employee Perspectives
During the past week, five members of The Undefeated editorial team reflected upon their most memorable projects and described what it has meant to be part of the platform.

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