Behind The Scenes

ESPN’s Content Of Character roundtable debuts Monday; rapper COMMON contributes poetry

This month, ESPN continues its initiative to celebrate the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. August 28 will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech; his Jan. 15 birth is a national holiday celebrated this year a week from Monday (Jan. 21).


ESPN2 will air Content of Character, a roundtable discussion of sports and race relations in America (Monday, 7-8 p.m. ET, re-airs Saturday, Jan. 19 on ABC). The third annual special is moderated by Bob Ley; panelists include ESPN commentators Jemele Hill and Robert Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers star Ryan Clark and authors Kevin Powell and Richard Lapchick. Wright Thompson contributes writing to the special.

Feature producer Sharon Matthews worked with actor/rapper COMMON on a spoken-word introduction to the program and a mid-show segment.

She tells Front Row how COMMON became involved with the project and what it was like to work with him.

What’s the concept behind the Content of Character “tease,” or opening?
We want to pay homage to Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech through spiritual and poetic prose. On such an important anniversary, we wanted to revisit the telling of the speech and discuss how far we’ve come in sports and the issues that still remain 50 years later.

Shannon Mathews (C) with COMMON (R) (Alex Wong)
ESPN feature producer Sharon Matthews (center) with COMMON (right) on-set in Los Angeles. (Credit: Alex Wong)

How did COMMON become involved?
A few weeks prior to the holidays, we discussed options to host the tease, including entertainers who have spoken to political issues, either in interviews or through their music. COMMON was our first choice. For the movie Freedom Writers (2007) he had written a song called A Dream which featured portions of MLK’s historical “I Have A Dream” speech. He’s also released a number of albums in the early 1990s featuring songs that focused on love, fatherhood and improving the state of black America. When he performed at Poetry Night at the White House in 2011, he recited lyrics to a rap song in poem form, which gave praise to the nation’s first African-American president and included the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was the perfect fit for this project and it was a thrill to work with him.

What are other Feature Unit productions related to the Content of Character project you can talk about?
In addition to the opening tease for Content of Character, we also produced the mid-show tease, written by ESPN’s Wright Thompson and again narrated by COMMON. The Feature Unit has a number of other Black History Month stories in development.

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