Behind The ScenesTennisThe Undefeated

Intriguing match: Common’s interview with Serena Williams for The Undefeated debuts Sunday

Raina Kelley (Nick Caito/ESPN Images)
Raina Kelley
(Nick Caito/ESPN Images)

Last year, actor and socially-conscious hip-hop artist Common won an Oscar for the song “Glory,” from the “Selma” movie soundtrack.

In the wake of recent events in his native Chicago, the rapper released a new album “Forever Black America Again.” This week, Common added another achievement to his resume, hosting The Undefeated In-Depth: Serena with Common, a 60-minute up-close and personal conversation between the two icons. It airs Sunday, Dec. 18 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Raina Kelley, managing editor of The Undefeated and the project’s lead, discussed the making of the “Serena with Common” interview with Front Row.

How did The Undefeated get involved with this project?
Common has always been on our radar and someone we wanted to work with from the beginning. He has been having a few of these conversations with other influential and thought provokers, such as [actor and civil rights activist] Harry Belafonte. Common came to us, via our senior editor Danyel Smith, talking about what we could do around his new album which drills down on the challenges as well as the glory and beauty of what it means to be black in America. We tried to figure out conversations that would work and we suggested Serena Williams because she is Serena Williams. If you’re going to ask for someone then ask for Serena … not a lot of athletes are more “undefeated” than her.

Why is Common conducting this interview?
These were topics Common was already exploring. We wanted to collaborate because we [The Undefeated] were exploring the same thing. And Serena has become very vocal on these issues lately. There was an idea to have a general conversation about tennis, Serena’s greatness in tennis, what it means to be black in America, black in tennis, black in her skin, which is a totally different experience because everyone has their own experiences. The program is less Common interviewing Serena but more Serena and Common just talking to each other. They have been friends for a very long time and that helped drive the conversation.

You worked with the ESPN Features Unit on this project. How did that benefit The Undefeated?
We have been working with members of the Features Unit from the beginning, including both town halls [violence in Chicago and President Obama at N.C. A&T]. It’s been a nice journey and really speaks to the heart of what The Undefeated can bring to ESPN. The Features Unit has been an invaluable partner in the success of these town halls and the show on Sunday.

What kinds of content initiatives does The Undefeated have planned for 2017?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. We want to participate on all the platforms and continue to look at issues that speak to the core of our mission — the intersection of race, sports and culture. You can expect to hear and see more from The Undefeated.

Mac Nwulu contributed to this post.

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