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The Undefeated Explores Issues Of Race In Sports Tonight On ESPN

Co-producers Sharon Matthews and Michael Fountain discuss show's focus, challenges and storytelling voices.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay by Soraya McDonald, The Undefeated culture critic who was recently named a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Criticism, highlights the neck as a literal and metaphorical symbol of the violence and oppression visited on Black Americans.

At The Undefeated, Director of Video Sharon Matthews tells the stories that explore and explain the cross-pollination of sports, race, and culture.

Sharon Matthews (Dan Stark/ESPN Images)

On the studio production unit is ESPN senior coordinating producer Michael Fountain.

The duo co-produced The Undefeated Presents Time for Change: We Won’t Be Defeated, an ESPN primetime special (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET). The show tackles systemic racism and the unifying role sports plays in bridging the widening gap between law enforcement and the African-American community.

The one-hour Time for Change will anchor an evening of programming (8 p.m.–12:30 a.m. overnight ET) of four shows on the network exploring issues of race in sports around the world. Matthews and Fountain discussed the show with Front Row:

What do you wish viewers will take away from the program?
Matthews: I hope people come away with an understanding and appreciation for what African Americans and Black people in America go through day-in-day-out; and what everyone can do to help in the struggle against injustice and for equity. You always wish there can be more allies in the fight against racism, a renewed unity of purpose, and a sense of ‘we are all in this together.’ If we can get the viewer to understand systemic racism, inequality, and what being anti-racist means, the effort will be worth its while.

It is hard to begin to imagine what others are going through, or the challenge of dealing with racial microaggression on a daily basis until people learn to listen. – Michael Fountain, co-producer

Fountain: I want viewers to take away the importance of having ‘uncomfortable conversations’ regarding race as well as the importance of really listening to what each other has to say. It is hard to begin to imagine what others are going through, or the challenge of dealing with racial microaggression on a daily basis until people learn to listen.

What are some of the challenges of producing as show such as this one amid a pandemic?
Matthews
: The biggest one is getting all the pieces – historical footage – of the show together in a short time. I was going through archival footage from 1991 with Rodney King in Los Angeles, Trayvon Martin in Florida, then back to Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and now, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. Feels like we are living a trend. It’s tough, mentally. I have brothers. I’ve had conversations with them in the past but felt a sense of urgency to have ‘the talk’ with them again. We have talked about ‘what to do’ while encountering a police officer recently in our chats.

Jay [Harris], Maria [Taylor], Michael [Eaves], and Elle [Duncan] represent our voices as a community, and they are the public-facing ambassadors for who we are as a company at ESPN. Time for Change reaffirms our company’s commitment to social justice and equality. – Sharon Matthews, co-producer

Michael Fountain (L) and Kevin Merida, ESPN SVP and Editor-in-Chief, The Undefeated (Brent Lewis/ESPN Images)

How important is having some of ESPN’s renowned African-American sports journalists as hosts for the show?
Matthews
: Jay [Harris], Maria [Taylor], Michael [Eaves], and Elle [Duncan] represent our voices as a community, and they are the public-facing ambassadors for who we are as a company at ESPN. Time for Change reaffirms our company’s commitment to social justice and equality. As such, it is extremely important for Jay, Maria, Michael, and Elle to be part of this as hosts of the conversation.

Fountain: The host brought their perspectives and personal experiences to the conversations in the show. That insight helped provide a unique focus for the show.

As Black Americans, what are your personal reflections about producing the program?
Matthews: This is a recurring conversation we are having in our community. As Black and African Americans, this is – and has been – our lives. It is a privilege and an honor to co-produce this show. It gives me a sense of pride that as a company and a platform, we saw Time for Change as an important program to air.

Fountain: I am honored for the opportunity to work on a ground-breaking project such as Time for Change. I am appreciative of the company’s recognition of the need for such a program.

Kimberly Jarvis contributed to this post.

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