Cari Champion on Serena Williams' retirement and her own groundbreaking career : The Limits with Jay Williams On this week's episode of The Limits, Jay speaks with his longtime friend and former colleague, Cari Champion. Cari has hosted flagship ESPN shows like First Take and SportsCenter, and currently hosts her own podcasts, Naked with Cari Champion and The Brownprint.

She's also shattered glass ceilings as a Black woman in sports journalism by staying committed to speaking her truth. She's done this from the start; when her on-air candor about a local news story got her fired early in her career, Cari doubled down and became even more committed to honest and impassioned journalism. She started reporting with the Tennis Channel and, in a parallel to her own career, covered extensively the white elitism–and sometimes blatant racism– Serena Williams faced on and off the court.

Cari spoke with Jay about the retirement of both Serena and record-breaking track star Allyson Felix, highlighting the contributions both women have made to Black women's maternal health. She and Jay also got into it about mental health in sports, the double standards that female athletes face, and what she has been most proud of in her career thus far.

For sponsor-free episodes, weekly bonus content, and more, subscribe to The Limits Plus. This week, Cari and Charlamagne tha God reflect on the importance of authenticity in your professional and personal life.

Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter.

Cari Champion on the power of Black women in sports—including herself

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JAY WILLIAMS, HOST:

Welcome to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams.

CARI CHAMPION: I'm not bubbly, friendly, sweet. None of that fits who I am. But what I am is trying to create a world in which we can all have a seat on the table, talk to the table, build our own table so that it's not so rare. Right?

WILLIAMS: For those of you who do not know who Cari Champion is, and that is fewer and fewer by the day, you are in store for a treat. You see, Cari and I used to work together at ESPN back in the day, when she was hosting shows like "First Take" and "SportsCenter."

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

CHAMPION: Welcome back to "SportsNation," everyone. So earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview a basketball legend, Julius Erving.

OK. What is Tom Brady up to besides being great? We'll talk about that.

I don't know about you, but I was up all night after that game. Every last moment was exciting.

WILLIAMS: I always felt her drive and poise a mile away. But not everyone respects the power of an unabashed Black female voice, especially when that's the voice of, yes, a champion. And Cari accepts nothing less than everything she deserves, which means she's going to get her flowers on this show. She's brilliant, sharp and says what she means. And as a little girl, Cari went to Laker games with her grandmother. And she knew from a very early age that she wanted to get into broadcast journalism. Then, when the podcasting industry grew, Cari took her iconic voice straight to the people she currently hosts, "Naked With Cari Champion" and "The Brownprint." You can catch Cari getting real with world-class athletes, influential politicians and A-list actors and musicians.

It's been nothing short of amazing to watch Cari's star rise. And I'm glad that we share a piece of the sky together. As she keeps shining brighter and brighter, I knew I had to have her on my pod. We talked everything about the retirements of Serena Williams and Allyson Felix, the role of mental health in sports, and how Black women can lead, whether in sports, media or business. She says that she does it by using her superpower, which is - never mind. I'll let her tell you all about that. And you don't want to miss hearing how, when Cari faces adversity, she comes back even stronger. Now let's get to it. Here's my conversation with the one and only Cari Champion.

You know, I've known you for a while now. And I've watched as you've evolved in this world of sports, media, journalism. And when I think about young, strong Black women who continue to blaze their path, I look at my daughters and I think, like, yeah, I want you to be like Cari Champion. I want you to be like Jemele Hill. I want you to stand up for what you believe in. And also, in the midst of a male bro-y like world that we live in, stand on your own two feet and make people acknowledge you. Make people see you for the human that you are. And I wanted to commend you for that. I never got a chance to really tell you that.

CHAMPION: Thank you. I appreciate that. That means a lot. And, you know, look. You were there. You witnessed it. You know how it is. So I think the perspective is really like full circle for you to have daughters. So you know what you want them to be and how to live in this world. I think they're very fortunate to have you as a father. So for you to be able to acknowledge it and say it to me and I'm sure, as you do to others, it's just a beautiful thing. So I'm honored.

WILLIAMS: Well, I appreciate you. And I want you to give me some context. Bring me back to how you got started as a reporter and how you made your way into sports journalism at the Tennis Channel - at the Tennis Channel, Cari.

CHAMPION: Of All places, yeah. I started off as a local news reporter. I always knew this is what I wanted to do, Jay. I was going to be - growing up in LA, I wanted to work for KABC-7. There was an ABC station here in LA. And I was going to be an anchor. And I was going to be tossing back to people. And I was - that was the dream, always the dream, since I was like 7 years old. And it became a vision for me because I saw Oprah - right? - when I was a kid. I was like, look at this Black woman who kind of feels familiar to me on television. I don't know why she feels familiar or why I'm drawn to her. Most people are drawn to her. That's why she was so successful.

But I was really drawn to her because she looked like my family members. She looked like me. She talked like me. And that was it. Once I saw that, I knew that that's what I wanted to do. Or I also thought I wanted to be an attorney. That was the backup gig. But it's all the same thing, right? Defending someone and giving someone a voice who doesn't have one. And so I started off in local news. I was a one-man band. I went to West Virginia, where I carried my camera, my tripod. And the first taste of that, like, leaving UCLA to go to West Virginia, I was like, oh, no, I'm doing this for the rest of my life.

And the business is such, in local news, you make a resume tape and then you go to the next market and you go to the next market. And the next market for me was Florida. And then the next market after Florida was Atlanta. And then after Atlanta, I went to Tennis Channel. Now, the reason why I left Atlanta was because I got fired and rehired within two months of being there because I surprisingly, Jay, had spoken out against something I thought was wrong (laughter).

WILLIAMS: What was that, Cari?

CHAMPION: I was covering a kid, a local kid, a story. It was - it made national news, though. The kid's name was Genarlow Wilson. And he had been in jail since he was, I think, maybe 16 years old for essentially having sex with his girlfriend, who was white, and she was 14. There was a Jack and Jill law which said if you were over the age of 16, you couldn't have sex as a guy with someone who was under the age of 16. Now, the law was put in place for predators and not for somebody named Genarlow Wilson.

But, you know, the story is that this young lady's parents did not like him. He got in trouble. He was a football player. And they said he was - it was bad news. And they sent him to jail for a very long time, essentially ending his career as a football player and his life as a 16-year-old kid. He ended up getting out of jail.

WILLIAMS: Wow.

CHAMPION: It was a huge story. And I covered it for, like, eight months. How about that? And when the breaking news happened, I get this big story. His mother calls me. She's like, he's getting out of jail today. They appealed his case. It's a big deal. It's a big deal. They had been fighting to get this boy out of jail for a while. So my news director takes the story from me and gives it to someone else. And so you could only imagine how I felt. And I made it known. So from that moment on, I was persona non grata. I made too much noise about it to people. I said what truth was. No one wanted to hear the truth. I said the quiet part out loud; often I do.

And so we had an incident where I was doing a commercial break. I was talking [expletive] to my co-worker. My mic was hot, and they were like, that's a fireable offense. And so they found a way to get rid of me. They knew there was no real evidence, so they brought me back because Atlanta, the streets of Atlanta, were rallying behind me at the time. Like, that's not fair. Don't fire her for that. Did she say that? It was because they thought maybe I cursed. Could you imagine now getting fired for cursing? That wouldn't even happen now (laughter).

WILLIAMS: I mean, Cari, the things I hear when people - what people say when they know the mic is hot, that pales in comparison - pale.

CHAMPION: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But that's why you know it was so ridiculous. And then I left, and I knew that I had to restart my career because it was, like, right around 2009. I just felt like I couldn't do local news anymore because it was - they were so afraid of me. They thought I was a troublemaker, the girl who may have cursed. And I just recharted and went to tennis. An opportunity popped up, and they hired me at the Tennis Channel. And that was it. That's all she wrote. I knew that I had to just rebuild, re-identify, recreate, as we often do when there aren't any spaces for us. And so that's what happened.

WILLIAMS: So let's go into the tennis thing because, you know, I've played tennis since I've been a little boy. My dad played semi-pro for a short stint. But I find this interesting parallel, Cari. You had Venus and Serena that were breaking barriers as Black women on a tennis court, you know, a sport that has been predominantly white for since the beginning of time. And here you are on a parallel path at the Tennis Channel when you don't see too many Black faces on a Tennis Channel doing the same exact thing. So describe to me some of the growing pains that you had as someone who doesn't really fit the stereotypical country club type.

CHAMPION: Yeah. You know, that's interesting. I never even thought about that because there were - when I was on air, I was the only Black face. I did - and believe it or not, I mean that. I never thought about that at that time because I was so immersed in trying to figure out the culture of tennis and understand because I'd never covered tennis. The names are as long as my body. So I was like, how do I say, you know, Svetlana Kuznetsova, you know, Kutsneva (ph) - I can't even say the name anymore. But it was like all these random names. And I was just like, who are you? I can't, right? I'm trying to learn these names. But I will say I learned very early on that it was a sport for privileged have and have-not.

And I think Venus and Serena at the time - I had covered them locally when I worked as a local reporter in Florida. But at the time - and still are - they were very insulated. They were just by themselves. And they created their own little culture in this tennis world. They traveled with their - as you know, they travel with their family. They don't really mix too well with many people. And I didn't really consider myself their friends. I didn't think they, you know, were like, oh, we're going to give this story to Cari. I do remember one time, which let me know that we were on the same trajectory in terms of being, you know, a few brown faces in this world, her father - when he was well enough - at the U.S. Open walked up to me and gave me one of these - while I was covering for Tennis Channel gave me one of those headsets that you can listen to the commentators. And he knew that I didn't know that much about tennis and I was learning.

And he said, you should listen to this while you're on your break. Like, you have to pay attention to what they're saying so that you can be prepared. I - like, basically, like, I've got your back. And he didn't talk to anyone. So for him to walk up to me and give me his seven words, I thought that was a big deal. And I understood what he was saying without saying it, right? And it was helpful. I think that over the years, when I learned the sport better, obviously you get more regarded. I started to have a different appreciation for Venus and Serena. I didn't necessarily think that they were friendly, and that made me feel like I don't know how I feel about them in this tennis world. But over the years, as I covered them, I was like, oh, I get it, you know what I mean? And my appreciation is, you know, through the moon for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILLIAMS: You see, I know you can feel it. You can hear it in Cari's voice, the passion, the precision, the setting of her own course and then going there. It doesn't mean that there aren't ups and downs. That's called life. But Cari Champion always has an answer to what life throws at her. After the break, why Serena Williams is one of her top five GOATs in all sports and how Serena and track star Allyson Felix raised awareness for the health and safety of Black women as their careers shattered records and glass ceilings and why we men need to learn to listen better. You better keep listening, too. This is THE LIMITS from NPR. Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILLIAMS: So Cari Champion makes her way to the Tennis Channel and she learns to play her own game at even a higher level. Well, tennis is one of the sports I've always known, but it's never been lost on me about how segregated the game has been by race and socioeconomics. Trust me, you're going to love hearing Cari's take on how Serena Williams broke new ground on the court, not to mention how Allyson Felix did the same on the track. Now back to the show.

I don't know if you know this - we haven't really talked about it, but my mother's name is Althea Williams, named after Althea Gibson, right?

CHAMPION: Oh, I didn't know that.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. There's all these really interesting ties, and I've been in close proximity to Serena for a while because my dad's made me watch them. I was coming to the league around the same time. Watching her end her career - I mean, 23 Grand Slam titles...

CHAMPION: Crazy.

WILLIAMS: Like, one right away from Margaret Court, even though she is the GOAT. Did you watch that? If you did, how was it watching Serena's last match? Where did that bring you to emotionally, Cari?

CHAMPION: You know, I was there.

WILLIAMS: OK.

CHAMPION: I was two seconds away from it all. I was at the last match, and I was at the one on Monday that they thought would be her match.

WILLIAMS: Kontaveit, yeah.

CHAMPION: Yeah. And I didn't go to Wednesday because I was like, OK, all right. And then I was like, all right, Serena is really trying to make a quick run. This might be the last match. And so I think I cried when she cried. I could not deny her greatness, and I could not deny the fact that she was - and I've said this. I get so much pushback. She is a GOAT to me. If I had my top five GOATs, not just female, male athletes, men - I mean, this conversation, they beat me down when I say this. Every man jumps in there and tells me to get back in the kitchen - nothing new. But in terms of being...

WILLIAMS: So archaic. So archaic.

CHAMPION: So archaic, right? But she is - if we did top five athletes, she'd be on my top five list - mine personally. So watching her retire said a lot to me. We're saying goodbye to our heroes. I was at Kobe's last game. We're saying goodbye to our heroes in real time, and that's unfortunate. But it made me really emotional because that's all we've known. It's - like, to win 23 Grand Slams - we say it so dismissively. It was a different era when Margaret Court played, and I'm not taking anything away from her. But Serena dominated her generation, the generation after that. And I think if she wanted to play a little more, she could have dominated this one. And that is unheard of. And the skill set that she was able to bring to tennis in terms of her - I mean, best serve in tennis - unstoppable - saved her time after time after time after time again. And for her to thrive in an environment that didn't appreciate her - I'm on the record saying that the sport did not love her. There was such a bittersweet relationship. It gave her resources. It gave her money. It gave her fame. It gave her significance. It created - helped, obviously, create her and build her as the young lady to the woman she is today. But it did not love her. And in spite of all that, she still loved it, knowing it didn't love her. That's the most terrifying relationship to be in, and she still was able to be great. So that's why she's always my GOAT.

WILLIAMS: You know, in terms of women of color following in her shoes, the way she's changed the style of play and her style on and off the court - I mean, first off, that that outfit she wore in - oh.

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: I mean, and the fact that her daughter Olympia was wearing it, too, like - I'm like, come on, stop.

CHAMPION: Oh, oh, you're talking - oh, the black...

WILLIAMS: The black suit.

CHAMPION: Yeah, the black sprinkles.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

CHAMPION: I call it sprinkles. It was diamonds everywhere. Yes, yes, yes.

WILLIAMS: What stands out most about Serena to you in general?

CHAMPION: I think she did a couple of things. Serena has been very much like a Michael Jordan where she doesn't get into the political aspect of what's going on in the world. I'm not talking about being the only Black this and the Black that.

WILLIAMS: Do you think that hurts her or helps her?

CHAMPION: I think she was one of the rare ones where it didn't matter because she was just so excellent. But what we're seeing personally and professionally, she really passed the baton. Her daughter had the braids that she used to wear...

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

CHAMPION: ...With the beads. And that's so controversial, right? Because back in the day when they came into tennis, they wore beads, and they used to get fined when the beads would hit the court because the chair umpire didn't understand why their beads were falling out of their hair. And they thought it was a distraction. And remember, Venus - I don't know if you ever remember Venus at Wimbledon said, it's my hair. What do you want me to do? And it was so painful and so real, but it was a moment. And for her to have her daughter with the beads, it was symbolic. The camera that her father used to carry all the time, her daughter had one. It told me she knows where she comes from, and she'll never forget. The first thing she said is like, look, I'm a kid from Compton. I can't believe all of this. This is that first night. And I thought to myself, she knows where she came from, and she knows how she got here. And she will never forget. It has made her who she is. And so I thought it was beautiful. You bring up Althea Gibson - really quickly - people can lead in different ways.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

CHAMPION: You don't have to be a Cari Champion or a Jemele Hill. You could be a Arthur Ashe or an Althea Gibson. Let your work be the way that you protest. And that's what Serena did in a lot of ways.

WILLIAMS: Let's talk about somebody who led in a different way. Allyson Felix, obviously, you know, one of the most decorated in the history with 11 Olympic gold medals, like - by the way, I heard you break this down on one of your podcasts. Yes, I said one of your podcasts, Cari.

CHAMPION: One of my many. One of my many.

WILLIAMS: I don't know how you do it.

CHAMPION: Too much.

WILLIAMS: Like, the James Brown of the sports journalism world - can you break down for us the force that is Allyson Felix and what she means specifically to the track world for people that don't know?

CHAMPION: Jay, that's great. You know what? Because she does lead differently. Allyson Felix, the most decorated Olympian that we have in track and field, is a Black woman, and she is amazing. And she's quiet. She's subtle. She is a - I call her - I sometimes say that she has this silent rage, but she can really, truly lead without being loud. And I don't know how people can do that. It's impossible for me. So I'm like, how do you do that? As a Black woman in track and field, obviously she doesn't feel as isolated because it's a much more diverse sport. But the knock on her was that she just was never considered good enough or as great as she is because she's not loud, right? She's not loud and bragging about how good - and that is so uncharacteristic of track and field. No offense. Track and field athletes are known to be loud and brash. You know, I'm this and I'm that, take that, do that. You know? And she doesn't do that.

She has this baby. And this is - to me, was a defining moment for her. And really, she gets pregnant. She doesn't really get into it as most of these women - Serena, too - get into it. But the maternal struggle is two things, especially for Black women. They felt like they were going to die in childbirth. They felt like they were being ignored while they had their children. No matter how famous they were, no matter how much money they had, they felt unseen and unheard, which is very common for women of color in any particular arena.

And what Allyson did, knowing that this could cost her her career, she fought and made it publicly known that Nike was not supportive of her having a child. She made it publicly known that they did not want her because she was having a child. She made it publicly known that it was unfair, but she did it with such grace and class and elegance, the way in which she attacks her races, the way in which she handles her opponents, the way in which she has moved through life. And kudos to her, because, as this was her last Olympics, which we just watched, she had all of these commercials really, truly saluting her for the work that she's done as this silent hero, which affects so many people. And now Nike, all of a sudden, has a program for women who want to have children. It's OK to have children.

Same with Serena. She made such a fuss about losing her world ranking when she had a baby that they don't do that anymore. You can freeze your ranking now as a tennis player if you decide to have a child.

What the messaging has been, especially for most female athletes, is that if you have a child, you will be penalized. And these two women quietly fought to make sure that that was done differently. And that is huge because you ruffle too many feathers. You know? That - you make people upset. You scare away sponsorship. And if you don't do it the right way, whatever the right way is, you can be seen as a troublemaker. And while that might have been some of the whispers, Allyson was bold about it. And I was surprised how bold she was because she is a quiet leader.

WILLIAMS: You know, hearing Serena talk about guys like Roger Federer or, you know, even some of the legends of the game, Pete Sampras, never be asked, how do you have to balance, you know, being one of the best tennis players in the world and being a dad? - the fact that that's never asked...

CHAMPION: Never.

WILLIAMS: ...But as Serena, like, how you have to learn how to balance being a mom and being the best player in the world...

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Like, that's - like, just the fact you get asked that question...

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...Is so disturbing to me.

CHAMPION: And they still - no matter what is being said, the message is clear. If you interviewed any of the women who are in track and field - I think, you know, Sanya Richards-Ross, she came out and said she found out she was pregnant before she got to go to the Olympics. I don't remember what year it was, but she said she had to get an abortion 'cause she felt like she couldn't do both. The fact that you have to make that choice is pretty disgusting. And quite frankly, it's still pretty much the norm. Serena, Allyson are outliers. And once again, we have to thank them for leading first. It's hard to be the first, Jay. You know how that is. It's hard to be the first.

WILLIAMS: And that's why I sit there - I mean, I had to bring up Allyson and also, I think, how that coincides with Serena, because I've had conversations with Serena about this...

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...Through her VC - right? - is...

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...Serena Ventures - and the fact that she is deploying so much capital into people of color, women of color in their businesses...

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...And even seeing Allyson, how she's been able to pivot - right? - signing that deal with Athleta and creates her own women's lifestyle brand - it's just the fact that they're able to pivot coming from those moments and elevate the conversation deserves such an applause from me.

CHAMPION: Yeah, and it also makes me think, why so late? Why are we so late? Why is it 2021, and she's just now getting respect for having a baby and then got to pivot? Why is it 2022 when we're still asking Serena, is it OK? How do you do it pregnant? Hey, we're - we are late. And I'm glad...

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

CHAMPION: ...That it's happening now, but we are late as a society. And we still - so many of us are still stuck in our ways. I get more excited to talk to men about Serena who are well-versed on the subject and who understand the layers of what it takes to be a woman in this world, for Serena as well as Allyson, in this world of sports. That gives you little, little to any margin for error. Like, you know, it's so - they get it wrong, and it's a huge deal, right? They get it wrong. It's a huge deal. They get it right. No one's really applauding them. So I thank you for bringing up this conversation and what it looks like from a male's perspective, 'cause we need more men...

WILLIAMS: Agreed.

CHAMPION: ...To talk about it. We just do, otherwise...

WILLIAMS: Agreed, Cari.

CHAMPION: So we can normalize it, so it doesn't - it's not just - look, let's talk gender. Men don't want to hear me talk about what women deserve. That's just - it's just that simple. You gloss over - not you, but they gloss over. It's in one ear and out the other. You lose them in the nuances. You know what I mean? But when - if you're saying it, it's, oh, that's interesting. Let me listen some more.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILLIAMS: Speaking of listening some more, that's what I always want to do every time I hear Cari talk. After the break, we get into issues of mental health in sports, what Cari's most proud of in her career and what her cheat codes are for getting ahead in life. This is THE LIMITS from NPR. Stay with us.

Welcome back to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams, and we're talking to host and sports journalist Cari Champion. We talked endlessly about the physical nature of sports, from technique to training to diets. But there's another piece. It's arguably the most important. It controls everything. And I'll tell you that Cari has pretty much mastered it. It's the mental game and mental health. But it's actually really tough to control what's between your ears. And everyone from school kids to premier athletes have tough times mentally. So how do you manage that and stay focused? You've got to hear Cari's take, not to mention her thoughts on the importance of mentorship and, as promised, her superpower - her cheat codes. Back to the show.

The byproduct of all these conversations that we're having is mental health - right? - like, the battles and the layers that individuals, especially Black women, have to fight through...

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...And still achieve levels of success and still use their platform to be heard while they're achieving ultimate levels of success. I wanted to kind of transition for a second to people like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. Obviously, they've spoken up a ton about mental health, and they're addressing the topic like never before we've seen athletes do, even Michael Phelps. What do you think accounts for this shift in the paradigm that we're seeing in the public eye as it relates to mental health?

CHAMPION: What Naomi did was great. And again, for her, she was the first to say it in tennis. And she probably didn't go about it the right way 'cause, you know, you can't send a message like that over social media and expect everybody to receive it, right? It has to be a little more nuanced because no one want - they want to put you in a box. They don't - we don't allow for nuances or yes and also conversations. Yes, I am an athlete. I do get paid to be the best and have interviews. But also, this is taxing, and I'm tired, and I need a mental break, and it's OK, you know?

So for her and Simone to do that - Simone doing it at the Olympics - I think the conversation was really opened, if I'm being honest, by a lot of male athletes. I mean, women have talked about it for years, but there's always a stigma when a woman talks about she doesn't feel well. They're like, oh, it's 'cause you're crazy. All women are crazy - crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy. And when we started to hear more male athletes talk about it - the Kevin Loves of the world, the DeMar DeRozans - the people to be very vocal, like, no, this is a real thing, and we should start embracing it, and we need to have people there to share with us.

And I think now people still are uncomfortable. Jay, I still don't see much of a move. I think if you do say I'm having - especially during competition, I need to take a mental break, the average fan just doesn't understand that because, you know, a lot of what you athletes do - you're warriors, right? And that's a mental game. So, like, you get paid all this money to be mentally strong. You can't take a break. And I think that conversation needs to happen. I think it's in its infancy stages when it comes to sports. There's still a stigma associated with it, even though we're talking about it daily. It still is. It just is. People think of you as less than.

WILLIAMS: And you know, Cari, I think that transitions into the business world. That's why I like to use the terminology, the sport of business, right? Like, there's always a challenge, and I'm fascinated by all the things that you've done so...

CHAMPION: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: ...Early in your career, still with a lot more to achieve and to do.

CHAMPION: Yeah. Yeah.

WILLIAMS: What's the thing you're most proud of thus far?

CHAMPION: Oh, Jay, there's so much - two things that I'm proud of. The first is that I'm finally at a place in my career where I don't feel like I have to prove. Like, I don't need to put everything on social media that I'm working on. I don't need to say I know this person; I hung out with this person; I'm friends with this person. I don't need to prove anything anymore because it doesn't give me the same reward that it used to, which was - I thought, back in the day, I needed that attention to be who I was, and I don't even need it. And it feels great, and it feels free. And I'm going to keep using that word free 'cause that's big for me. And it's something that I've started to discover within the last year, just moving freely and doing what I care because I truly believe that what is meant for me will never pass me by, and what is not for me will avoid me at all costs.

WILLIAMS: Did you feel trapped, Cari, before? 'Cause you say free.

CHAMPION: Yes. Just, obviously, working at ESPN, I didn't feel free working in the world of being a Black woman - one of a few Black women in sports. I never felt free. I never felt like I could bring my full self. And what that means is I didn't know if I could raise my hand and say, I think it's unfair the way we're covering Serena. We're not giving her the benefit of the doubt, considering A, B, C and D - not - essentially using my knowledge as a Black woman growing up in a certain set of circumstances that could be more similar to hers, where I could offer some perspective that could change the way in which we decided to cover this G.O.A.T. of a woman. And now I feel more free to do that. So that's across the board - free in every aspect - just moving in the space I'm supposed to be in. That's when you feel free 'cause you know this is the space you're supposed to be in. It doesn't feel hard. It doesn't feel pressed. It feels easy.

The other thing I'm most proud of is my foundation. It's called Brown Girls Dream, and it's for Black and brown girls who want to be in front of the camera or behind the scenes. You want to be a lawyer, a doctor - you want to be - whatever you want to be, I'm going to set you up with a mentor that's at the top of their game, and we're going to mentor you for life. Informally, formally - however you choose, we're going to put you in spaces to win if you so choose - if you want to use this program to the best of your benefit.

And the reward has been great because that ultimately is my legacy - how I hold the door open for others. I'm not bubbly, friendly, sweet. None of that fits who I am, but what I am is trying to create a world in which we can all have a seat - own the table, talk to the table, build our own table - so that it's not so rare - right? - and diffusing or getting rid of those images that Black women are tough and angry, you know what I mean, 'cause none of that - 'cause this is not the case. And so - 'cause it's just not. I - you know, Serena said something. She said, all my career, I felt misunderstood. And she said, and that's unfortunate. Hopefully this next season, people will understand who I am. Ultimately, I felt that. I was like, I just feel so damn misunderstood. But then you get to a point where you don't care, but you hope that time will tell your story.

WILLIAMS: I really appreciate your candor, Cari. I think it's rewarding, refreshing and energizing to hear somebody in your position talk about the challenges that you've had, how you've had to navigate those challenges and how you rose above them as well. And it leads me to one of my favorite questions that I asked all my guest, and we do this here on THE LIMITS a ton - do you have any life hacks that you use to get ahead, whether personally or professionally, that you can share with us?

CHAMPION: Life hacks - gosh, what do I use?

WILLIAMS: I mean, you use your candor, No. 1. I could tell you that.

CHAMPION: I was going to say, I just try to be myself and - for better or for worse, and not beat myself up for being myself, meaning everybody's not going to get it, and everybody's not going to understand it, but if you literally go from the space - operate from the space of just being true and being as honest as you can be, 'cause it's hard to be honest, it always works. It never fails 'cause the people who matter, whether that be the big boss who wants to hire you at a certain company or the person who needs you to connect with them on the street - they'll understand that you're speaking the truth and you move with integrity. Like, they will, and that just changes the game because you feel better about yourself, you feel better about how you move. One thing I always try to do, though, is really listen when I'm doing an interview like you are doing today because if you listen, people can tell that you're listening, and they can tell that you're interested, and they know you're invested. Everybody wants to feel heard and seen. That is a life hack - so simple and so easy. If you make everybody feel heard and seen, it's a wrap. You got them.

WILLIAMS: So obviously opinions change. You change over time.

CHAMPION: Sure.

WILLIAMS: Right? So as things change, is it just being upfront with people about how things have changed and being honest 'cause you're being honest with yourself? Is that the best tool?

CHAMPION: I don't - yeah, no, I don't leave with, hey, I've changed. I go in hoping that whomever I'm dealing with - like, I haven't talked to you in a while, and I'm hoping that whatever you may have thought or may have heard or may have had a misunderstanding about in the past, that over the years you realize that doesn't even matter. It's good to catch up with a friend, a colleague. Talk to her. See who she is. That's my hope with people who may have misunderstood me. But then there will be those who don't want to understand.

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

CHAMPION: And you have to leave them. That's arguably the toughest part - being OK with leaving the misunderstanding in the world. But Candace Parker - she gave us that when she won the WNBA championship last year 'cause people said she was lazy, she was the most overrated, she wasn't this, she was that, she got that one chip, she'll never get another chip. She said, I'm just glad time can tell my story. And that's all we got. Time going to tell your story, Jay. Time going to tell my story, too.

WILLIAMS: I appreciate you, Cari.

CHAMPION: I appreciate you.

WILLIAMS: And thank you so much. And keep shining because you always shined. There's a different energy around your shining now, though. Like you said, it feels more free. And I think that's a great place for you to be, and you deserve that.

CHAMPION: Oh, man. Amen, I am there. I receive it. I'm giving it, and I'm giving it right back to you. Listen, you've always been a star. You've always been excellent. But I appreciate the man you have come, but more importantly, the father that you are. It's changed you, my man. I appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: Yes, it has. I appreciate you, Cari. Thank you.

CHAMPION: You're welcome.

WILLIAMS: There are so many lessons I'm going to take from this conversation. And like Cari said, the importance of being true to yourself is so crucial, but I also want to emphasize that it's vital to trust a woman's own lived experiences and to listen when she tells you about them. Cari Champion hosts the podcast "Naked With Cari Champion" and "The Brownprint." Check them out. You can also see her doing her thing on TV as well, always telling her whole truth. A big shout out to Cari and her team for making this interview happen. I know that Cari and I have to get together soon because it's been way too long. And as always, remember, stay positive and let's keep it moving.

THE LIMITS is produced by Diba Mohtasham, Devon Schwartz, Mano Sundaresan and Leena Sanzgiri. Video production by Kaz Fantone, Langston Sessoms, Christina Shaman, Iman Young and Nick Michael. Our executive producers are Karen Kinney, Veralyn Williams and Yolanda Sangweni. Our senior VP of programming and audience development is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Special thanks to Christina Hardy, Rhudy Correa and Charla Riggi.

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