August 28 will mark the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. In celebration of this historic moment and in honor of Dr. King’s birthday, ESPN2 will televise Content of Character on Monday, Jan. 14, from 7-8 p.m. ET (re-airs Saturday, Jan. 19, during the ABC Sports Saturday block and Sunday, Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN). The third annual special, hosted by Bob Ley, will include a panel discussion with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Robert Smith, Richard Lapchick (chair and director of the DeVos Sport Business Management program at the University of Central Florida), author Kevin Powell and Ryan Clark of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The show will open with a spoken word/intro by actor/rapper COMMON on what Dr. King’s words mean to the country. In addition, the results of an ESPN.com online poll — “How does the image of the black athlete compare with reality”– will be revealed during the telecast. Discussion topics and features:
- Nearly 50 years ago, the Washington Redskins finally integrated as the last NFL team to do so. In 1988, 25 years later, Doug Williams, an African American quarterback, led the team to its second Super Bowl victory. This past season, the current NFC East Division champions were led by another African American quarterback — Robert Griffin III, aka “RG3.” The rookie sensation might be the first post-racial superstar, known for his leadership, skills and ability, not his race. This segment will include interviews with Griffin as well as his father Robert Jr., former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson and commentator Michael Wilbon. Mark Schwarz will report.
- “Black Athlete Confidential” — In conjunction with ESPN the Magazine, more than 80 black athletes from different sports were surveyed on a variety of topics. The athletes offer insight into how they see themselves portrayed by the media and how they feel they are perceived by the public.
- Fifty years ago, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Bill Russell — the Mount Rushmore of African American athletes — represented greatness on the field and were not afraid to speak up off the field. In 1963, Black music was socially conscious and focused on issues important to the community and African American athletes felt empowered to speak out. Today, some African American athletes are speaking out about issues that don’t necessarily impact them personally or the African American community as much but are still civil rights issues. This is a sign to some social/cultural experts that although athletes haven’t given up on building their brand, which began in the ’90s, they are also speaking out to support issues. Interviews include LeBron James, (Miami Heat), Jim Brown, Brendon Ayanbadejo (Baltimore Ravens) and Professor Harry Edwards. Michael Smith will report.
- The recent dismissal of Colorado head coach Jon Enbree put the spotlight on the seeming lack of a second chance for African American coaches. Only one in 41 African American college football head coaches has ever gotten a second chance as a head coach in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools.
- ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards shares his thoughts on the notion of a post-racial superstar and whether African American coaches are being evaluated differently than their white counterparts.
- COMMON will also narrate a mid-show tease written by ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson.
- Daily vignettes will air across ESPN platforms from January 14-21. The 21 vignettes, 15 in English and five in Spanish, are testimonials from various sports figures about Dr. King’s legacy.
Quotes (from prepared segments):
Is there such a thing as a post-racial superstar?
“One day it might be relevant that a person jumps up and says I don’t see color! But I’m gonna tell you one thing – it ain’t relevant today. I tell you right now, Robert [Griffin III] carries a burden of every kid in this city regardless of what color. But he carries a special burden — whether he or anyone else wants to admit it for Black kids.” — John Thompson
On how African American Athletes are portrayed by the media:
“It’s sad. I hate talking about it, really. The image is terrible and to be honest I think people and the media in general just look at the negative too much. There are a lot of strong, hard-working black athletes who do great things. But that’s lost in the news.”— WNBA player (from ESPN The Magazine confidential poll)
Are African American athletes held to an unfair standard when it comes to speaking out on issues that impact the African American community?
“Charity will never solve the problem… There is charity and there’s change. And, the struggle for change is how this country was built.” — Jim Brown
EDITOR’S NOTE: A post-show segment, with Ley and panelists on the biggest issue moving forward for African American athletes, will be available on ESPN.com.