Cari Champion is known for being a lot of things: co-host of Cari & Jemele (Won’t) Stick to Sports on Vice TV, host of the Naked with Cari Champion podcast, founder of the non-profit Brown Girls Dream, a former ESPN/SportsCenter host, a former anchor and reporter at Tennis Channel, and more since she moved across the country from California to West Virginia for her first reporting job in the sports industry.
But no matter what she is doing, the underlying theme and driving factor behind every interview, episode and piece of content she creates is as a disruptor and trailblazer who is “loudly, boldly and unapologetically” kicking down doors for others.
“I’m big on showing women it can be done and creating space,” Champion says. “It is definitely my life’s work; that’s what I use for my platform. I’m grateful for all the success I have, but I really know I’m just holding the door open for other young ladies.”
Doing all she can to provide opportunities, resources and support for today’s generation as well as laying the groundwork for the betterment of tomorrow’s, Champion, Robin Roberts, Dany Garcia, Lindsey Vonn, Michele Tafoya and Lindsay Davenport will be working together to further their similar missions and goals for equality in and around sports as part of the newly created IMG Academy Women in Sports Committee.
These inaugural members will work with the Bradenton, Florida-based multi-sport training and educational institution to improve the accessibility and participation of young women in sports via actionable programs and initiatives to enact change. Committee members will also each be provided a scholarship in their name to grant to deserving young women to attend IMG Academy, as well as 100+ scholarships that provide access to the academy’s recruiting services product, Next College Student Athlete (NCSA).
“If sports is this great opportunity to develop these life-long skills for tomorrow’s leaders and we don’t have enough girls playing sports long enough, we need to be part of the solution: get more girls playing sports for a longer period of time,” says IMG Academy president Brent Richard. “We think we have a unique opportunity with this committee and these women leaders to make an impact.
“They represent the goal. … This committee represents the attributes that sports can bring, and they’re passionate about it.”
While interest and participation in youth sports across the board continues to decrease—in 2018, 38% of kids ages 6-12 played an organized sport on a regular basis, down from 45% a decade earlier—girls are lagging behind even further.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, 40% of teen girls as of 2018 were not actively participating in a sport. Not only were less girls participating in sports, but opportunities were less as well. Annually, boys benefit from 1.13 million more sports opportunities than girls, according to research from the National Federation of State High School Associations (2018-2019).
With the educational, social and psychological benefits of playing youth sports ranging from teamwork to overcoming adversity and goal setting well documented, fewer girls participating means they aren’t necessarily receiving and benefitting from these positives that can assist them in in their lives and careers on and off the field.
In 2018, 94% of women who held C-suite positions were former athletes, with 52% having played sports at the collegiate level, according to research from Ernst & Young.
That’s why IMG Academy and its Women in Sports Committee are focused on creating and providing opportunities, resources and support for girls in sports.
“Once we start to learn more, we have to do more. That’s the responsibility,” Champion says. “Everyone, especially from these diverse backgrounds on this committee, they know more, they’ve learned more, so you have to do more. You can’t sit with that. You can’t sit by and not say anything simply because it’s not right.
“Hopefully we can give that spirit in whatever way it’s expressed to these young ladies and they do the same thing in their way. They all don’t have to be disrupting like me, but they can disrupt in their own way.”