Now that she’s done with “First Take,” former moderator Cari Champion is speaking freely about her time
at Shawshank on the ESPN2 debate show. Speaking to Newsday’s Neil Best, Champion said she understood her role, but wished she had the opportunity to speak out more.
Champion said she understood that she had to feed questions to combatants Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, but she felt limited:
“It was the middle seat, the moderator to get the questions laid out. It’s a great platform. It was a wonderfully watched show, but the ceiling was really low. I had the skill set to do more.”
So as Champion prepares to transition to become a morning SportsCenter anchor, she’s appreciative of the opportunity “First Take” provided her:
“It was really strategic. It was very much a decision that I had to make when you remove the emotion from it. I didn’t want to leave Skip and Stephen A. and I didn’t want to leave what we had already built. But at the same time, I knew that it was their show, and no matter how much I was a part of it and no matter how much fun I had, it was limiting, and not in a bad way, because if there was no ‘First Take,’ there would be no ‘SportsCenter’ opportunity…”
But reading in between the lines, you know that Champion wished she could challenge whenever Bayless jumped on LeBron James or whenever Smith said something off the wall. Instead, Champion had to facilitate the discussion and “embrace debate.”
Champion said that she felt she had reached her limit on “First Take” and hopes that the powers-that-be at ESPN will allow for more discussion from the moderator:
“They loved ‘First Take’ and loved me on it. It gets a lot of attention. But what else could I have done? I honestly believe that’s what that moderator role is: two years max and you move on.
“The position could evolve. I hope whoever is the next host gets an opportunity to do more than just what I was able to do because I feel the show needs to evolve. Eventually you have to have somebody in the middle who can participate and can go back and forth, if need be. That’s a role. That’s a real position. You need someone to move the conversation along.”
Champion will co-host the mid-morning SportsCenter editions with Jay Crawford for now, but starting in February of next year, she’ll have to set her alarm clock early as she will launch at 7 a.m. ET edition of the show.