jemele hill Tuesday, March 17, 2009 — Bristol, CT — ESPN 1st and 10 — Jemele Hill

It looks like ESPN is furthering its push into covering social issues around sports. After presenting a forum for Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul to kick off the ESPYs with their thoughts on racial tensions and recent shootings and simulcasting President Obama’s ABC town hall on gun violence (which featured ESPN’s Jemele Hill as one of the moderators), ESPN will now be hosting their own town hall on athletes and violence, with Hill  (seen above) again anchoring and moderating.

Here are some of the details from the network’s release:

ESPN will present An Undefeated Conversation: Athletes, Responsibility, and Violence – a discourse on athletes, guns, violence and law enforcement – on Thursday, Aug. 25 at 9:30 p.m. ET. The 90-minute program will be taped earlier that day during a town hall in Chicago at the South Side YMCA from 2 – 4 p.m. ET (1 – 3 p.m. CT). Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN2’s popular weekday sports discussion program His & Hers, will anchor the show on television and moderate the forum.

The event will include four distinctive panels featuring current and retired athletes, executives, coaches, sports commentators, community activists, a minister, a historian, and more. and ESPN The Magazine columnist Robert “Scoop” Jackson, a Chicago native, will narrate vignettes and taped openings for select segments in the program. An audience of invited guests from the community including local leaders will participate in the forum.

An Undefeated Conversation: Athletes, Responsibility, and Violence is the first in a recurring series of conversations, forums and debates that will be convened by ESPN’s “The Undefeated” to address topical issues at the confluence of sports and race.

“Sports are great bridge builders in our country, bringing together people who think differently and live differently,” said Kevin Merida, ESPN Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of The Undefeated. “Athletes, in greater numbers, have been saying they want to use their influence to drive social change. We hope this townhall will help push that conversation forward.”

The panels will include a mix of journalists from ESPN and The Undefeated (including Michael Wilbon, Lonnae O’Neal and Clinton Yates), athletes turned ESPN analysts and personalities (including Doug Glanville and Marcellus Wiley), former players (Isaiah Thomas), current players (Rajon Rondo), current executives (Kenny Williams), and community figures (history professor Elizabeth Todd-Breland, pastor Jolinda Wade, and Stephanie Brown, who lost her son to gun violence). They’ll have panels on racial profiling, athletes and police, sports and activism, guns and violence and “a call to action.”

This could be quite interesting, especially as some of the conversations seem likely to explore elements not often touched on in these debates. For example, the guns and violence panel will not just be condemning guns, but covering reasons why athletes carry guns and discussing hat athletes think about gun legislation. The sports and activism panel won’t just be “speak out,” but will discuss athletes’ concerns about impacts of speaking out on their sponsorships. There’s a lot here that could be notable, and Hill has proven to be adept at handling these topics. This also illustrates the value of The Undefeated to ESPN, as it gives them a natural reason to cover issues like this that transcend sports and provides them with staffers who are used to discussing these issues.

However, broadcasting something like this will undoubtedly get some “stick to sports” comments, and depending on the conversations that are aired, it may also raise the hackles of those concerned about ESPN’s political slant. Moreover, you have to wonder how well the special live-from-Chicago edition of ESPN’s First Take tackling these issues on the following day, Friday, Aug. 26, will go; First Take is not exactly known for nuanced or sensitive discussion, and that’s particularly needed with these topics.

Still, while the First Take involvement here could be problematic, the town hall overall seems quite positive. This looks like a valuable area for ESPN to explore, and one where they have the personnel and the platform to lead conversations. We’ll see how it’s received.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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