The larger deal between Kaepernick’s production company, Ra Vision Media, and Disney will focus on stories that explore race and social justice. The partnership was described as a “first-look” deal, and per the terms Kaepernick will work closely with the Undefeated, ESPN’s vertical focused on the intersection of race, sports and culture.
“During this unprecedented time, The Walt Disney Company remains committed to creating diverse and inclusive content that resonates and matters,” Disney Executive Chairman Robert A. Iger said in the announcement. “Colin’s experience gives him a unique perspective on the intersection of sports, culture and race, which will undoubtedly create compelling stories that will educate, enlighten and entertain, and we look forward to working with him on this important collaboration.”
For ESPN, the announcement represents a further embrace of content that examines race in sports and society since the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police and the subsequent protests that have gripped the country. The network aired a prime-time special examining racial injustice in late June and dedicated the opening of its annual award show, the ESPYs, to a montage that highlighted images of the protests and the theme of equality.
The recent strategy is a departure from the message out of the highest levels of both Disney and ESPN over the past three years.
In the fall of 2018, Iger told the Hollywood Reporter: “There’s been a big debate about whether ESPN should be focused more on what happens on the field of sport than what happens in terms of where sports is societally or politically. And [new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro] felt that the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far away from the field. And I happen to believe he was right.”
Of the deal with Kaepernick, Pitaro, via the release, said, “Colin has had a singular path as both an athlete and an activist, and, as the nation continues to confront racism and social injustice, it feels particularly relevant to hear Colin’s voice on his evolution and motivations.”
Hill’s involvement in the project is also noteworthy. A former ESPN writer and “SportsCenter” anchor, she called President Trump a white supremacist in a Twitter reply in 2017 that drew heavy criticism from conservatives. Sarah Sanders, then the White House press secretary, responded in the briefing room, calling Hill’s comment a fireable offense. Hill was later suspended from ESPN when she suggested on Twitter that unhappy NFL fans could boycott advertisers associated with the Dallas Cowboys after owner Jerry Jones said his players would be benched if they didn’t stand for the national anthem. ESPN is a broadcast partner of the NFL.
Hill’s version of “SportsCenter” was canceled, and she later reached a buyout with the network. She is a contributing writer for the Atlantic, hosts a podcast and recently announced the launch of a new talk show on Vice.
Before signing off on the project, Kaepernick called Hill to get her assessment of her exit from ESPN and her thoughts on the company’s treatment of black employees. In an interview, Hill explained that she told Kaepernick that while ESPN, like many other media companies, lacks diversity at the top of its corporate ladder, he had an opportunity to help change that.
“I told him ESPN may be well-intentioned, but the results aren’t there,” she said, referring to diversity within the ranks of behind-the-camera producers and among ESPN’s executives. “It’s a real failure there. But I also said to him he had the chance to do something culture-changing. He’s committed to it and made a deal to amplify black voices and ‘The Undefeated,’ and he can use his name to leverage them into a better position.”
After the conversation, Kaepernick asked Hill to join the project.
Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since the 2016 season, when he became the first player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. When he wasn’t signed by any team after that season, he sued the league for collusion and eventually reached a settlement.
Despite the interruption of his football career, Kaepernick’s media footprint continues to grow. This year, he announced he was forming a publishing company, Kaepernick Publishing, through which he is planning to release a memoir. Last month, he announced he was joining the board of publishing platform Medium, where he is scheduled to conduct question-and-answer interviews with athletes, activists and thought leaders — tentatively called “Conversations with Colin.”
Netflix also announced a new scripted series, to be directed by Ava DuVernay, that will examine Kaepernick’s teen years.
Since his playing days, Kaepernick has given almost no interviews to the news media and is now leading the editorial direction — or partnering on — all of his projects. Asked whether a documentary could provide a full picture of Kaepernick, given his control of the story, Hill said it could.
“It’s a slippery slope,” she said. “But in any documentary, you want the ability to see different sides and just the panoramic view of a person, and you often get that by having the athlete involved in the project. But just because they’re involved, they don’t want it to be a press release of their entire lives.”
She added: “Because Colin has been so polarizing I think it will be easier to delve into the difficult parts of his history.”
Read more from The Post: