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ESPN Hopes 'Undefeated' Will Elevate Discussions On Race, Sports And Culture

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

After some early false starts and a change in management, a long anticipated branch of espn.com will finally launch next week, called The Undefeated. It's not your average sports site. This one explores the intersection of race, culture and sport. Its editor-in-chief, Kevin Merida, gave us a preview of what it's all about.

KEVIN MERIDA: Let's take Cam Newton's terrific run as the Most Valuable Player in the National Football League.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BUCK: His great year continues. Second and nine. (Shouting) Newton - end zone - touchdown, Cotchery.

MERIDA: You know, there were lots of discussions about him as a black quarterback - his image, his dancing in the end zone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...To just get in the end zone, and then go celebrate with your team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: He's arrogant. He's showing up the opposition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: There's a virtue, and it's called humility.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: A spoiled brat...

MERIDA: But what always accompanied the dance was him going to the end zone and handing the ball to some kid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: You see Cam Newton. He wants that ball. He's going to go give it to one young kid here in the stands.

MERIDA: That's the other part of that. When you're at the top of your profession, whatever profession it is, you know, you often, if you're African-American, sometimes feel the weight of the entire race on your shoulders. And I think that is oftentimes not handled very well. I think that one of the things that The Undefeated can do is really take black athletes and really show the complexity of their lives. You know, we all want to be understood in multiple dimensions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERIDA: We're at a time in the country where we need more understanding. It's a very diverse country now. It's becoming more and more diverse. And we need to find ways to understand each other - to bring more light than heat.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERIDA: I think that race has always been a subject that has, you know, both confounded us and pained us. I think we have an opportunity through the realm of sports and culture to really help push the conversation along and to really lead.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: That's Kevin Merida. He's editor-in-chief of the new ESPN digital publication The Undefeated, which launches next Tuesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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