ESPN’s New Website The Undefeated Explores Intersection Between Sports and Race

“We seek to show black life in all its glory… 360 degrees.” — Raina Kelley, The Undefeated

Courtney Hurtt/ WDET

Sports are part of what make us American.

Sure, it’s just a game. But the most popular athletic events in the United States are also huge economic engines, they drive controversies over health and gender and race, and serve as emotional touchstones every weekend for millions of Americans glued to TV screens.

In many ways, rooting for a team is part of being human. It’s why a whole subset of media thrives around reporting on sporting events. Yet few outlets have truly embraced the role sports play in a complete American life, as part of a culture.

To fill that void, ESPN recently launched The Undefeated, a website that lives at the intersection of sports fanaticism, pop culture, and being black in America.

Many of our most famous athletes in the modern era are black, and yet most season ticket holders we see in the stands are white. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick takes a knee to draw attention to issues facing black Americans, and many white fans and executives are indignant. The conversation about race and who we are as a country plays out every day in modern athletics, and The Undefeated is putting words to page on that very thing.

Managing Editor Raina Kelley and staff writer Justin Tinsley join Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson to talk about the mission of the site.

“We seek to show black life in all its glory… 360 degrees,” says Kelley. But, she says, focusing on black life doesn’t mean the site and its articles exclude white readers and fans. “We need all kinds of people to read our site in order for it to be successful.” 

Tinsley says he tries to find threads of American life that are most universal, and apply them to his writing. And he says that often comes in the form sports and music. 

“I really believe that music is the soul of life, in a sense,” says Tinsley. “I see how I can relate it to everyday life, and that’s all I’ve wanted to do with music [or] with sports.”

Tinsley says he finds himself reading and writing too often about the shooting deaths of unarmed black men, and the fallout of those shootings in society. He says he doesn’t understand how these stories don’t anger and move all Americans. He says many people want to remain apathetic and keep their distance from the pain.

“If it doesn’t bother you, consider yourself lucky.” 

To hear more about The Undefeated on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.


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    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.