Sep 03, 2020

By Kelby Clark
In a special day of programming, the network honors the experience and struggles of Black athletes.

Last week, professional athletes across the U.S. protested the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis. The collective show of solidarity is a part of a larger history that mostly remains untold—a history CBS Sports invites viewers to explore Sunday during a special day of programming dedicated to the Black athlete experience.

The five-hour programming slate titled “Portraits in Black” and hosted by longtime CBS Sports broadcaster James Brown features a series of documentaries and original shows. The programs highlight how race and racism have been an enduring part of sports and society, with athletes pushing for change and using activism to raise awareness of injustice.

“Sports has always been a platform to elevate social issues,” says Harold Bryant, executive producer and svp of production for CBS Sports. “You can go back to Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and so many other great athletes who have used the platform for positive results much like the teams and players who are taking a stand today. We wanted to spotlight those stories, many of which remain largely untold.”

 

The day’s lineup includes Forward Progress: The Integration of SEC Football, which focuses on the SEC's first-ever African-American football player Nate Northington, who integrated Southeastern Conference football; The Black 14: Wyoming Football 1969, which details the story of 14 Black players on the Wyoming football team who were banned from the team for wanting to peacefully protest racial injustice; Althea & Arthur, which chronicles the legacies of tennis players Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, as well as two special edition episodes of CBS Sports Connected that touch on the social unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd earlier this summer.

The CBS Sports Connected episodes include interviews with: Grant Hill, Lisa Leslie, Nate Burleson, Brandon Marshall, Swin Cash, Ian Eagle, Tracy Wolfson, Amanda Balionis and Amy Trask, as well as Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, and NBA players George Hill and Kyle Korver.

"Sports has always been a platform to elevate social issues."

Harold Bryant

Executive Producer and SVP of production for CBS Sports

Bryant and his team began brainstorming the day of specials in the spring, and adjusted at the last minute so they could include a new segment in CBS Connected: The American Dream that features Brown and Michelle Miller directly addressing Blake’s shooting, as well as the response from athletes across the major sports leagues. The team also included a special interview with Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, who discusses progress on her daughter’s case, months after she was killed by police.

“Breonna Taylor’s tragic story has gotten a lot of support from the sports community,” says Bryant. “It was appropriate and timely to add that in, so we were so glad we were able to connect with her mother, Tamika.”

The day of films and specials is one in a series of moves made by CBS Sports to bring awareness to the issues impacting the Black community. In June, the brand launched the “8:46” campaign in which eight of the network’s personalities invited audiences to join them in a conversation about racism, inequality, and unity in America.

“At CBS Sports, we've always tried to be a leader in conversation on any topic,” says Bryant. “There is a commitment to telling stories across the board and covering all aspects of the sports world, and that includes having candid conversations on what it means to an athlete, coach or official in the sports world today and bringing awareness to many athletes' steadfastness in the fight for social justice.”

 

“Portraits in Black” airs Sunday, Sept. 6 beginning at 1 p.m ET on CBS.

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