Rachel Nichols: How Sports Opens the Door to New and Important Conversations

Rachel Nichols has made a name for herself, working as a TV anchor, reporter, and host on CNN and ESPN. As a result, she has a very interesting and unique viewpoint on the importance of sports in daily life. It’s true that no matter the news topic, sports is where people from both sides of the big issues tend to come together and hold conversations. Nichols stands behind that need to talk about the deeper conversations, not just the fun of sports.

Sports can be a conduit for important, deep conversations. In a recent interview with DU Clarion, Rachel Nichols opened up about the topic. She said, “It would be nice if there were other parts of society where we could have these conversations, but we don’t all watch the same movies anymore. We don’t watch the same TV shows anymore. Not everybody goes to church on Sunday. There are just so many places where we can no longer have some of the conversations we used to have about life in America.”

A Focus on the Tough Topics

Rachel Nichols has never shied away from those hard conversations. Though she is known for creating and hosting The Jump on ESPN, she has a long history of bringing out the more difficult and less comfortable conversations with others. That stems from her background working with the Washington Post. She tackled plenty of topics when she worked there, even discussing interesting viewpoints on sports, like why sports matter to people who are not the most diehard of fans.

After working at the Washington Post, she took her expertise to CNN. In sports, it is often easy enough to talk about the numbers and stats. Conversations about who will win and why someone lost are common. However, with her experience, Nichols wanted to ask the harder questions and talk about topics that were far more interesting to others. She wanted to talk about games but also about the people in those games and the experiences they had in the world around them. That often extended beyond the game floor or field.

She says, “Frankly, sports are the only place where everyone still comes into the tent and sits down in the seats next to each other and watches. And because of that, this is where we must do this. That’s just how it is.”

She recalls several interviews where the topics were a bit more far reaching than the average commentary. One of which was a conversation Rachel Nichols had with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Floyd Mayweather, a legendary boxing champ. The topic was domestic violence. During this conversation, she held the two sports figures at bay and certainly questioned their motives and thoughts on this very difficult topic.

In the case of Mayweather, Nichols brought up the fact that his son wrote a letter for the courts about domestic violence. Should Nichols only focus the conversation on the boxing going on, it would have been a disservice to viewers not to bring up the case. She says of the incident, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be ashamed or upset or scared to ask someone a question about that because it’s just wrong. That’s when I need to ask hard things, it feels to me like I get some of the nerve because it’s not negotiable.”

An Ongoing Conversation on the Topics Viewers Want to Know About

There have been a number of incidents in which Nichols has brought valuable stories to the forefront. For example, the pandemic brought out numerous stories. One, in particular, was Kyrie Irving’s views against getting the vaccine. She tackled topics about Colin Kaepernick and social injustice. She also took the conversation public when the All-Star Game was initially to be held in Charlotte, which had just recently passed a law stating that a city could not take the right of a person to refuse service to someone because they were gay.

Nichols views these topics as essential. National discussions with athletes who are taking center stage are valuable. They are, after all, humans with rights and not just athletes. Personal freedom is another topic of consideration. Finding the balance between personal liability and obligations to the team are important factors, as players should be able to void their feelings and stand up for their beliefs.

Rachel Nichols uses her platform to drive the conversations that need to happen in the country. While many believe that sports should focus on the game winning shot or the athlete’s skill, Rachel Nichols makes sure that there’s far more to the story. She, along with others, believes that conversations like this are critical and not optional. They can help people to better understand each other while also creating ways to talk about the hard stuff in a place where people still come together.

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