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LL Cool J on politics in sports and making a new sports TV network

"Sports are great but the way they’ve been presented hasn’t been as entertaining for me. The voice, the take and everything around it, doesn’t, I think, enhance sports as much as it could."
Image: Ice Cube, LL Cool J, BIG3 - Week Two
Ice Cube and LL Cool J talk during week two of the BIG3 three on three basketball league at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina on July 2, 2017.Streeter Lecka / Getty Images file

LL Cool J is putting his creativity and his money behind an audacious bid for Disney’s regional sports networks.

The legendary rapper is working in tandem with fellow hip hop artist Ice Cube and entrepreneur Jeff Kwatinetz who together run the startup basketball league, Big3. The group has significant financial backing and is hoping to create a new national network aimed at a younger, more diverse audience than traditional sports channels.

LL Cool J sat down to discuss the bid, his views on the increasing politicization of sports and whether he could be on air if his group wins out. This interview has been edited for brevity.

Q: How did you get involved in the Big3 bid for the RSNs?

A: It’s exciting. I was invested in the Big3. I was one of the original seed investors. I like the marriage connecting between sports and culture. I’ve just been talking to Cube and talking to Jeff and floated this idea of forming a new network. You know what I’m saying? A new network for a new world that’s really about sports and culture. Something that could usher in a new era and really bring the voice of the new generation to the forefront. The Gen Zs, the millennials, really give these kids a platform, a way to engage in sports in a really cool and fun and exciting way — having a full network, great baseball being played and surrounding those great sports with really culturally diverse programing that really looks like America and has the voice of where the world is going.

Q: Do you watch a lot of sports on TV?

A: Yeah, I watch sports. I’m running around a lot. I’m kind of one of the cord cutters in a lot of ways. I haven’t been watching as much, because it wasn’t as interesting.

Sports are great but the way they’ve been presented hasn’t been as entertaining for me. The voice, the take and everything around it, doesn’t, I think, enhance sports as much as it could. It doesn’t enhance the NBA as much as it could.

People giving their honest opinion about things, what they feel, if they disagree, they disagree, if they agree, they agree, if they’re a fan, they’re a fan, if they’re not, they’re not. That’s the world we live in. We have to open up the floodgates and let that voice be heard. This new network will allow that voice to be heard.

Q: Jemele Hill got in hot water for sharing political opinions on ESPN, and Disney has said they are a sports network, not politics. It sounds like what you want is to have a place where politics meets pop culture and sports?

A: Absolutely, I agree. My thing is if Jemele says something you don’t like, someone can be on there expressing a contrarian view, but don’t silence her. Let’s let all the voices be heard. Let’s not control the narrative. The narrative has to be authentic. Whoever that voice is, kids want to hear from them.

Q: Colin Kaepernick’s ad for Nike did that.

A: He had the right to be heard. Long gone are the days when you just silence people. Everybody is not going to agree with everything but I think that’s what will make this network special because all sides will be represented. That’s how sports fans really talk. That’s the real world. This will be a reflection of the real world, the way it really is.

Q: What inspires as you start to create a new TV network?

A: Many years ago when I first started, and when Ice Cube started, when all those artists, [Dr.] Dre first started, there were a lot of people telling me to get out of their offices. We have a new idea again. We’re on the cusp of another type of breakthrough. But this time it’s not music but sports and culture.

Q: Will you be on air at all if you win the bidding?

A: Absolutely. I would be crazy to own a network and not want to be involved and enjoy it and create content in front and behind the camera to make sure the platform is available to lots of people, to give the right people the opportunity to be on this new network and participate in the conversation we’re having around culture.

Q: How important is it to you that this bidding group has a very strong African-American component to it? There’s you and Ice Cube and Serena Williams and maybe Jemele?

A: I think it’s very important. Look, look, we’re not excluding anybody. But it’s not going to be a moat with a castle inside of it. Everyone should be heard. Women should be heard. African-Americans, male and female, all different genders, everybody should have a voice. You know what I’m saying? Diversity is the truth, and it’s what America really is. The network needs to represent the culture. There are many facts but only one truth. America is diverse and the network should reflect that.

Q: Why should Disney sell it to you? Is it about the biggest check?

A: No, it’s not about the biggest check. We have great people and a great team. We are going to be great partners. MLB is going to get a new audience. They’re going to get a new generation of viewers. We want to work closely with MLB, work closely with NBA and all three leagues to hit the reset button to bring new people to the table. It’s been the same thing over and over again, and we believe the same way we reinvented music and hip hop in a lot of ways, we believe in reinventing where sports and culture intersect.