Colin Kaepernick, shown in November, and Disney reached a production agreement and the first project will be a docuseries to be shown on ESPN. Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

 

Disney and Colin Kaepernick announced a new production deal Monday to create a series of scripted and unscripted shows across a number of the media giant’s platforms. The first project, according to the announcement, will be a documentary series in which Kaepernick tells the story of his journey from NFL quarterback to activist.

According to the announcement, Kaepernick recruited former ESPN writer and TV host Jemele Hill to be a producer on the docuseries.

The larger deal between Kaepernick’s production company, Ra Vision Media, and Disney will focus on stories that explore race and social justice. The partnership was described as a “first-look” deal, and per the terms Kaepernick will work closely with the Undefeated, ESPN’s vertical focused on the intersection of race, sports and culture.

“During this unprecedented time, The Walt Disney Company remains committed to creating diverse and inclusive content that resonates and matters,” Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger said in the announcement. “Colin’s experience gives him a unique perspective on the intersection of sports, culture and race, which will undoubtedly create compelling stories that will educate, enlighten and entertain, and we look forward to working with him on this important collaboration.”

For ESPN, the announcement represents a further embrace of content that examines race in sports and society since the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police and the subsequent protests that have gripped the country. The network aired a prime time special examining racial injustice in late June and dedicated the opening of its annual award show, the ESPYs, to a montage that highlighted images of the protests and the theme of equality.

The recent strategy is a departure from the message out of the highest levels of both Disney and ESPN over the past three years.

In the fall of 2018, Iger told The Hollywood Reporter: “There’s been a big debate about whether ESPN should be focused more on what happens on the field of sport than what happens in terms of where sports is societally or politically. And (new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro) felt that the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far away from the field. And I happen to believe he was right.”

Of the deal with Kaepernick, Pitaro, via the release, said: “Colin has had a singular path as both an athlete and an activist, and, as the nation continues to confront racism and social injustice, it feels particularly relevant to hear Colin’s voice on his evolution and motivations.”

Hill’s involvement in the project is also noteworthy. A former ESPN writer and SportsCenter anchor, she called President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” in a Twitter reply in 2017, which drew heavy criticism from conservatives. Sarah Sanders, then the White House press secretary, responded in the briefing room, calling Hill’s comment a fireable offense; Hill was later suspended from ESPN when she suggested on Twitter that unhappy NFL fans could boycott advertisers associated with the Dallas Cowboys after owner Jerry Jones said his players would be benched if they didn’t stand for the national anthem.

Hill’s SportsCenter was canceled and she later reached a buyout with the network. She now is a contributing writer for the Atlantic, hosts a podcast and recently announced the launch of a new talk show on Vice.

Kaepernick, meanwhile, hasn’t played in the NFL since the 2016 season, when he became the first player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. When he wasn’t signed by any team after that season, he sued the league for collusion and eventually reached a settlement.

Despite the interruption of his football career, Kaepernick’s media footprint continues to grow. Earlier this year, Kaepernick announced he was forming a publishing company, Kaepernick Publishing, through which he is planning to release a memoir. Last month, he announced he was joining the board of publishing platform, Medium, where he is scheduled to conduct question and answer interviews with athletes, activists and thought leaders – tentatively called “Conversations with Colin.”

Netflix also announced a new scripted series, to be directed by Ava DuVernay, that will examine Kaepernick’s teen years.

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