Ellis Williams ’13 Tackles Racism in America

By Robin Roger, November 25, 2020
Alumnus serves as point person for CBS Sports’ 8:46 project.

Editor's note:  Early in December, the Sports Business Journal named Ellis Williams '13 to its second class of New Voices Under 30. The publication selected the members of this class for "their entrepreneurial spirit, their willingness to take risks and disrupt an industry, their conviction to lift their voices to advance social causes, their talent to make an impact on their organization, and their ambition to reach greater heights in their respective careers."

Professional golf was once an all-white sport played at all-white clubs and covered by white announcers—often with all Black caddies. But in June, thanks to a video project orchestrated by Ellis Williams ’13, viewers of the Charles Schwab Open saw the action interspersed with powerful perspectives on race, voiced by some of CBS Sports’ top broadcasters.

Williams, a CBS Sports producer, was the point person for a series of video interviews with CBS Sports broadcasters of color. The interviews aired individually as one-minute spots during the tournament, with Brown providing a final 46-second spot. Online, the segments were stitched together to form one video that plays for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time George Floyd was pinned to the ground by police.

Titled 8:46, the project touches on topics such as the history of oppression, racist experiences, and the American Dream. Williams also poses these challenging questions: Why is the conversation about race uncomfortable? Why do we need to have it? And, where do we go from here?

“We felt that wasn’t enough time to speak to the depth and complexity of the Black experience, so we leaned into that and built the premise as 60 seconds to talk about X topic.”

Ellis Williams ’13 in The Athletic

Williams talked about how the typical 30- or 60-second spot wasn’t sufficient to address such a complex subject.

“We felt that wasn’t enough time to speak to the depth and complexity of theBlack experience, so we leaned into that and built the premise as 60 seconds to talk about X topic,” he told the sports website The Athletic. “We devised eight topics such as racism, Black history, reactions to today, equality, and being an ally. Our approach was to start with a conversation and through the discussion discover what topic was their truth.”

Williams credited the faculty in IC’s Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity (CSCRE)—including Drs. Belisa González, Sean Eversley Bradwell, Paula Ioanide, Gustavo Licón, and Asma Barlas—with helping him to address the difficult topics brought up in the video.

“My maturation in having these discussions, adding depth and complexity to the Black experience, is attributed to the work of the many talented doctors at the center,” he said. “Each gave me a different tool with which to engage in meaningful discussion, contextualizing my experiences.”

“It’s an example of community; this group of educators gave me a home in the CSCRE, and a ‘thank you’ can’t even begin to convey the love and appreciation I have for each and every one of them.”

Ellis Williams ’13

His experience at IC as part of the Martin Luther King Scholar Program and the mentorship of the recently retired associate vice president for student affairs and campus life Dr. Roger Richardson, director of multicultural affairs Malinda B. Smith, and director of admission Nicole Eversley Bradwell provided the foundation for helping him to see the world critically.

“Regardless of the paths [MLK scholars] ended up taking professionally,[mentors] encouraged us to use them to walk closer toward justice,” he said. “It’s an example of community; this group of educators gave me a home in the CSCRE, and a ‘thank you’ can’t even begin to convey the love and appreciation I have for each and every one of them.”

Following the success of the 8:46 campaign and the resulting one-hour television broadcast of Connected: WhatIt Means to Be Me, the PGA of America reached out to CBS Sports to discuss how they, too, could amplify the goals of the 8:46 campaign to shed light on systemic racism and the work we need to continue to make everlasting change. Last August, over the weekend of the PGA Championship, an additional 11 spots featuring Black PGA professionals, directors of golf, head professionals, and other former PGA and LPGA players ,like Renee Powell, Tom Woodard, andWyatt Worthington II, aired across three platforms in a joint effort to spread awareness. CBS, ESPN, and ESPN+, in addition to the PGA of America, contributed a substantial amount of time to feature the spots throughout the tournament, sharing these professionals’ calls to action, personal anecdotes, and lived experiences.

 “For me, it was a tremendous opportunity to be able to speak with these professionals because the game of golf has a rich history, and Black people are a part of that,” Williams said. “To be able to shed light on a community in the world of golf rarely seen and seldom heard, I was fortunate to have a passionate team who worked diligently in meeting the timelines for air. Thank you to Jelani Rook, Justin Haley, Laurie Zelnick, Anthony Cortese, Wille Cochran, Mark Grant, Dominique Johnson, and Dave Anerella for putting in the hours to make these spots as dynamic and honest as possible. It was a true team effort and a testament to community and togetherness.”

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