Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross blazes new path for herself in television
‘Central Ave’ aims to bring swag to the coverage of pop culture
As a five-time Olympic track medalist, Sanya Richards-Ross is no stranger to setting the gold standard. Now, she is chasing a career in media.
Richards-Ross won Olympic gold medals in the 4×400 relay in 2004, 2008 and 2012, an individual gold in the 400-meter dash in London in 2012, and a bronze in the 400 meters in 2008. After her athletic career, Richards-Ross wrote three books and created a digital platform, MommiNation.
Now, she and BET veteran Julissa Bermudez are co-hosting a syndicated weekly entertainment magazine show, Central Ave. Originally debuting last year as a weekday show, it returned in September in a weekend format and airs in 210 markets.
The Undefeated spoke with Richards-Ross about her show, the transition from sports to television and how unusual it is for two Black women to host an entertainment news program on TV.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How important is this moment to you?
I worked my entire life to try to make history on the track, and it was just amazing to be able to have all of the success that I did. To now transition into my new love, which is television, and to hopefully create a space for women of color in this genre, it just means the world to me. I see it as a huge responsibility to go out there and represent well and do my very best to show up authentically and hopefully leave the door open for other women to also walk through as well.
Who are the women you admire in television?
There are so many. Obviously, Oprah was one of the women that I truly admired. I feel like Oprah always stayed authentic to herself and believed in her vision and mission in becoming a television mogul. Robin Roberts is another woman that I greatly admired, seeing how she has just become a mainstay in daytime television. I love Cari Champion and Jemele Hill. They have a new show on Vice TV. These are four African American women that I have looked up to in the past and now I hope that I am doing them justice because those are the women who I feel like do me justice every time I see them on television.
What can the audience expect from Central Ave?
We say that the show is ‘the right show for right now,’ and it just really feels like it because there is so much happening in the world, especially as far as pop culture is concerned. There has been a lot of things that have happened over the last year, about how people get ‘canceled’ for the way that they do things, and a lot of times it is because the rooms are not diverse and people can’t speak to the nuances and sensitivities inside different communities. We tell stories that we know our community cares about, and we do it in a way that we feel is very thoughtful and handled with care and love. Our hope is to make, not just where you see another headline of a story, but we really go deep and investigate the stories in a way that you feel when you finish watching the show you are like, ‘Wow, I really learned something today. I really do admire that person more and respect that point of view.’
How much has sports contributed to your ability to try new things?
I always say that sports has been my greatest life teacher, and I remember my dad always telling me to never be one-dimensional. Those two things have allowed me to assume this move. Being an athlete teaches you to appreciate delayed gratification. When you are an Olympic athlete, you train for four years in hopes of having just that one moment come together, and it’s so well worth it. When you become an entrepreneur or when you are in the business of television, it takes time to develop something amazing. I feel like my sports background has taught me how to deal with the highs and lows, the disappointments and success. How do you go back and regroup, how do you evaluate and how do you come back stronger every time? My dad always told me not to be afraid to try new things. I have just never been afraid to fail.
Central Ave says it’s “putting the culture back in pop culture.” What does that mean?
It is the vision and mission of Monique Chenault and Will Packer, our executive producers on this project. In this space, there hasn’t been a new show for, I want to say, 20, 30 years, outside of Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight. Those shows have done a good job of putting diversity in front of the camera, but not behind. I think what our show does differently – and what we are very proud of – is that we have a very, very diverse group of people behind the camera, not just in front of the camera. When you think about pop culture, you cannot leave out communities of color and their impact in pop culture. Just that swag that we bring to every space, that is what we are trying to do.