Daveed Diggs Takes His Talents to ESPN For Musical Partnership
Daveed Diggs is taking his talents from Broadway to ESPN. In a new partnership, the multifaceted actor, rapper and singer — as seen in the Broadway-turned-global hip-hop musical phenomenon Hamilton and on the ABC hit series blackish as Rainbow Johnson’s brother, Johan — will write and perform six pieces pegged to timely cultural sports moments.
For his first act, the Oakland native will dedicate a monologue to his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors, as they defend their NBA championship title this season. Stay tuned for the first piece set to debut around the start of the Warriors season this month on all ESPN platforms, and get more familiar with Diggs’ inner sports geek and future plans with ESPN below. Diggs also shares his love note to the Bay Area in the form of a West Coast-themed playlist.
How has the partnership with ESPN pushed you creatively versus other projects?
Well, it’s interesting because it’s so specific. We’re really trying to make these pieces for specific events. So this first one being the first Warriors game of the season is just everybody working towards this one goal of creating this thing that is fun and that can have a life outside of this but it’s also really tailored to these specific moments in sports over the course of the year. I think that the challenge and fun of it is the specificity and trying to make something feel like something for everybody.
What was your fondest sports memory growing up?
Before I could remember, the [San Francisco] 49ers won a Super Bowl as I was being born against the [Cincinnati] Bengals in ‘82. That became kind of legendary in my house growing up. So I sort of grew up in Oakland being a Raiders fan and a Niners fan, but that was a good time to be a Niners fan because of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, all those guys. I have this vague memory, like at seven years old, [when] I went to the day lounge football camp where a bunch of those guys were there. That was crazy. Then, many years later in 2012, I was with Freestyle Love Supreme at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. I met Jerry Rice again, but really for the first time there, and I kind of had this flashback of shaking his hand when I was seven years old.
How do you plan to incorporate music in your original pieces for ESPN as a way to depict notable sports moments?
Well, it’s all music. We’re not doing anything that’s not musical but the music comes first, so we’re really focused on getting the song right then we try to create a visual piece that really complements the song.
What were some recent sports stories that you felt impacted today’s culture or resonated with you?
I think the rise of [Golden State Warrior] Steph Curry as such a major star in basketball is a big thing because, for where we are now, he’s such an atypical player. He wasn’t huge. To be a superstar like that, to be so consistent from the three-point line, it’s added to this idea that sort of you can figure out your own way to be amazing at something. You don’t have to do it the way everybody else does it.
Marshawn [Lynch’s] return to the Raiders has been big for me this season thus far. And the real story about Marshawn — and I hope we get to do a piece on this at some point — is really sort of the anti-gentrification work he’s been doing in Oakland while being back playing for the Raiders. He’s always been in the community, he’s always been around, but his production company is shooting films in Oakland. And I just finished shooting a film in Oakland as well. There’s definitely push for people who are really from Oakland [and] our gaining of some sort of visibility to try and keep some of the things in tact that we loved about that place growing up. [With] his clothing store downtown, Marshawn is really all over the place there, and he’s such a great ambassador of the city both in terms of what he’s doing to actually help people but also his being unafraid to stand up for the thing he believes in. He’s always sort of worn his politics on his sleeve. My favorite thing during the whole “Take a Knee” discussion was when Marshawn finally commented on it, and he was like, ‘I haven’t stood for the National Anthem since I was 17 years old, like, I’ve never done that.’
And then, of course, the Take a Knee [protest] has been huge. I have always been very proud of [former Niners quarterback and current free agent] Colin Kaepernick, despite everything that it’s caused him. I think in the recent debate, it’s gotten so muddy, which is what this administration does really well: muddy up the actual issue of the thing when it comes right down to players, organizations or sports taking a moment to demonstrate that the way that the country’s being run is detrimental to people of color. People who are making up a large part of the folks we have playing these sports are important. I think that, as that debate and that protest continues to morph and take shape, that’s gonna be an interesting one to watch.
It’s sort of fascinating how [President Donald] Trump’s comments about players who take a knee are the kind of things slave owners say about property. That’s what it is when it comes right down to it. And so we’re treating athletes as property, that’s what [Trump] is suggesting. He is suggesting harsher punishments on players who disrespect the country in this way, and the country under his control doesn’t necessarily deserve their respect in the same way and really has nothing to do with the military or any of that. This is about holding a country accountable for the way they treat its citizens.
(Photo credit: Brookside Artist Management)
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