“Level Playing Field,” a four-part HBO Sports documentary series from Vox and Vox Media Studios, premieres today on HBO. The series features a range of stories that illuminate how public policies have contributed to inequities in the sports landscape and society at large.
“Level Playing Field” examines how multi-billion-dollar industries in and out of sports have historically underpaid their most valuable assets, politicized community-based initiatives, and stifled the voices of athletes of color. Featuring stories and insights from sports and policy changemakers including the WNBA’s Elizabeth Williams, U.S. senators Cory Booker and Raphael Warnock, Rep. Joaquin Castro, and sports journalist Jemele Hill among others, the dynamic four-part series looks at the far-reaching twin impacts of legislation and activism as they intersect with sports.
Episode 1: “Midnight Basketball”
Debut Date: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14 (8:00 - 8:30 p.m. ET/PT)
Episode 1 investigates the intersection of sports, race, and social policy through a look at “Midnight Basketball” – the innovative program started in Glenarden, Maryland in 1986 to provide a haven for at-risk youths and help curb rising crime rates in the area. The successful endeavor was embraced by both President George H. W. Bush in his “1,000 Points of Light” initiative and President Bill Clinton in the 1994 Crime bill, yet still became the focus of partisan debate riddled with racial stereotypes – stereotypes that remain to this day.
Episode 2: “Misclassified”
Debut Date: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21 (8:00 - 8:30 p.m. ET/PT)
Episode 2 focuses on the events that precipitated the NCAA’s creation of the term “student-athlete,” the debate over them earning compensation, and how avoiding the classification of these talent as “employees” points to a larger trend in corporate America.
Episode 3: “Down the Backstretch”
Debut Date: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28 (8:00 - 8:30 p.m. ET/PT)
Episode 3 explores how the shift in United States immigration policy towards Central America during the Trump administration impacted the horse racing industry. With laborers from Latin America making up a predominant number of backstretch workers at racetracks across the country, the “sport of kings” – typically associated with big money trainers and owners – suddenly found itself with a shortage of some of its most overlooked and undervalued figures.
Episode 4: “The Assist” (Finale)
Debut Date: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 5 (8:00 - 8:30 p.m. ET/PT)
Episode 4 explores the intersection of sports and politics through an examination of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream’s landmark role in the election of Senator Raphael Warnock and the ongoing fight against voter suppression in Georgia. The Dream players’ impassioned campaign against then-Georgia senator – and team owner – Kelly Loeffler made an undeniable imprint on one of the most closely watched senate races of all time.
The HBO Sports presentation “Level Playing Field” is produced by Vox and Vox Media Studios. Episode directors include Akil Gibbons (“Midnight Basketball”), Vox Video’s Vice President of Creative Development, Joe Posner (“Misclassified”), Sam Ellis (“The Backstretch”), and Rebecca Stern (“The Assist”). The series is executive produced by Mike Jacobs, Joe Posner, Emily Anderson, Chad Mumm, and Mark Olsen, and co-executive produced by Mac Schneider and Marina Stadler.
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Vox Media Studios is one of the leading independent studios producing premium non-fiction and scripted programming for television, OTT, podcasts, films, and brand partners. Vox Media Studios is an Emmy-winning full-service production studio that works both independently and in partnership with Vox Media’s category-leading editorial networks—Curbed, The Cut, Eater, Grub Street, Intelligencer, New York Magazine, Polygon, Recode, SB Nation, The Strategist, The Verge, Vox, and Vulture—to extend the company’s storytelling capabilities to the most relevant modern platforms including Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, YouTube Originals, HBO, and CNN. Vox Media Studios is also home to the award-winning Vox Media Podcast Network and the Academy Award winning storytelling powerhouse, Epic.