Q&A: Laila Ali on Sports Humanitarians and How Much Her Father Cared About People

Plus, being a contestant on the new Celebrity Apprentice

Ahead of the ESPY Awards Wednesday night on ABC, ESPN will hold its second annual Sports Humanitarian Awards tonight. The event at the Conga Room at L.A. Live will air as a half-hour special Friday night on ESPN. Proceeds will benefit the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund at The V Foundation.

Laila Ali returns to host the show, which will include a special tribute to her father, Muhammad Ali, who died last month. Ali, who appears on CBS Sports Network's We Need to Talk and will be part of the cast of the new Arnold Schwarzneggger-hosted Celebrity Apprentice, spoke with Adweek about her father's humanitarian efforts and why it's so important that athletes use their status to give back to their communities.

Adweek: Why did you want to return to host?
Laila Ali: Well, the first year was excellent. I had a great experience. I know that everyone enjoyed the awards and left with a positive, uplifted feeling. When I was asked to come back, it was easy for me to say yes.

Why is this awards show so important to you?
It's important that we highlight the good that's being done behind the scenes. It's not all about the game and winning and losing. It's about using the platform that we have in the business to do good and to give back. You wouldn't know that Chris Paul has donated $1 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs to help renovate it. You wouldn't know that, through his foundation, they're giving two full-ride scholarships every year; that he's opened three technology labs in communities across the country. You just wouldn't know that unless the information is given to you.

How important is it for athletes to use their platform for good?
I think it's important for everyone to give back and do what they can with their means and their own way, regardless of whether you're an athlete, entertainer or public person at all. I think it starts at a young age, teaching kids to save some of their allowance so they can donate to those in need. When you have a lot of money and a big platform, then it's very important that you use that platform for something positive to give back. Not everyone has that opportunity.

Your father was well known for being a great humanitarian. What do you remember most about that?
He really did love people. He did not have an ego outside of the ring. He didn't think he was better than other people or above other people. He used his money and his power for good, not just to have power. I remember him pulling over and giving money to homeless people. I remember him inviting homeless families to live in our house. Just seeing him put a smile on people's faces.

You're part of the cast for the new version of NBC's Celebrity Apprentice. Why was that something you wanted to do after turning it down so many times?
I had seen the previous seasons with Trump. I never did the show—I was asked multiple times—but I wasn't moved to want to the do the show. Then when Arnold came on, I decided I want to do it. It gave me an opportunity to raise awareness and money for the Women in Sports Foundation, so the timing was good.

How was Arnold?
I think he did a great job. It's a new fresh perspective, a different vibe. I think it went great.

You're also a panelist on CBS Sports Network's We Need to Talk. Outside from the obvious (all-female sports talk show), what makes it different from all the other sports talk shows?
Well, you mentioned the main thing—it's an all-female sports commentary show. The other difference is I'm on it (laughs). I like the panel format because it gives me a chance to weigh in with my perspective on a variety of topics as a wife, mom, businesswoman and an athlete. It's very different than other shows that I've hosted where I'm reading a teleprompter or a script.