Confession: I hold something of a grudge against sports television. From the I-am-what-matters-here blatherings of Chris Berman to Suzyn Waldman screeching inaudibly about Roger Clemens’ return to John Sterling’s awful home run calls to Erin Andrews dancing with the stars to Skip Bayless and Tiny Lupica and … on and on and on. Sure, there are genuinely talented pros—Bob Costas, Len Berman, Brent Musburger, Bob Ley, Suzy Kolber, etc, etc. Too often, however, the legit professionals are obscured by wanna-be celebrities who view sports media as a way to increase Twitter followers and land a spot on some godforsaken red carpet alongside Mario Lopez and Brooke Burke.
Enter: Lindsay McCormick.
Before conducting this interview, I knew (to be honest) little of Lindsay. The former host of “The Fan” on Comcast SportsNet was also a reporter for the NFL Draft for CBS Sports Network) She also happens to be young and pretty, a double-edged sword in 2012. On the one hand, if you know sports, you know sports—gender be damned. On the other hand, “young and pretty” (for a woman) is often immediately interpreted (in the sports world) as, well, “dumb and ambitious.” Especially when “young and pretty” is given the sassy treatment by Esquire Magazine and “young and pretty” is rumored to be involved with Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
And yet … here’s the thing: To hell with young and pretty. Lindsay McCormick (who has insisted repeatedly that the Sanchez stuff was nonsense) also happens to be intelligent and talented; hard-working and devoted to sports media. Her goal, from a young age, was to be a sports reporter, and she’s accomplished that.
Here, Lindsay talks about women and perceptions and the sports media; about what it’s like to freeze on air and why David Carr ranks ahead of Celine Dion and Troy Aikman. She loves Auburn, loathes Nick Saban and can offer at least five excellent reasons to visit her hometown of Houston (which, I must confess, I sorta hate).
Lindsay McCormick, the Quaz is yours …
JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Lindsay, so I’m gonna be blunt: I’m an old-school print guy who has a real problem with many TV people. Too many times I’ve been interviewing an athlete about, say, the death of his mother when some fool with a cameraman shoves his/her mic in the way and says, “Jimmy can you talk about the difference between the first and second halves?” I feel like TV work is easy—the questions rarely have depth, they’re five or six, at most, and the majority of the time the interviewer isn’t even listening to (or responding to) the answers. He/she is merely waiting for the chance to ask the next question. Lindsay, tell me why—and if—I’m wrong …
LINDSAY McCORMICK: Well, Jeff. I’m a big fan of people who are blunt and tell it like it is. So I appreciate your honesty. I agree with you that there are “TV people” who do that, but not all. I hear athletes complain about that all the time. That’s what separates the good on-air talent from the bad. The reporters who pay attention to their surroundings and are more empathetic to the players. No one wants to talk about what their favorite iPod song is after they just got eliminated from the playoffs. I’ve learned it’s important to focus on the positive and spin the question in that particular light. You’ll get players to open up more that way. For example, “I know you guys played your hearts out but came up short in the final minutes, what will the focus be this off season to get back to this spot next year?” Or have them address the reason they came up short tonight, despite an overall amazing effort. The players are all overanalyzing the game in their heads especially the next few hours after a loss. And above all else, realize they are humans with feelings.
J.P.: You are, clearly, pretty, and on your website you have a photo gallery of you in many pretty, perky, attractive photos. On the one hand, why shouldn’t you be? Certainly Stuart Scott and Chris Berman pose in suits and ties. But, on the other hand, I have the impression that it’s more than that … that, in the world of sports and entertainment (sports/entertainment), there’s a genre of women on-air talent aware that looks and femininity count. Tell me if I’m off/on/way off?
L.M.: The field gets more and more competitive every day for males and females. To be the best (and who doesn’t want to be the best at their craft?) you have to be the complete package. Most importantly, you have to have credibility. You have to know the ins and outs of the game you are covering. Fans are not dumb, they know their team like the back of their hand. If you don’t know their team just as well, they will know. Secondly, fans, my brother in particular, want to look at something attractive on the TV. I’ve heard men say about other reporters before, “Ohh, well at least she looks good. I’ll just mute her.” That statement drives me to be more than a pretty face. Looks may get you in the door, but intelligence is what will allow a broadcaster to make a 30-40 year career for oneself. Looks fade, and I do plan on being here a while!
J.P.: You attended Auburn, you’re from Houston, you’ve worked for myriad TV outlets. That’s about all I know. So, Lindsay, what was your path? As in, how’d you get here?
L.M.: I have loved sports since I came out of the womb (too graphic?!). Every holiday for my family revolves around sports. Every family car ride we listen to sports talk radio. Every 6:30 p.m. dinner growing up ended with one family member screaming at each other in a sports argument and leaving the table livid. I have so many teams I root for to the point where I can honestly say I’m unbiased. My parents watch film on new high school and college recruits in their spare time (I guess this is what being an empty nester will do to you.) My grandpa was a standout defensive end for Illinois and was drafted to the Redskins in 1946. He later became a chemical engineer for Shell Oil, the VP of Technology for STP and highly involved with Nascar. Because of my family background, I have known since the age of 7 or 8 that I wanted to be in front of the camera and that I loved to write, I just didn’t realize until I got to college that I could cover the thing I loved the most: sports. I was part of Eagle Eye TV at Auburn and there were only men covering sports when I first arrived. I remember saying, “I know more than you guys why don’t you just throw me on the sidelines.” They took me up on the challenge. ESPN saw me working at the LSU vs. Auburn game and next thing I know I am interning for them. After my internship, my demo reel from college got passed around ESPN’s campus and before I knew it I was analyzing college football and working with MMA star reporter Molly Qerim on “Streak for the Cash.” After that I began writing for ESPN The Magazine covering NBA and NFL games and writing for the feature section of the magazine, I got the offer to cover the Portland Trail blazers and to work for Comcast SportsNet. One job, led to another and next thing I know I’m hosting the NFL Draft in New York for CBS Sports alongside Pete Prisco, Will Brinson and Bruce Feldman.
J.P.: I used to cover the majors for Sports Illustrated, and it eventually beat me down. Like, I no longer cared about the games … no longer wanted to hear Roger Clemens or Derek Jeter or David Ortiz talk about tomorrow’s pitcher and that big homer against Toronto. Similarly, your life is one lathered in sports. Do you ever get beaten down? Are you ever like, “Fuck, Blazers-Raptors”? Or do you maintain an unwavering passion?
L.M.: Every job has pros and cons that come with it and every job at some point will feel like a job. I just constantly remind myself if I wasn’t getting paid to do this for a living this is what I would be doing every day anyways! I would be waking up and checking the NFL transactions, watching my favorite games, analyzing film at night before I go to sleep, running “go” routes with my family in our living room while my 6 year old cousin defending me falls to the ground because I was great at running that particular route and all is fair in love and sports. The guys in the locker room, athletes and male reporters, laugh at me and say, “One day this will get old for you … one day …” For me football will never get old. The game is constantly progressing and changing and it keeps me on my toes. It’s now become a pass happy league with the running game taking a back seat, but then you also have more athletic quarterbacks and more players wanting to be the next Vick or Newton of the league.
J.P.: Along the lines of my first two questions, I’ve always thought the road to respectability for women sports reporters is a rough one. A. Because you’re in a mostly male world; B. Because you’ll be judged on physical characteristics; C. Because lunkhead men will assume you know nothing about sports. So, how tough can it be? Have you had bad experiences with male athletes? And what is it like walking into a locker room or clubhouse filled with half-dressed/naked men? Is there a degree of awkwardness?
L.M.: Let me start with this—I was made for this career. I grew up with a brother and male cousins who lived down the street from me. Believe it or not, I wasn’t very attractive in middle school and high school. I was a complete nerd and the kids at school let me know it. I developed thick skin. If you don’t have that as a female, you will not survive in this industry. I get crap all the time from athletes in the locker room, even the security at the door of the locker room has made sexist comments to me, but you don’t see me running to Good Morning America and crying that I was harassed in the locker room. My advice to women: Cover yourself up before you go in a facility with young men, focus on getting your interview (You only have several minutes to get all the content you need before they rush out the door for the plane anyways) and dish it back. Guys have taken my microphone before, asked me for my number, made hoots and hollers… you name it, it’s been done. But if you take your job seriously and force them to treat you with respect, they will. The majority of them realize that I have a job to get finished too and we are all in this together. In terms of men not thinking women know sports, well, I got into writing early to refute that and to build credibility. I actually love the dumb blonde stereotype, because when people realize you have substance to you, their minds are blown. No one sees it coming. I could live at a sports bar for that reason. The facial expressions when you’ve won a sports debate against an alleged “die-hard” is priceless.
J.P.: What’s the greatest moment of your career? The lowest?
L.M.: Greatest moment: Working the NFL Draft a few weeks ago with CBS Sports and seeing my first byline in ESPN The Magazine. There was one point in the broadcast where I was fighting back tears of joy because I was so happy. Please do not tell Prisco this—he would make fun of me and he had no idea I felt this way at the time!
Worst moment: Dealing with tabloid rumors that I was dating an athlete. I know every female in the industry has dealt with this, but that still doesn’t make it fun. You are around these guys on a daily basis. You are going to develop friendships with a lot of them; athletes, beat writers, coaches, analysts, etc. Plus, the people you work with make your work experience. No one wants to coast through life without building friendships with their co-workers.
J.P.: You come from an oddly athletic family. According to your website, your dad played baseball, your brother played on the Houston Comets’ practice squad and your grandfather was drafted by the Redskins in 1946. Please elaborate. And what is your playing background?
L.M.: I previously told you about my grandpa’s background in sports. My brother played basketball on several practice teams as well as recently helped plan Talladega. He missed his graduation from Auburn to do so, but Bo Jackson wasn’t handing out the diplomas like he did at mine, so I don’t blame him. I’m not sure if you would call all of these “sports,” but I grew up going to tennis camp every summer. I was a competitive dancer since age 7 and then began competing in ballroom when I moved to the East Coast. I was a cheerleader all throughout middle school and high school and even stunted with the Trail blazers stunt team at their practices. I played wide receiver on a coed intramural football team at Auburn and competed in the high jump Senior year of high school. I also box in my spare time. I sometimes attempt workouts that the NFL guys do in the off season, just so I can get a better feel for exactly how hard they work. I still do not know how they do it!
J.P.: You attended Auburn and, based off what I’ve read, clearly love it. This is probably unfair, but in my mind I group Auburn with Kentucky, Alabama, Florida and a dozen other Southern sports factories that care first, last and only about winning and making money—athletes be damned. Am I wrong? Why?
L.M.: In the South it is about one thing: pride. And what brings pride to a university is creating good citizens and football wins. Of course more money means nicer facilities, which can translate into better recruits and a nicer environment for fans, but it’s not the main focus. I can’t speak for all SEC schools, but from my time working with the Auburn football team, coaching staff and front office, I got to see that they genuinely care about these players. Ask safety Zac Etheridge who was around his during his time of need. It’s not just a façade they put up during Big Cat Weekend to bring in recruits. They do check-in on their academic performance and make sure that after their time at the university is over that they have the tools to go out and be outstanding citizens. Auburn is a place I will always call home, because they still continue to treat me like family. I doubt Bo would have sent his kids there if it were any other way.
J.P.: What does it feel like to freeze on TV? Like, you’re on, you’re talking—then, blank. And do you have a memorable one?
L.M.: Thankfully, no! After a while, the red button on the camera doesn’t scare you anymore. But the first time I ever did a live broadcast … let’s just say I’m thankful I didn’t eat very much that morning. I have a few rituals I do before a broadcast. I first shake out my nerves, then I listen to a few particular songs on my iPod and I pray, “Lord, this career is what you have called me to do. Please, don’t let my nerves get in the way of your bigger plan.”
J.P.: This is a presidential election year, and I’ve long been fascinated by the political word mixing with sports, Most of the coaches I’ve covered have been white conservatives; most of the athletes I’ve covered have been African-American liberals. The coaches seem to support lower taxes, less government involvement, fewer social programs. Many of the athletes I’ve covered have succeeded because, in part, of social programs (athletic leagues, sporting programs, etc). Is there something weird here?
L.M.: In college it is different, but in professional sports, it’s a business. Based on the all of the athletes I have spoken to, they tend to not voice their opinion on politics because they don’t want to turn off fans and they aren’t paid to give their opinion on politics. I do not bring my political beliefs into my workplace and the majority of athletes I know do not either. But it is more common in recent years to see coaches come from different backgrounds (Tomlin, Smith, Dungy when he was in the league.) Not every coach is a white Republican, and not every coach that is a white Republican is for cutting social programs.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LINDSAY McCORMICK
• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, please elaborate: Yes. When I was in was my sophomore year of college I was heading to Knoxville in a little plane during a thunderstorm. The sirens on the plane were going off, women were putting on parachutes and I was certain my life was over. I was scared to fly after that, but unless you are John Madden, it’s impossible to have the career I want if I don’t continue to get back on plane after plane after plane. I now fly up to two times a week depending on the season, and sometimes still have to hold the guy’s hand next to me. My mom always says, “If it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.” Nice motherly advice.
• Rank in order (fave to least)—New York City, Celine Dion, Walter Mondale, zits, Bull Durham, frozen bagels, Jennifer Lopez, Troy Aikman, Nick Saban, Kathie Lee Gifford, Bo Jackson, Santana, Forrest Gump, Whole Foods, David Carr: 1. Bo Jackson (Bo Knows. And he sits on my wall along with all of my other sports memorabilia in my bachelorette pad every day. Any guy who has a pregame ritual of using a crossbow to shoot at a target in the team clubhouse deserves a spot on the wall); 2. My left arm (Not as important as my right arm I use to hold the mic with); 3. Kenny Powers (Whoops—slipped that one in as a *Bonus*); 4. Whole Foods (I am there every other day. When I move to a new city or travel, I make sure I stay next to one. It’s pathetic); 5. New York City (This city owns my heart. I love everything about it. And the sports fans there are second to none. (Yeah, Boston. You heard me!)); 6. Frozen bagels (I work out a lot, so I eat a lot of carbs to keep me going. Nothing compares to a sandwich made with a frozen bagel); 7. David Carr (He began his career with the Texans so for my dad I will rate him high); 8. Troy Aikman (The only reason Carr is above Aikman is because he is a Cowboys legend. My family roots for the Redskins and back in the day the Oilers. So that’s a no-no. If it weren’t for that reason alone, Aikman would be light years ahead of Carr); 9. Jennifer Lopez (I attended her AMA event this past year and lied to her backup dancers telling them I had never danced before and needed pointers. They soon realized the tiny white lie and it turned into a full on dance battle!); 10. Bull Durham (I have a bet with a friend that I have to buy him dinner if I like this movie. Still have not seen it yet); 11. Santana (As in Santana Moss?); 12. Forest Gump (Because “Life is like a box of Chocolates…” unless you are allergic to cocoa like I am, then that’s not the best simile.); Kathie Lee Gifford (Never a dull moment with Kathie Lee & Hoda); Walter Mondale (“Where’s the beef?”); 15. Celine Dion (Great voice. Just not what I prefer to listen to before a big broadcast); 16. Zits; 17. Nick Saban (I went to Auburn. Yes, he comes after zits. He would come after everything you could possibly throw at me on this list).
• You don’t list your age anywhere. Is that deliberate?: Don’t you know, a lady never reveals her age. (Cue the southern accent and wink). Plus, I’m planning on being in this industry for 30 or 40 years, a Brent Musburger if you will. I don’t want to be 60 and not look it and people say she’s too old, get her off the sidelines now. If you must know, ask siri;
• Five greatest sportscasters/reporters of your lifetime?: 1. Bob Costas; 2. Brent Musburger; 3. Suzy Kolber and Alex Flanagan; 4. Keith Jackson; 5. Rich Eisen.
• Would you move to Bristol, Connecticut, land of nothingness (but ESPN)?: When I worked with ESPN I lived in West Hartford. It was well worth the 15 minute commute.
• Who wins in a arm wrestle between you and Mike Lupica?: This is like asking a quarterback if he thinks he’s the best in the league. Of course he’s going to say yes! So I’m going to pull a Flacco and say yes, I would win. Yes I’m the best arm wrestler in the land. But I do admire Lupica’s bold style of writing.
• If poop smelled like roses and roses smelled like poop, would we love the smell of poop or hate the smell of roses?: I grew up around boys, so poop doesn’t bother me. Roses bother me more. They remind me of The Bachelor and they are a cheesy way for a guy to think he’s being romantic. Grab me a root beer and don’t talk to me during MNF. That’s true romance.
• I feel like I’ve missed out on Houston. In other words, I never like it when I’m there. Give me five great things to do in Houston, Texas: Houston is a sports lovers and food connoisseur’s dream. And since I was born and raised here, I’m guessing that is why I am the sportsaholic and foodie I am today. 1. Attend a Texans game. (Here is the part where I rave about how well they always do in the Draft and tell everyone if they would have had Schaub healthy they would have gone to the Super Bowl.); 2. Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo; 3. Pappasitos restaurant; 4. Watch the Rockets during the 1994 and 1995 seasons … whoops … I guess you missed that; 5. BBQ. The sports arenas have the best BBQ, too. I told a guy the other day at Whole Foods on the West Coast that his BBQ brisket was pretty darn close to Texas BBQ and he almost wet himself.
• What’s gonna happen with Tim Tebow in New York this season?: What’s going to happen? Only God knows. What should happen? To be most effective for this offense, Sparano should either covert him to an H-back or a tight end. He’s athletic, he can block and the guy will do whatever it takes to help out the team. Last season in Denver, Tebow was used in a classic triple-option and for run reads, and this season there is talk of the Jets implementing Wildcat packages. While that would certainly confuse defenses, I’m not sold on the idea that that style of offense would win a Super Bowl … maybe an NCAA Championship, but not a Super Bowl. Either way, we can expect to see a few trick plays from the “punt protector” on fourth and 7.
• Best joke you know: Lebron James in the fourth quarter. Period. [Jeff’s note: In Lindsay’s defense, this was conducted before the NBA Finals]