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Jim Williams

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I love news guys.

I’m not talking about modern wanna-be celebs angling for a spot on “Dancing with the Losers.” Nope, I’m talking about hardcore, roll-your-sleeves-up-and-make-the-extra-call reporters who cultivate sources, live for the dig and die to break stuff ahead of rival newspapers and networks.

I also love survivors.

Journalists who last, despite the changing medium and corporate influences. They’re almost always the ones whose reputations trump circumstances. Yes, we can lay off him and her and her and him. But that That Guy—he’s our glue.

In short, I friggin’ love Jim Williams.

The anchor/reporter for Chicago’s CBS affiliate is the genuine article, and has been for decades. He’s also fascinating—a guy who covered Barack Obama before he was the Barack Obama; a guy who worked as Richard Daley’s press secretary; a guy who grew up the son of a Chicago cop; a guy who has covered death with heartache and grace; a guy who doesn’t seem to dig “Love Actually.”

You can follow Jim on Twitter here, and marvel as his dazzlingly shiny dome, too.

Jim Williams, awesome news. You’re the world’s 240th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jim, I’m so thrilled you’re doing this, because I have a question I’ve always wanted to ask a news anchor. I’ll try and not sound ridiculous here: So you’re at the desk. And there’s a story about, say, a shooting. A horrible shooting. Innocents and all. And, as the anchor, your voice is somewhat measured and somber. You know, you start with, “In [Wherever] tonight, residents are shocked and saddened by …” And you’re supposed to sound saddened, or at least have a tone of, “This is terrible.” But then, two minutes later you can say, “In other news, a dog rescued a penguin who was …” And your voice is up and peppy. So what I’ve always wanted to know is, well, how much of this is acting? Performance? And how much is feeling the news? Being sad over the killing? Being peppy over the dog? Or is it merely this instinctive thing that kicks in having done this for a long time?

JIM WILLIAMS: Jeff, if you and I were having a conversation about Walter Payton, a subject you know well, and you described a serious episode in his life, your facial expression and tone of voice would reflect that story. If suddenly you shifted to one of Walter’s funny antics with his teammates, your expression and tone would change. You’d smile. How you communicated each story would be natural. Anchoring should be the same. I don’t say, “Now I have to show my sad face.” Or, “Now I have to show my happy face.” After you’ve anchored for a while, it is instinctive. Is it a performance? Sure. But any public presentation is a performance. A speech. Teaching sixth-graders math. A television interview when you’re promoting your books. You want to emphasize the right words. You have to watch your pacing. Your face should be relaxed; you can’t look like a deer in headlights. A performance can be authentic. It’s not acting.

J.P.: From 1992 to 1997 you were Richard Daley’s press secretary. I’ve always had this image of Daley as larger than life; bigger than God. I mean, hell, the family name alone. So what was it like, being his press secretary? What was he like to work for? And do political gigs suck as much as I imagine they might?

J.W.: I was covering politics for WGN TV in 1992. Mayor Daley’s press secretary went to work for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. I wanted the administration to find a good replacement because I’d have to get information from that person. Two days later one of Daley’s top aides called and said I was on a short of list of people they wanted to talk to about the job. On a short list for a job I had expressed no interest in? I was stunned. I had never thought about being a government spokesman. After a flurry of conversations, including a two-hour lunch with Daley, he offered me the job … and I turned it down. I told myself I didn’t want give up reporting. That was part of the truth. I also feared I wasn’t up to it: the pressure, managing all media relations throughout city government, answering reporters’ questions without embarrassing the mayor or myself. His aides asked me to reconsider. After some soul searching I decided I needed to take the job because it did scare me. David Axelrod, then Daley’s communications consultant, promised it would give me a political education only an insider could get. He was right. It changed my life. He hired bright people and I got smarter through osmosis. Daley was tough. He yelled at staff. He had testy exchanges with reporters. But no one questioned his love of Chicago. He’d sit in the back seat of his car with a legal pad writing down things he wanted changed throughout the city. Heaven help the commissioners who didn’t get it done. He also helped shape urban policy across the country because he was president of the U.S Conference of Mayors. When he was elected mayor in 1989, he had single-digit support in the black community. His approval soared over time because he made a strong effort to build a relationship with African Americans. I saw it all and played a role. But I had difficult moments.

In my first few months with the mayor, one political columnist called me the weak link of the Daley Administration. Nearly every day Daley was losing his temper publicly because the city had nearly 1,000 murders that year (yep, it was even worse back then) and some of his proposed big public projects collapsed. Unnamed City Hall insiders blamed me for his outbursts. They thought I was not “controlling” him and making him too accessible to the press. I guess they also determined I didn’t have a strategy for creating a better image for the mayor. I had to develop thick skin. I had seen former reporters become spokesmen and turn on the press. That didn’t happen to me. I maintained a relationship with good reporters. A wise man once a said about the role of press secretary: “You protect the boss with the press; you protect the press with the boss.” Aside from my political education, I got to see the news-gathering strategies of lots of reporters. Some were excellent at interviewing, so smooth and conversational I’d have to be on guard not to disclose something that shouldn’t be made public. A few were obnoxious. Some had preconceived ideas about a story and did everything possible to support their thesis. All of those lessons—the good and the bad—I took with me back into journalism when I left City Hall for ABC News in 1997. To answer your question, it didn’t suck.

With Richard Daley, legendary Chicago mayor.
With Richard Daley, legendary Chicago mayor.

J.P.: Are you ever like, “Ugh, this is so repetitive?” What I mean is—another broadcast, another election, another Cubs season, another celebrity sighting, another tragedy, another New Year’s Eve story, another bad weather story. Are how do you survive the monotony that is life?

J.W.: Maybe it’s because of my age or I meditate every day, but I’m not troubled by monotony the way I was when I was younger. I try to find something in every experience to appreciate or at least tolerate without agitation. With my peers starting to drop and get sick, I don’t want to rush life, even the monotonous moments. Yet another broadcast, Cubs season, whatever? I say, enjoy it; life is flying by.

J.P.: I know you’re from Chicago, I know you started your broadcast career with WGN. But, soup to nuts, how did this happen for you? When did you first think, “You know what my career should be?” What inspired the chase?

J.W.: As a teenager I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was obsessed with movies. I’d read film journals at Chicago’s main public library. At 20, I found about a part-time job at WGN as a film librarian in the newsroom. I knew William Friedkin and Haskell Wexler worked there years before and had gone on to win Oscars. I thought maybe a television station could lead me to the movies. In the first two years I was there, some very kind people taught me how to write news. I became a radio newswriter (WGN Radio and TV were in the same building then) and later a TV news producer. I liked the pace of television news, different stories every day, being in the newsroom when the big story broke. But I really wanted to be on the street reporting. It didn’t seem likely I’d start on-air in the country’s third largest market. Still, two colleagues and I convinced the station’s general manager to let us do a magazine-style public affairs show—all out in the field. I was the reporter for it. The show was well received and convinced our news director to put me on the air on weekends. (In addition to my full-time responsibilities writing and producing.) That led to a full-time job as a political reporter. WGN gave me a career.

J.P.: You’ve been around the Chicago news scene a long time. So what can you tell us about Barack Obama coming up through the ranks? What do you remember about him from back in the day? When did he first seem presidential to you?

J.W.: I met Barack Obama before he was elected to the Illinois state senate and worked with Michelle at City Hall before they were married. We all knew Obama was smart, poised and eloquent. The same comportment you see now on television we saw 20 years ago, before his first election. He had a promising future. But president? I don’t care who you are, you have a greater chance of winning a multi-state lottery than becoming president. Some of us thought he might be elected mayor 15 or 20 years down the line. Today, when he comes to Chicago on Air Force One, takes Marine One to the Soldier Field parking lot, and streets are closed and cops are everywhere, I can’t help but think of Obama walking alone, unrecognized, on these same streets not long ago.

Reporting from Wrigley Field before the stadium's first night game.
Reporting from Wrigley Field before the stadium’s first night game.

J.P.: What does it feel like to have a really awful on-air screwup? And can you tell the story of your worst?

J.W.: It’s awful. It’s especially bad is when you make a mistake and hit the slippery slope, then it’s one mistake after another. It’s like the shortshop who commits three errors in the first inning. I don’t know if this is my worst screw-up, but a several years ago I covered a sentencing hearing for two young men convicted of murdering an elderly couple in their home. The couple’s adult children made deeply emotional statements about the loss of their parents and how they must have suffered. People in court were crying. The hearing went on all day and ended moments before our first afternoon newscast. I rushed out to the cameraman and delivered a live report so discombobulated it makes me cringe describing it now. I had been so moved by the children’s statements that I tried to cram too much information into the live shot, including some legal technicalities. The advice I give young people starting out in television is when you make the first mistake take a deep breath, settle down and let the mistake go.

J.P.: Back when I was a kid, I used to think the news media had to be, truly, fair and balanced, because, hey, it’s the news media, and they’re honest. But now, as an adult, all I see are leanings. Left leanings, right leanings. Is there any unbiased media out there? Is there such a thing? I mean, you worked for a staunchly liberal mayor. Are you unbiased in your reporting?

J.W.: First, some here would quibble with your description of Rich Daley as a staunchly liberal mayor, but we’ll save that discussion for another time. Countless reporters keep their biases out of their reporting. When I have a contentious issue, I give both sides equal play in my reports. I try not to let even the nuance slide in either direction. That extends to my activity on social media where the bomb throwing seems to rise to a new level every day.

J.P.: Your dad was a Chicago police officer, and obviously America’s law enforcement has been in the news a ton of late. I’m wondering two things: A. What was your dad like, and how was it growing up as a police officer’s kid? B. Do you think people don’t understand the police and are making something out of something little, or do you think police departments have turned to the dark side?

J.W.: My father was courageous, fiery, outspoken, and though at times distant, he loved his children. Born in 1923, he was an artillery soldier in New Guinea during World War II, and returned to Chicago only to face racism in the country he fought to protect. Though some called him a militant, he rose through ranks of the Chicago Police Department to become a lieutenant. Black officers who worked for my dad tell me he was one of the few bosses to fight for African Americans. Yet white officers tell me he was the best boss they ever had. With my dad it was all about fairness. He certainly had his demons. He was an alcoholic (though he conquered drinking in the last 15 years of his life). Married and divorced three times. My mom was wife Number Three. (By the way, wife Number One was the sister of Lorraine Hansberry who wrote “A Raisin in the Sun.”)

Imagine all the ugliness he must have seen in 35 years on the job. He never discussed it. My brother and I found a photo from the 1950s of my father in uniform holding the corpse of a baby who had been thrown into Lake Michigan. Yet he didn’t have that tough guy cop persona. He was a gentleman. But make no mistake; he didn’t suffer foolishness. One night, off duty, he fought off two armed robbers. He wrestled one to the ground. As he snatched the gun away, the robber fired up the sleeve of my dad’s winter coat. (He wasn’t hurt other than powder burns on his hand.) Both guys ran. You asked what it was like growing up the son of a cop? I loved it. I thought he had a cool job. Not only was he a Chicago cop, so was his father. We had a cousin killed in the line of duty. My brother’s wife is a lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department today. I’m proud to come from a police family. No one has to convince me how important police are. I respect their work and honor their courage. But every segment of society has flawed individuals, including law enforcement. Police brutality is not new. Old timers on Chicago’s south and west sides describe how they were treated decades ago for just standing on a corner. But they didn’t have cellphones and social media. I understand officers’ anger over how they’re portrayed by protesters and commentators. They feel under siege and that civilians can’t possibly understand the dangers they face at a time when they’re under tremendous pressure to reduce crime. But a man or woman with a badge and gun has enormous power. Some abuse it. We can’t ignore it.

With former Bear Desmond Clark.
With former Bear Desmond Clark.

J.P.: Donald Trump’s presidential campaign makes me want to slap my head, because—sadly—it reinforces my belief that a large chunk of people are, simply, dumb and anxious to follow the neon puck. Am I wrong? Are we, as a whole, smarter than I think? Because I just don’t see it …

J.W.: The United States is a huge country full of people who try to stay informed. Yes, some people surprise you with what they don’t know and often they’re the loudest on social media. But we have more information than ever before at our fingertips and a large percentage of the population uses it well. I meet them every day.

J.P.: What’s your workday like? You wake up, you get to the office, and then …

J.W.: I report three days a week, anchor on the weekends. Our news director, Jeff Kiernan, expects each reporter to have a story idea at the 9 am editorial meeting. I call sources, check email, get ideas from neighbors or see something odd in the city and ask why. The news of day determines whether an idea is accepted and put in a newscast. Part of my job is calculating logistics. How long is it going to take me to get from Chicago to Naperville in bad traffic? How long do I need to shoot the story? Am I live in the field or bringing the story back to the station? I eventually screen the video, choose my sound bites and write the script. I cover a variety of stories: crime, disputes, features, but not much politics these days. My most painful days are when I have to talk to the parent of a child who’s been murdered. People ask me why we have to do it; isn’t it an intrusion? We do it because the victims aren’t mere statistics. They lived and were loved, and we can’t sweep these crimes under a rug. A few months ago, I covered the shooting death of a 15-year old track star in Gary, Indiana. By all accounts, she was a wonderful girl. In a car fired on by a gang, though she wasn’t in a gang, nor were the other kids in the car. I couldn’t sleep that night.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JIM WILLIAMS:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jody Davis, Lionel Moise, Thomas Edison, “Love Actually,” flag football, Samuel L. Jackson, sugar cookies, Nikes, hot steam bath, green T-shirts, the number 42, Emery MooreheadThomas Edison, Number 42, Lionel Moise, Jody Davis, Emery Moorehead, sugar cookies, flag football, Samuel L. Jackson, hot steam bath, Nikes, “Love Actually,” green T-shirts.

Is the South Side of Chicago truly the baddest part of town?: Forgive me for taking a little more time with this one. When people outside Chicago write about dangerous places they often include the South Side: “Chicago’s notorious South Side,” etc. The South Side is enormous, bigger than most American cities, home to the University of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry, DuSable Museum of African American History, beautiful, well-maintained homes and parks. Tough neighborhoods, yes. But much more.

• Three memories from your first on-air appearance?: 1.  It included a story on the 100 Club of Chicago, which helps the families of fallen police officers and firefighters; 2. I recorded my first on camera standup when it was below zero and I could barely move my mouth; 3. As it aired on WGN, a tape operator accidentally hit the rewind button.

Celine Dion calls right now. She offers $10 million annually to move to Vegas and anchor the Celine News Network—all Celine, all the time. Conditions: You have to live in her guest bathroom and eat five strands of her recently brushed (by you) hair per day. You in?: Can you thrown in the all-you-can-eat buffet at Circus Circus?

• What do you think Rod Tidwell did after his career with the Cardinals ended?: Moved to Hollywood and played the lead singer in “The Main Ingredient,” an original VH1 movie.

• Five reasons one should make Chicago his/her next vacation destination?: 1.  Gorgeous lakefront and architecture. 2. It’s one of the world’s culinary capitals. 3. You can walk miles through vibrant neighborhoods. 4. Rich culture and nightlife. 5. Wrigley Field

• After my book, “Sweetness,” came out, Mike Ditka said he’d spit on me. It’s been four years. Do you think if I approached and re-introduced myself, he’d actually spit on me?: I think he’d invite you to his restaurant here for pork chops. But bring a raincoat.

• How did you propose to your wife?: On one knee, ring in hand, at the Peninsula Hotel bar where we had our first date exactly one year before.

• I say this as a compliment—you have the shiniest head of all time. Explain the process: Daily shave followed by oil-free moisturize with sunscreen.

• What’s the kindest thing someone has said to you of late?: “Hey Jim, would you be up for doing a Quaz?”

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Bonnie Bernstein

ari pollack

Bonnie Bernstein is a pro’s pro.

I know … I know—how cliche. In this rare case, however, cliche works. In her nearly two decades as a sports broadcaster, Bonnie has established herself as something increasingly (and sadly) rare in today’s quirky media climate: A star who refuses to rely on stupid catchphrases or skimpy outfits; a skilled and savvy interviewer who would have excelled in any era of the medium.

A pro’s pro.

Now, having spent most of her career (covering pretty much everything) with ESPN and CBS, Bonnie is the “face” and vice president, content and brand development, of Campus Insiders, a digital collaboration between IMG College and Silver Chalice Ventures. She hosts hosts a daily show during the college football season and NCAA Basketball Championship, and will help create original programming.

Here, Bonnie defends college sports and recalls her days covering Michael Jordan; speaks lovingly of the land we call Howell, N.J. and details her battles with blood clots. You can visit her website here, and follow her on Twitter here.

Bonnie Bernstein, purveyor of the Collinsville Piggly Wiggly, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Bonnie, I’m gonna start with one that will likely make you think, “Ugh, why did I agree to do this?” So you’re the face and VP of Content and Brand Development for Campus Insiders, a college sports digital network. Bonnie, I’m a former college athlete (if you count cross country) who abhors what big-time college sports have become. The money. The boosters. The NCAA raking in tons of dough on the backs of under-educated kids who, oftentimes, don’t belong where they are, academically. Obviously you’ve heard this sort of ranting before. So I ask—why would you want anything to do with college athletics (and especially football and basketball)? And why shouldn’t I view your operation as merely another way for people to make big bucks off of kids who will—with rare exception—see none of it?

BONNIE BERNSTEIN: Well, based on your—ahem—leading question, lol … I think we view the college landscape differently in some respects. I, too, am a former student-athlete. Walked on to the University of Maryland’s gymnastics team and was fortunate to earn a full scholarship. And I think it is, for that very reason, why I struggle with the mindset of some that athletes are getting raked over the coals. I know what it’s like to pay for college. I know what it’s like to hold down three jobs while maintaining my grades, get up at 6am several days a week to lift and do track workouts, then train my actual sport three hours a day. And I can tell you the burden lifted off my shoulders once I got my full ride was tangible.

That’s not to say I’m oblivious to the fact schools/conferences/the NCAA are making a crapload of money off athletes through merchandise and video games and the like; but make no mistake, kids on scholarship ARE getting paid. Ask anyone who’s still writing checks for student loans ten years past graduation. I don’t mind kids getting compensated for their John Hancock on a mini-helmet. Their name. Their brand. But providing a blanket stipend only to football and basketball players would open a massive Pandora’s Box. No way to construct a viable payment formula, especially because not every program runs in the black. And I suspect Title IX advocates would have something to say about it, as well.

The “paying athletes” conundrum aside, you and I can bond over our  loathing of the shady side of college sports– the Nevin Shapiros of the world. The runners stalking seventh graders on public basketball courts. It makes me sick. But ultimately, I believe there’s a lot more good about college sports than bad.

Specific to Campus Insiders: While The Download with BB (my studio show) focuses quite a bit on the heavy hitters, we’re ramping up a live events platform showcasing non-BCS conferences like the Mountain West and the Patriot League and had a whole slate of West Coast Conference hoops games last year. In fact, one of the big FCS-over-FBS upsets this past weekend? Eastern Illinois over San Diego State. You could only see it on campusinsiders.com. We know there’s an appetite for this programming. And it’s not because these kids are generating millions in jersey sales for their schools. We’re excited to provide an outlet for them.

(PS… cross-country is 100% a sport, and a grueling one, at that!)

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 12.25.56 AMJ.P.: You’ve had a career that, by any standards, has been wonderful and prolific and professional. You’ve clearly busted your ass, studied your craft, etc. Over the past, oh, decade, it seems as if televised sports media is turning increasingly to a female stereotype for reporting (and especially sideline work):  Blonde, perky, young, large breasts, short-ish skirts. Am I just some pathetic guy noticing something that’s not really there, or am I right? And, if so, how much does this bother you?

B.B.: First of all… thanks! Check’s in the mail. Secondly… no idea what you’re talkin’ about. (I just tried to write that with a serious face. Lasted about two seconds.)

Listen—I’m not a fan of painting with broad brushstrokes. There are plenty of chicks on the air right now who are terrific. You wanna put the bullseye on the blondes? I can name two at ESPN off the top of my head who absolutely crush it: Sara Walsh. Lindsay Czarniak. Boom. Sam Ponder’s young, but a rising star who knows her football.

I’d like to think if you’ve been consistently credible over a period of time, you won’t get lumped in with the dingbats when they misstep. After 20+ years in the business, I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’m at that place.  And if not, I’m still perky. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

J.P.: You were born in Brooklyn, grew up on the mean streets of Howell, N.J. attended Maryland, where you were an Academic All-American gymnast. But (and I ask this on behalf of a lot of young readers who are aspiring journalists) how did you break through? What I mean is, we all have first jobs, we all have second jobs, we all have dreams. But what separates the reporter who spends his/her life at the local station vs. a Bernstein-esque career?

B.B.: Mean streets of Howell, huh? Well, our high school senior class president did get cuffed for having pot in his locker my freshman year…

I’d say drive, preparation, enough self-confidence to nullify the naysayers and a lil bit o’ luck. I, admittedly, was always doing two things at my local market jobs: busting ass to ascend the learning curve as quickly as possible and keeping an eye out for the next gig. Resume tapes constantly in circulation. Cold calling news directors in larger markets within driving distance and fibbing about “being in the area,” just to get in the door for a tape critique and a new contact in my Rolodex. My job never suffered. I worked insane hours at all of my local jobs; but I knew where I wanted to get and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible. The goal was ESPN by 28 and one of the networks by 32. The WWL signed me just before my 25th birthday; CBS came knocking at 28. Mom always points out I was born nine days early J

J.P.: You were 25 when you joined ESPN as its Chicago Bureau Chief. You covered a ton of Michael Jordan. A. How did you land the gig? B. What was it like covering Jordan? How was he/the situation to deal with?

B.B.: When ESPN hired me out of Reno, NV, Dallas, Detroit and Chicago were on the table. I did lobby heavily through my agent for the Second City, but it was Bristol’s call. I’ll never forget the first time my boss, Jim Cohen, sent me out to get a Jordan interview. It was during training camp at the Berto Center in 1995 and I just walked up to him at a moment when he was alone, extended my hand and said sorta nonchalantly, “Heyyy, Michael, I’m Bonnie Bernstein, the new kid at ESPN. My boss told me to get a one-on-one with you. I’m set up right over there [pointed off to a corner of the court], just come on over whenever you’re ready.” And he looked at me, befuddled, as if to ask, “Who the hell are you??” But for whatever reason, he did the interview, and in my naivete, I was totally clueless about my little coup!

MJ was always extremely respectful. I think part of that had to do with my just being present. I’d often go to games I wasn’t working and listen to locker room interviews simply to show my face. Trust me, players notice that stuff. The following camp, Jordan passed me in the hallway and said, “I’ve been watching you on TV. You do a really good job.” I genuinely appreciate every kind word extended. But praise from the greatest player ever to grace the professional hardcourt was then, and still is, very special.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 12.19.07 AMJ.P.: It’s obviously well known in Hollywood that female actors have a MUCH harder time holding on than male colleagues. With age comes less work and, ultimately, no work (unless your name is Dench or Streep, I suppose). In a way, yours is the first era of myriad women reporters coming along at the same time, landing top jobs, being accepted as equals. Do you at all worry about becoming more disposable with age? That the network assheads will ultimately go for the perky 22-year-old with the fake blonde hair?

B.B.: “Disposable?” Now I feel like a diaper. Awesome.

Yeah. The hire younger/hotter/cheaper/less talented thing exists in some shops. But where does worrying about it get you? Worrying doesn’t solve anything. Worrying doesn’t address the issue. All worrying does is suck the energy out of you. And cause wrinkles.

I just think energy can be more constructively channeled developing your Plan B, which is what I’m doing at Campus Insiders. I’m not just on-camera, but behind the camera. And the great thing about the executive world? There’s no age discrimination. It’s an asset to be … seasoned! (A much more palatable descriptor than “disposable,” thank you) I get to tap my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. Leverage my on-air portfolio, content expertise, and relationships in the corporate world to help build a business. It’s ridiculously energizing. And working with incredible people has sweetened the pot even more.

I think, too, it’s incumbent upon each of us—and this really isn’t gender specific—to explore our other passions, and you can obviously do that concurrent with your job or in its afterlife. I’ve always said at some point,  I’d love to return to my music. I started playing piano at age five. Writing music a few years later. Played in four bands in high school (“So, like, this one time … in band camp …” that was me with my tenor sax). I love Broadway and the arts. And I’m building my philanthropic platforms on childhood obesity and DVT awareness. I’m not defined by my job. I love it, but I’m resourceful enough to feel I’ll always be able to find something to do. And get paid to do it. Hopefully.

J.P.: Soup to nuts, how do you work a Super Bowl? What I mean is, do you enjoy the experience? What’s your intensity like? And how do you avoid the seas of nonsense to report real, actual, detailed stories and information?

B.B.: From a game prep standpoint, Super Bowl really isn’t all that different from a regular season game. Read all the articles from each team’s local papers and the national columns. Study the pertinent stats. Aggregate the top tidbits from myriad interviews with players and coaches. Scribble all the potential storylines into a notebook. It can reach overkill with two weeks between conference championships and the grand finale, but at some point, you can’t absorb any more information and you go into the game with a knowledge-is-power sense of calm.

Like the players say: once the ball’s snapped, it’s just another game. But post-game? Insanity. As a sideline reporter, when that clock expires, you’re sprinting into a sea of confetti, trying to navigate players’ and coaches’ families and the media horde to nab guys on the fly. I have literally shoved (forcefully) other reporters out of the way, knowing the booth announcers are vamping until I yell to my producer  “I’ve got so-and-so!” and he gives the command to throw it down to me. It’s a complete unmitigated fiasco. That said, there are few things in life I’ve experienced that mimic the adrenaline rush of athletic competition. Super Bowl post-game fits the bill.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 12.22.30 AMJ.P.: On October 11, 2006, you were diagnosed with life-threatening blood clots in both of your lungs. Bonnie, how did this happen? Like, what was the lead-up, when did you realize something was wrong, and when did you realize, “I might not survive this?” What, at age 36, was that like? The experience? And how did it change you?

B.B.: I’d just moved from CBS back to ESPN in 2006 and was working college football sideline Saturday, then dugout duty for Sunday Night Baseball. The upper part of my left leg was bugging me, but in typical athlete fashion, I iced it, stretched, took ibuprofen and waited for it to go away.

A week later, it hadn’t gone away. I was in Dallas covering the Texas-Oklahoma Red River Rivalry and my entire leg was throbbing. After the game, as the crew raced to our cars to hit the airport, I started having trouble breathing. By the time I boarded the plane, I knew I was dealing much more than a muscle pull.

I was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis and bi-lateral pulmonary emboli. Translation: a blood clot the full length of my leg that broke off and infiltrated both of my lungs. When the doc came to my room, he said, “I’m not sure how you’re still alive. The only thing I can think of is that you’re in great shape.”

Great. So I have a six-pack, but I’m practically dead. And that’s what upset me more than anything. I try to stay in decent shape and eat pretty well despite the demands of the job and, yet, it didn’t matter. I had several risk factors, including a family history of clots and frequent plane trips where my legs were bent for long periods. I was immediately admitted to the hospital and put on a blood-thinning IV. No flying for three weeks. I eventually moved off sideline and into the studio to reduce my travel schedule.

Has it changed me? Without question. Work, to that point, had always been the center of my universe. I constantly put my personal life on the backburner. Missed holidays, birthdays, weddings, important days in the lives of people I love. Don’t get me wrong—I still work really hard, but I’m not afraid to ask for time off to unwind, enjoy my life and share those special days.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 12.23.15 AMJ.P.: Along those lines, do you fear death? This is sorta random, I admit. But I often live in fear of dying; of my mortality and the certainty of eternal nothingness. Did you experience impact this at all? Can you think of nothingness and be OK with the idea? Or do all Jews go to heaven (please)?

B.B.: Of course all Jews go to heaven, Bubala…

(I don’t know what else to do right know other than channel my dead grandmothers. Hope that helps.)

I don’t fear dying, necessarily, as much as I fear developing another clot. The long-term psychosomatic issues have been kinda tedious. If I’m grinding at work and don’t have time to work out for several days and feel any sort of pain or throbbing in my leg or calf, I start worrying it’s back. Totally messes with your head. I don’t wanna go running to the doctor every time my leg hurts, but I also have to recognize once you’ve been diagnosed, the chance of recurrence exists.

That said, I really do believe everything happens for a reason. And I believe the reason I survived is to raise awareness about DVT/PE.  It’s a condition that kills more Americans each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined, but it’s largely preventable. So, you, reading this: please do me a favor and click here to do a simple risk assessment test. If you have three or more risk factors, call your doctor immediately. Blood clots don’t just afflict the elderly. Trust me. I know. Thanks for listening.

J.P.: I recently took my son to a water park, and was blown away by A. The insane obesity; B. The insane fried food gorged upon by the obese people. You’ve made childhood obesity a major cause of yours. Is there any real fixing this problem? If so, how?

B.B.: Well, the obesity rates are starting to come down a little, so that’s encouraging. I think we’re finally at a point as a country where we recognize how severe a health crisis we have on our hands and how costly by-products of obesity such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease can be. I like to focus on the kids for two reasons: A) It breaks my heart to see children being bullied about their weight; B) If we can teach kids at an early age that exercise can be fun and good foods don’t necessarily taste “gross,” they’ll develop healthy lifestyle habits they take with them through life.

But it’s so important for parents to set the example and not send mixed messages by loading the fridge with junk while schools are providing nutritious meals. And I’d love the “portion control” discussion to be louder. I have chocolate every single day. But I have a little piece. Not a whole candy bar. Portion size is out of control in this country and while Mexico just surpassed the US as the most obese nation in the world, we’re not lagging far behind.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 12.31.22 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH BONNIE BERNSTEIN:

• Five reasons to make Howell, N.J. one’s next vacation destination?: My family lives there. And they’re awesome. And my mom’s an incredible cook. It’s 25 minutes from the Shore. Close enough to get to the beach; far enough that you probably won’t run into Snooky. Repeat answer No. 1 three more times

• Ever thought you were about to die in a place crash? If so, what do you recall?: White knuckling on a prop plane in bad weather to Blacksburg for a piece on Virginia Tech’s lunch pail defense. Pail on the plane woulda come in handy …

• I thought about attending Maryland. I picked Delaware instead. Why did I make a mistake?: I’ll spare you the Blue Hen jokes. Because I care.

• In 45 words of less, your most embarrassing moment from your career?: Pretty self-deprecating, so don’t embarrass easily. I beat myself up for mispronouncing one word in a three hour live broadcast. But that probably doesn’t count (Nineteen words left. Ha!)

• Would you rather marry John Rocker or spend the next 15 years working as the beat writer for Tulsa’s leading supermarket trade magazine?: “Multiple sources confirm a major spill in Aisle 5 at the Collinsville Piggly Wiggly…”

• Rank in order (favorite to least): B&G Pickles, Shea Seals, New Edition, Don McPherson, Cher, Jimmy Connors, Lo-Bak Trax, Joe Posnanski, crushed pineapple, Six Flags, ear wax, Shea Stadium, Marshall’s, my mother (Joan Pearlman): Your mom. Duh; Shea (who did orange seats better than that place?); Six Flags; Crushed Pineapple; B&G Pickles (Kosher Dill, please.); New Edition (“Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike…”); Don McPherson; Cher; Jimmy Connors; Joe Posnanski; Shea Seals; Marshall’s; Lo-Bak Trax; Ear Wax.

• Five nicest athletes you’ve ever covered: Chad Pennington, Jerome Bettis, Robin Ventura, Cal Ripken, Steve Kerr/Jud Buechler (I count Steve and Jud as one, because they were attached at the hip)

• Three memories from your Bat Mitzvah (if you didn’t have one, we’ll take the senior prom): No Bat Mitzvah (long story, it’ll be in the book …). Senior prom, I blew out my ankle in gymnastics a couple weeks before and was in a cast. I spray painted my cast black to match my dress, wrapped black velvet around my crutches and bedazzled them with rhinestones before “bedazzling” was ever cool. It was a hit!

• Do you think Dottie Hinson intentionally dropped the ball in the final scene of A League of Their Own?: 100% yes. There was nothing Dottie loved more than baseball. And that’s why she was so competitive with Kit. But once she realized how badly her sister wanted the win, something kicked in. And family took precedence over the glory of the game. To me, that moment added real depth to her character.