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John Middlekauff Isn’t Screwing Around

“I think any time that I’ve ever had the opportunity to be around someone really successful, it was less about getting their words.”

Brian Noe

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The 3 and Out with John Middlekauff podcast has been acquired by Colin Cowherd’s network The Volume. Cowherd’s programming approach is “same sports, different angles.” I typically watch games while standing on my head, but I digress. This isn’t about me; this interview is about the former NFL scout, turned terrestrial radio host, turned podcasting stud. If you want different angles, Middlekauff’s got ‘em thanks to his time in the league. It doesn’t hurt that the Davis, California native is also smart, experienced, and unapologetically opinionated.

Some huge names have had a powerful impact on Middlekauff’s career. You can’t do much better than working with Andy Reid in football and Cowherd in broadcasting. In our chat below, the Cal Poly graduate makes an interesting point that the best advice he’s received was never spoken. Middlekauff talks about how he gauges success in podcasting and the most challenging role of his career. There is also a nod to his Bay Area radio days with Guy Haberman and Jason Barrett as well as some rapid-fire NFL gems. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What was it about Cowherd’s network that convinced you it was the right place for your podcast?

John Middlekauff: I’ve been with Colin since the inception of this podcast on his other network. He’s the best in the business. Any time that a guy like that believes in you and helps you start something and is behind you, I don’t think you can ask for anything more. If Colin says let’s do this, I’m doing it. It’s not a complicated strategy. I just follow Colin’s lead to wherever he’s headed and I’ll be right behind him

BN: What are the things in the podcasting space that appeal to you more than terrestrial radio?

JM: I’ve been doing it now for five years. I worked in terrestrial radio for about three. I would say the things that I like, one, you’re coming for me. If you’re listening to the show, you are seeking me out. A lot of radio shows — now the big ones, you’re going for Colin — but most radio shows if you’re on the station, you might just end up on a show. You may like the guy, you may not, but you’re just stuck. Where in podcasting if you’re listening — it’s why a small percentage of podcasts are making a lot of money — people seek them.

The other thing is for me in radio, you’re partners with teams because you have to be in the big markets. It can be dicey for me. I’m someone that does not hold back. I don’t give a f*** what other people think. I’m not just trying to make things up but the team’s get very sensitive in my experience.

Now I was dealing with the second-rate teams in the area. I can understand dealing with the Yankees, the Cowboys, the San Francisco Giants, the 49ers — I get there’s a balance because they generate a lot of money for you. But the teams I was dealing with were struggling. They got so sensitive. Especially the football team was losing so much. It became very stressful. I’m paid to talk and be authentic. That’s one thing in the podcast space I can truly say whatever I want. I enjoy it a lot personally.

BN: In radio, the report card is the ratings book. What’s the metric in podcasting you look at to gauge success?

JM: Revenue. As long as we’re making money and growing, I feel good about it. I always thought the ratings thing in radio, it’s just made up. It’s based on a couple of meters. I think it’s a sham. You have no clue how many people are listening. Absolutely none. I live in a market with eight million people and it’s based on like 10 meters? It’s insane. If 1.5 million people listen to me in a given month, that’s actual people listening.

One time we had Terrell Owens on when I was working for Jason Barrett in radio. He was still a really big deal. The 20-minute interview did like a 30 share. Our show was number one in the market that month. That was a really big deal for the station. We were all fired up. But the next month we’re doing a sweet show, big guests, and we were maybe like fourth. You’re just playing these games with these meters. I don’t have to play any games with meters now. That’s a major, major difference. There’s no manipulation of it.

Nielsen Walks The Walk by Increasing PPM Sample Size | Paragon Media  Strategies
Courtesy: Neilsen



BN: Yeah, it matters but it’s so goofy. It’s like stoppage time in soccer where it’s not precise. It’s just ehh, we’re kind of making stuff up as we go along. And you live and die by that. It’s crazy.

JM: It’s wild. It’s like you can control it but you feel like you have no control over it. And then all of a sudden you’re like oh a meter left, and now he doesn’t listen to you anymore. So you just dropped like two points, but you’re like I think our show is better than it was two months ago and now we’re getting our ass kicked. What is going on? That’s the difference in podcasting, again at the higher levels.

This is my business. This is not a passion project for me. This is what I do to pay the bills. There’s no screwing around here. You have that mindset in radio; you approach it like a real job. It’s very serious. I think it helps since leaving you just maintain that mindset and treat it the same even though the meter and the ratings do not exist. That’s a major pressure relieved from your shoulders. You don’t even have to think about it. You got to get people to listen. You got to keep growing. But to me it’s easier to do that than it is to add an extra meter out there and you don’t even know the human or what he even likes.

BN: The knock among industry folks is that podcasting is harder to monetize. What has been your experience as far as that goes?

JM: Yeah, no issues. It was hard at first I’d say three or four years ago. But in 2021, I’ve had a lot of success monetizing. The two podcasts I’m a part of definitely generate revenue. I know that. I’d say the other difference is, as a radio host you don’t get to own the show. As a podcast you potentially get the ability to own your show or be a partner in your show and own the revenue coming in. That’s just something that’s a little different.

Now I would say one major difference is like you said the knock that a lot of podcasts can’t make money. It’s harder to generate; it is more of a hustle. But I’d say most businesses are a little bit of hustle at the ground floor. I argue that terrestrial radio is getting more and more segmented and splitting up. TV stations are cutting budgets. That’s the one thing in the digital space where they’re adding. A company like The Volume; they’re going to try to grow where some of the old-school television shows or a terrestrial radio station, they’re cutting. It’s going to be hard for them to ever add again. They’re probably not going to come back.

BN: When you think about your entire career — we’re talking scouting, radio, podcasting — what do you think has been your biggest break?

JM: It’s probably not one. There are so many influential people that changed my life. I’d say Pat Hill changed my life. Andy Reid changed my life. Once I transitioned into media I could just say I worked for Andy Reid and Howie Roseman. I would say without Guy Haberman I never would’ve gotten into radio. Who knows? Maybe I’d be selling insurance now. And then with Colin, he’s changed my life. It’s just individuals that believe in you, take a chance on you, and then once you’re able to associate with them, they are high-level, well-respected people in their business. Andy is one of the best coaches. Colin’s one of the best ever. Those two guys alone, it changed my life for sure.

I’d say there are always seminal moments. There’s nothing like your parents. Without them none of this is possible. But then once you become an adult you meet different people that can take you on paths that you didn’t know. If you asked me 10 years ago would I be sitting here talking to you, who knows? I get a lot of questions like where do you see yourself in five years? Well, I think that question was a lot easier to answer in like 1996. The world changes at rapid speed. I don’t f***in’ know what’s going to be around. [Laughs] Who knows? I think in this profession it’s borderline impossible to answer.

BN: What’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten from the who’s who of people you’ve worked with?

JM: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily like individual advice. I would just be able to say watching their actions. The way they operated. The way they conducted themselves. Starting with Pat Hill and Andy just how friendly and nice, how much ownership they took in everything, and just the way they conducted themselves. Then when you meet all these other famous people that know them and how they revere those guys, it’s just like well I can see why.

Being around Colin, I remember a couple of years ago at the Super Bowl, just the way he treats his staff. He’s probably one of the more famous people I know. You see some of these stories about Hollywood people and you’re like God; he’s the complete opposite. He’s incredible. He really is a unique, authentic individual. It was the way I was raised; treat people well, do the right thing. And if you’re talented hopefully the cream will rise. That’s really something I kind of think about more than any individual advice like get into the break fast or that type of stuff. [Laughs] I don’t really think about that as much.

BN: It reminds me of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Favre didn’t have to say hey, do this and look out for that. But being around a guy like that is helpful. Is that similar to your experience?

JM: I think any time that I’ve ever had the opportunity to be around someone really successful, it was less about getting their words. Because again as an individual it’s hard to just take something someone’s said, but if you can just emulate the things that they do and the way that they treat people if they do it the correct way, I think that is a game-changer in life.

BN: What has been the most challenging role and the most enjoyable role you’ve had throughout your career?

JM: I would say the challenging role was my first year when I got to the NFL. It was just hard. There were just a lot of things going on. You’re fighting for your professional life. You’re basically on a one-year $20,000 contract, just the lowest guy on the totem pole. You’re doing all of these — looking back — trivial tasks, but at the time you feel like I got to pick this player up at the airport. I’ve got to get sandwiches for the coaches. You just feel pressure with everything you’re doing even if it gets up to oh, they’re letting me evaluate some players. That was just really, really intense. Just the pressure obviously going to Philadelphia, it was crazy. But it was good crazy. It was hard, there’s no doubt about it.

John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) | Twitter

I would say doing podcasts now. The impact and seeing people that enjoy it, it’s definitely cool. Some of the sports media stuff can bore me. Just doing your go-to stuff. The clickbait.

I’m going to talk about what I want to talk about. I’m not going to talk about offensive linemen. I’m going to talk about the quarterbacks and the coaches. I’ve got a pretty good idea. I think like a fan. I’m not worried about the practice squad because that stuff kind of bored me when I was in the NFL, but you had to be really focused on it. So I just enjoy doing shows and having people like it.

BN: I’m just curious, man, if you break down your time scouting in the league year by year, what was that timeline for you?

JM: I was with Fresno State for two years. Then I was with the Eagles for three years. Andy got fired my third year. That’s when Chip Kelly came in. At the draft I got let go. I was probably 28. I didn’t know that many people in the league. So I didn’t really know what to do. I tried to get on some other places and I didn’t. It was like should I try to move somewhere? My third year I was able to work on the West Coast for the Eagles for college. I lived in San Francisco. I got to come back west. I was like I don’t really want to move. I want to do my own thing. That’s when Guy had just gotten hired by JB. I got lucky there. If he hadn’t been there who knows? I don’t know what I would have done.

I wasn’t dead set. I think a lot of people — that’s all they were going to do. Being in the NFL, I think that’s the way it is with the NBA, with baseball, these guys are just driven. They’re junkies. I don’t like football that much. I want to go play golf. I have other interests in business and other stuff that I do. There are other things that I want to do and I enjoy watching other sports. You don’t really have time for that sometimes depending on the time of the year. It’s just football in this bubble. It’s crazy.

I’m able to do it now on a much, much lower level than eat, breathe, sleep it 24/7, 365. There are so many players in the league. It takes a lot of time to master the league. And then even once you do, just to keep up and maintain it, it takes a lot of energy. It’s always moving. All of these coaches. I think a lot of fans say I would love to do that. It sounds good in theory and then you find out you make probably way less than you would make doing your job and the hours are insane. Again it’s the football 24/7, 365.

BN: With Guy in San Francisco, how did it come to be where you ended up on a show together?

JM: I think over the summer maybe in July or early August of 2013, he’s hosting the night show and doing the A’s postgame. He’s like bro, come in. Just come in for 30 minutes, you’re an NFL scout, we’ll talk Raiders, Niners, and just around the league. I think I did it a couple of times and JB was a legit boss. I would imagine most bosses around the country ain’t listening to some of the guests that come on the night show, but he was newer and putting the station together. It might have been the first time I went in, Guy hits me up a few days later and was like hey, my boss at the station just heard you and he’s going to reach out. He wanted me to become a part of the station on just like a random contributor type thing. It really all started because Guy had me on for 30 minutes, JB listened, liked it, and it kind of went from there.

BN: I’ve got a couple of rapid-fire NFL questions. What’s the storyline you’re most fascinated by heading into the season?

JM: I’m biased but it’s got to be the 49ers quarterback situation. Maybe just all the rookie quarterbacks. There are five guys drafted in the top 15. With five quarterbacks drafted that high, it’s going to be fun to watch. I’m excited.

BN: Is there anything that’s talked about a decent amount heading into the season that you don’t find very interesting? 

JM: That’s a good question. The Deshaun Watson thing has started to bore me a little bit. Just suspend the guy, trade the guy; how long are we going to go on? It feels like it’s not going away because who’s going to trade for him right now. That story is getting exhausting. People just keep acting like he’s tradable. He’s not tradable until we get some clarity on the legal stuff. He’s no longer just Deshaun Watson 2020. He’s got some off-the-field issues that are kind of a big deal right now.

BN: Do you have a best bet for the season?

JM: I like Matt Stafford or Josh Allen to win MVP. I’d probably lean Josh Allen MVP. He might have a sweet season. He might just be unreal.

BN: What are you most bullish about in terms of a team exceeding expectations or being a disappointment?

JM: I think the Patriots are going to be good. Belichick’s just coming off a bad season. You got Mac Jones. They got all of these guys back on defense. Last year’s team sucked and they went 7-9. Jon Gruden, year four, I just think they’re not going to be good. Six, seven wins for $10 million a year. I think that place has a chance to be a disaster.

BN: Who do you think is the best color analyst in the NFL right now?

JM: I enjoy Tony Romo. I just enjoy his energy. I know some people think he’s cheesy or whatever but there are so many analysts that are awful. Let’s face it; there are a lot of broadcasters that are just terrible. You just mute them. Just f***ing throw on some music. It’s bad.

Most national broadcasts in 2021 — maybe it was different 15 years ago, it felt like it was good — it just doesn’t feel like it’s that good anymore. There are so many players, so many injuries, so many moving parts. That’s a tough job for the analysts. I’m not saying it’s easy. So even the guys that suck, it’s hard. I wouldn’t want to do it.

BN: By the way, I get a little bit of a Philip Rivers vibe from you. Just in terms of your energy and cadence.

JM: I appreciate that.

BN: You curse. Phil doesn’t. Other than twang and cursing, I sense some Phil.

Philip Rivers' energy after his first win as a head coach is as infectious  as you'd expect | This is the Loop | Golf Digest
Courtesy: Golf Digest



JM: No children yet.

BN: [Laughs] Maybe there are like nine on the way for you.

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Jen Lada Has Built a Multiplatform Presence at ESPN

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about.”

Derek Futterman

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Jen Lada
Courtesy: Phil Ellsworth, ESPN Images

When Jen Lada appeared on Around the Horn earlier in the month, she became the 58th panelist to be part of the program since its launch in 2002. Facing off against three other panelists from around the country, she garnered a victory in her on-air debut and elicited plaudits from her colleagues. Throughout the program, Lada demonstrated her deft sports knowledge and nuanced opinions that have crafted her into a venerated, skilled reporter at the network.

Although she had appeared on many ESPN programs previously, Around the Horn represented a show to which she wanted to contribute for many years. In fact, she has memories of watching the show just out of Marquette University and remarking about its brilliance and ingenuity.

Utilizing reporters with comprehensive knowledge of various sports who have chronicled several events, the show provides them an opportunity to give their opinions on issues and engage in debate with their contemporaries. Lada earned a spot on the show by being persistent, continuing to express her proficiency in commentary and sports discussion. The journey to arrive at this stage of her career, through which she has realized high-level assignments and a presence both at the local and national level, required adaptability and fortitude, and she continues to never take opportunities for granted.

“It’s great that I won, but it just sets the bar really high for the next time I go out there, which is not something I’m afraid of,” Lada said. “I love a challenge, and I love proving to myself that I can keep trying new things and doing new things well, and I hope that if people see me as some sort of example in the industry, that that’s what they walk away with.”

The approach adopted by Lada within her multifarious career ventures is to develop and maintain versatility, always innovating within her approach to content. As she looks to build off her initial victory on Around the Horn, she aims to be more compendious in her discourse and applying a more succinct approach. Making the adjustment in order to deliver compelling, distinctive points quickly differs from her other work, but it is all ultimately centered on sports.

While studying at Marquette University, she observed her classmates having a conversation about the men’s basketball team and what had happened in a recent game. Lada, who at the time was dating a player on the team and cheerleading at games, began to give her thoughts and was subsequently asked if she had ever considered sportscasting.

“I didn’t know that women could be sportscasters,” Lada said. “It wasn’t on my radar as a real career that women held because there were so few of them at the time doing it, and so once I realized that that was something I could do, then I kind of turned all my attention to, ‘Well, how do I make this happen?’”

As Lada began to complete internships and navigate through the media industry, she learned to develop a thick skin and refined her conduct. Out of school, she had completed a year of a non-paid sports internship and was waitressing on the side to pay the bills. The first interview she took for a job at a television station in a top-10 market ended with her being sexually harassed. It was a jarring experience that disappointed Lada because of her propensity to give people the benefit of the doubt, and it also forced her to evaluate her own disposition.

“I think it’s only natural that you wonder how you contributed to the circumstance or what you could have done differently to maybe not put yourself in that space,” Lada said, “but I was very lucky that when I told my family about what had occurred, they very quickly knocked any notion of that out of my head.”

In navigating the industry with good intentions, Lada recognized that it is not her fault if other people fail at treating others professionally and create a misogynistic work environment. Receiving the lesson early in her career has made her more aware of the people to avoid, and she remains wary of advice given to women in the industry that they should just be nice. Lada was recently on a panel where someone advised a broadcast class that being nice would result in things working out for them in the future.

“I felt myself cringing internally because I don’t think that that is a luxury women are afforded,” Lada said. “I don’t think – maybe now is different, but when I was coming up, and I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, there were people who preyed on niceness. And so the way that I would tweak that is to be professional; to carry yourself in a professional manner and recognize that sometimes being ‘traditionally nice’ puts a target on your back to be mistreated, and the best thing you can do is alert those people who would see you as a target that you’re not going to fall victim to that or you refuse to be victim to that.”

Lada joined ESPN in 2015 where she was hired to contribute to Colin Cowherd’s radio program. When Cowherd left the network and joined FOX Sports on a full-time basis, she started co-hosting a new, national program alongside Jorge Sedano. The show, however, had an evanescent run and left her feeling as if she had failed.

It took her a full year to recognize that she had been involved in a series of circumstances and decided to enact the necessary change, asking producers for advice and attending seminars. One of these was an interviewing course hosted by journalist John Sawatsky where he synthesized the art of the craft. Akin to when she was in college, she overheard in passing that the network needed more women in the features space.

“I was fortunate enough to have done a lot of features during my time in Milwaukee because we had a 9 p.m. newscast that required a local sports feature every night of the week, so between our three-person department, we had to fill that timeslot,” Lada said. “I had done a lot of lengthy sports features in Milwaukee [and] had a good foundation of what that job required.”

The meeting led to Lada doing features on an interim basis at the network and later granted her a spot on College GameDay, where she works as its features reporter. Lada presents stories every week to the audience that go beyond the gameplay and divulge a bigger picture.

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about,” Lada said. “One of the things that has occurred to me over the last few years is just what a skill is required to do that job well because not only are you preparing questions to ensure that you have all of the details and information, you’re also gathering perspective on what they’ve been through – the adversity and the situation that has led them to where they are now.”

Lada recently found herself in a high school classroom at 8 a.m. sitting with other students taking the ACT standardized test. She had to complete the exam as punishment for finishing last in fantasy football at ESPN Milwaukee this past season. After four hours, Lada emerged from the school and revealed her score this past week on the Jen, Gabe, and Chewy morning show. Hosting the local program alongside Gabe Neitzel and Mark Chmura, she has established chemistry over almost four years in the three-person format discussing hyperlocal topics.

“I try to be conversational,” Lada said. “We don’t lean on stats – obviously, we want to be accurate, and we want to be, again, fair to the subjects we’re talking about, but we try to also just be friends who are talking about what’s going on on any given day on the Milwaukee [and] Wisconsin sports scene.”

In balancing a variety of different roles, Lada has tried to master everything that she is doing, refraining from being content with her abilities. Although working in local radio regularly has been a newer role for her, she has grown into the job and has co-hosts who understand the subject matter and allow her to utilize her strengths.

“I just want to keep learning,” Lada said. “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done, [and] I’m not complacent about the skills I have. I’m always interested in adding more jobs to the résumé, and I think that in this industry, you’re rewarded for versatility.”

Once College GameDay commences, Lada adds the responsibility of feature reporting on that program to her schedule and continues making appearances across additional ESPN programming. Lada hosted the Friday edition of College Football Live last season and has also filled in as a host on shows such as First Take and SportsCenter. Moreover, she continues to complete projects for SC Featured and is working on a documentary for E:60 scheduled to premiere later in the summer. 

Lada aims to keep showcasing her indefatigable work ethic and passion for the craft without slowing down. Whether it is hosting a podcast, taking part in more panels or writing essays, she is open to exploring new forms of disseminating stories.

“I have a lot of knowledge and experience rattling around my brain, [and] I think the next iteration is figuring out a way to continue passing those experiences on to the next generation.” Lada said. “I don’t ever want to gatekeep the secrets of success – I think that’s selfish – so as I continue to do the media work, I think the next phase for me is figuring out how to pass a lot of these lessons on to future broadcasting generations.”

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Local Radio Advertisers Can Become Experts with Hosted Shows and Interviews

Overall, local radio interviews and talk shows can be a strategic and effective way for a local expert to enhance their business, build their reputation, and connect with the community.

Jeff Caves

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Photo of people talking on the radio

When looking for that extra edge for local radio advertisers, packaging radio commercials with an “expert” client-hosted talk show or interviews on your local shows or newscasts can be a game-changer. This strategy can build long-term business relationships with suitable clients, such as lawyers, business accountants, agents, psychologists, or sports handicappers. These professionals can provide valuable editorial contributions to sports and news stations. Of course, the expert must have good communication skills, be comfortable speaking their mind, and be ready to be the face of the business.

The radio commercials can tout the expertise the person has and give a call to action for listeners to move on. You can often find these experts on social media writing blogs or doing a series of vignettes about their business. For these types of clients, engaging in local radio news interviews or hosting a 1-2 hour talk show can enjoy several advantages:

Visibility and Brand Recognition

Visibility and Brand Recognition: Regular appearances on local radio help the expert become a well-known figure in the community. This visibility can lead to increased recognition and brand awareness and is a much faster track than just blogging on social media. Attorney Bill Handel and his ” Handel on the Law” show have created a directory business for Handel.

Public Trust and Credibility

By sharing their expertise and providing timely insights, the expert can build trust and establish credibility with the audience. Being perceived as an expert can enhance any client’s reputation and create top-of-mind awareness needed to lead business categories.

Client Acquisition

Listeners impressed by the expert’s knowledge and demeanor may seek their services. This exposure can lead to new clients who might not have been reached through other forms of advertising and give credibility to the expert who uses social media.

Community Engagement

Engaging with the local community through radio shows helps experts connect with potential clients more personally. This can foster a sense of community and loyalty. Question and answer segments can lead to deeper connections.

Educational Outreach

The expert can educate the audience on various issues, which can empower the audience. An informed audience is more likely to recognize when they need the expert’s assistance and whom to contact.

Stand Out in a Crowd

Stand out in a crowd: Being active on local radio can set the expert apart from competitors who may not use local radio. Often, the local shows or interview segments are exclusive to the expert.

Immediate Audience Feedback

Interacting with the audience through call-ins or live questions provides immediate feedback and allows the expert to address common concerns directly in real-time. The expert can be of service NOW.

Professional Development

Regularly discussing current topics can keep the expert sharp on trends and issues, contributing to their ongoing professional development.

Networking

Local radio stations often have a vast network of listeners and other professionals. This can open doors to new professional relationships and opportunities for collaboration. The station also provides a loyal audience who typically don’t follow the expert on social media. But they may start to after hearing the expert.

Overall, local radio interviews and talk shows can be a strategic and effective way for a local expert to enhance their business, build their reputation, and connect with the community.

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‘We Need To Talk’ is Insightful, Intelligent Conversation on CBS Sports Network

The show is not going to be a ratings giant like ESPN’s First Take or offer the decibel level of commentary on FS1’s First Things First, but it is a necessary and unique slice of sports television.

John Molori

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A photo of the women who host We Need to Talk on CBS Sports Network
Photo Courtesy: CBS Sports Network

CBS Sports Network’s ‘We Need To Talk‘ features a rotating roundtable of female sportscasters offering their views on a variety of topics in sports. The premise is important. Female voices in sports need to be heard. They bring perspective, weighty conversation, and thoughtfulness to each discussion.

Over the past few years, women have made major strides in being heard and seen in sports media whether it is hosting, commentary, reporting or play-by-play. This is a good trend, but We Need To Talk is about more than just female talking heads. It’s about insight, depth, and needed attention to athletes and sports that do not bask in the mainstream limelight.

This particular episode featured host AJ Ross joined by Summer Sanders, Katrina Adams, and Renee Montgomery. It was an eclectic and accomplished group with Ross, an experienced and versatile reporter, Sanders, the erstwhile U.S. Swimming star and a broadcast veteran, Montgomery, the former WNBA star, activist, and co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, and Adams, former tennis player, CEO of the United States Tennis Association, and chair of the US Open.

Montgomery got the conversation going looking back on the Celtics winning the NBA Championship. She also made a telling comparison between the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, renewed in the 1980s with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and compared it to the current WNBA rivalry between the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky with Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. It’s a valid comparison, and Montgomery brought it to life effectively.

The WNBA was up next with Montgomery talking about Cameron Brink, the LA Sparks’ rookie who is making a splash not only on the court, but on the social media and fashion scenes as well.

It should be noted that this episode of We Need To Talk was taped before Brink suffered a season ending torn ACL, but Montgomery’s point was clear. It is not only important to be a great player. Today’s athletes also need to use multimedia platforms to raise their profiles.

Adams segued into a discussion on Wimbledon and No. 2 ranked Coco Gauff. It was good to hear some tennis talk on the airwaves, but this is a hallmark of We Need To Talk. The show makes it a point to move beyond the front-page stories and hit angles and areas that do not get much coverage.

These ladies are not afraid to get in each other’s grills as well. Sanders actually interrupted Adams to start a discussion about the upcoming Paris Olympics, but Adams would not relent and moved forward to an analysis of 2023 Wimbledon men’s singles winner Carlos Alcaraz.

The variety of sports continued with Ross starting a discussion about US track star Sha’Carri Richardson. I’ve been a fan of Ross for a long time. She does an expert job of mixing in her own commentary, while making sure all of the panelists on We Need To Talk get their due time. She’s also multitalented, seamlessly moving from reporter to host to debater.

We Need To Talk takes its roots in diversity with an all-female cast, but there is a deeper variety within the makeup of the cast. Sanders is a longtime veteran of sports, sports broadcasting, and entertainment. Ross is in the prime of her journalistic career. Adams brings perspective as an athlete, administrator, and leader, and Montgomery offers a fresh and contemporary style with her commentary.

Block 2 of the show featured Montgomery and Ross interviewing Naomi Girma of the San Diego Wave women’s professional soccer team. Girma was named 2023 US Soccer Women’s Player of the Year, the first defender to ever win that award. This is what We Need To Talk offers those who watch the show. It is almost like a smaller scale, studio version of the classic Wide World of Sports on ABC, “spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport.”

The interview was managed well with Ross asking meaningful questions and Montgomery enthusiastically following up with her thoughts and input. This edition of the program also featured a wonderfully produced feature story on USC basketball player Aaliyah Gayles.

The talented Trojan hoopster was on the fast track to basketball stardom when, in April 2022, she was shot at a house party in Las Vegas. Gayles required two emergency surgeries to save her life.

The pace, video, and sound bites in the package were equal parts frightening, sobering, and uplifting. Gayles literally had to learn how to walk again as the feature focused on her rehabilitation and eventual return to the USC lineup.

Coming back from a break, the panel engaged in a great discussion on the talent link between collegiate and US Olympic athletes. A graphic showed that 75% of Team USA athletes and 82% of United States medalists played an NCAA sport.

As the discussion expanded, Montgomery talked about the fact that in order to enter the WNBA, players have to complete four years of college or be of the age of someone who has completed four years of college. I actually did not know that. We Need To Talk passes my personal litmus test for important sports television, namely, it tells me something I don’t already know.

Bringing still another sport and recognizable female athlete into the fold, Dara Torres joined the show next for an interview. The 12-time Olympic swimming medalist talked about her new role as head coach of the Boston College men’s and women’s swim and dive teams. Sanders asked a solid question about how, as a world-class athlete, Torres will manage her expectations of the BC athletes.

 As sports continues to meld with social issues, so too does the subject matter on We Need To Talk. Ross introduced a segment on the National Gay Flag Football League. Again, kudos go to the show’s production team for a slick and enlightening feature story. Praise should also go to the program itself for expanding the boundaries of sports and opening up a whole new world of knowledge for viewers.

Following the feature story, Montgomery and Adams made a point that sports unite people and bring diverse groups and personalities together as one. Montgomery is a fast-developing on-air talent. Her wit, energy, and knowledge go far beyond the basketball court making her a rising star in sports media.

The program continued to bring sports and life together by connecting the June celebrations of Pride Month and Father’s Day with an emotional poem written by renowned DJ Zeke Thomas, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. This was part of the We Need to Listen segment of the program.

Let’s keep it real. We Need To Talk is not going to be a ratings giant like ESPN’s First Take or offer the decibel level of commentary on FS1’s First Things First, but it is a necessary and unique slice of sports television.

The show consistently provides uncommon subject matter with an inimitable approach and tenor. Check it out when you get a chance and bring an open mind and a joy of sports. They need to talk, and we all need to hear them talk.

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