In honor of International Women’s Day I spoke with Kristine Leahy, the host of Fair Game on FOX. On her show, Kristine interviews the biggest names in sports and entertainment and she was kind enough to share some of her interviewing tips with me as well as her advice for women in sports and her thoughts on the changing landscape of sports media.
Jay: Kristine, today is International Women’s Day and you’ve done incredible things during your career in sports. I’d love to hear your advice to other women looking to achieve success. What advice would you give to other women who are just starting out in their careers?
Kristine: My advice is to figure out what your passion is as early as possible. Find what you truly love and then study like crazy. When I was in college, I used to get really excited when it was spring break because everyone would leave and that would mean that I would have the entire editing bay to myself every day for a week — I just loved that. I loved the editing process and, yes, I wanted to be in front of the camera, but I knew that behind the camera was just as important. I chose something that I love. If you want to be truly successful, the truth is that, you’re going to spend a lot of time working and not just a 9-5. You’re going to have to be passionate and working crazy hours and weekends. So, make sure that it’s something that you’re OK with dedicating that kind of time to so you can be the best that you possibly can at that job. I also think that networking is so important. Almost every job I’ve ever gotten was not because I saw it on a website or a career builder or a recruiter, but it was because I knew someone, or I knew about an opening, or someone knew about me. So, network like crazy. Make sure to ask advice from people that you admire. I always say this, it’s small, but it’s a huge thing: Say thank you.
My advice for women specifically is that, for women there’s this sense of, we have to be nice. I don’t stand by that because you would never tell a man to be nice. When women are aggressive a lot of times they’re labelled as a bitch, yet, if a man’s aggressive, he’s just doing the right thing. I think that women need to stand up for each other and prove that being aggressive and assertive is OK. It doesn’t make you a bitch. My hope is that the more that women can do that the more that men can get used to that idea. It’s been ingrained in us for so long, that women are supposed to be feminine and men are supposed to be masculine, but that’s not true. The more women can be assertive and aggressive and stand up for what they want, then the more men will see that and not associate us with being a bitch. So, don’t worry about pleasing people all the time. Obviously, you want to be pleasant to be around but don’t be afraid to speak your mind and be just as aggressive as the men, if not more.
Jay: Absolutely. Definitely agree with that! I love the interviews that you do. What is your secret sauce to putting out a platform where everyone feels so comfortable and results such great interviews?
Kristine: Thank you, Jay. I always pride myself on being authentic and being me. From day one of my career I wanted to stay true to myself and I hope that people, including the people that I interview, can see that. I set the tone to let them know that I’m not out to get them but that I am just being me and hopefully they can too. I also have a genuine interest in wanting to get to know people. They know pretty quickly that I’ve done my homework and that I know a lot about them, so I can ask them questions about their life. Once they realize all that then they do open up and have a genuine conversation. It also helps that I’ve been doing this over ten years now, so I have a lot of really good relationships. I hope when people watch the show they think, this is not what I thought it was going to be. Many of my subjects are able to talk about things that they haven’t been given a platform for in the past and in a way that is truly genuine to them. That’s why it was very important to me that we did not do this show in a studio because I think that can tighten up guests. I always have a chat with them for about ten minutes before I even interview them, just to read the temperature and see how they’re feeling, or whether they have any concerns. They generally open up to me, which is something I really pride myself on.
Jay: We’re seeing many more women being hired in many executive roles around sports. What are your thoughts on that?
Kristine: I always want the right women to be hired for the job. I never want just a woman to be hired because the organization is trying to fill some kind of quota. I think that’s a disservice to women that are in the sports industry. However, if we have qualified women in the right positions, I think that opens the door for more women. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find qualified women because they haven’t been given the chance yet. They need to keep including women at lower level positions and hiring women that are qualified and then they need to promote them. If you look at our industry, whether it’s in the teams, the leagues, or the networks, there are very, very few women in top positions and that’s a disservice to women. It doesn’t give other women a lot of hope. It’s not women supporting other women. It proves that it’s harder to get there if you’re a woman. This is why it is important for my show to give a good mix of men and women and to have diversity. Men’s and women’s minds do work differently and the best product you can possibly put out on television is a mix of that. I think that the same principle is true for the leagues and the teams and the networks that there needs to be more women at the top so that you have that mix of ideas. Men and women were put on the earth for a reason, to mix their thoughts, and we need to see more of that in the industry.
Jay: We’re seeing more athletes go into other interests, sometimes even during their career — LeBron would be the quintessential example of that. It seems that social media gives athletes this organic brand with millions of followers, so, there’s a tremendous opportunity that athletes have and that many are taking advantage of. I think it is going to explode. Is that something you’ve seen?
Kristine: Social media has completely changed journalism. Athletes no longer need to do a big media interview to get things out because they are taking control of their narrative and getting things out there in their own way. Years ago, the athletes were dying to do a big interview because that was the only way that they were going to get their message out. they had to trust the person who was going to conduct the interview and they had these sources that they would go to. Now we’re seeing that role disappear and it’s changing media altogether. The media is being pushed to the wayside because the athletes have their own way of communicating with their fans and with their audience. The landscape is completely changing in that way and I think it’s going to keep diminishing the role of media. I don’t even know how that would change.
Jay: What do you think the media needs to do to create that value again?
Kristine: I honestly don’t know. I think that’s why we’re seeing a change in sports programming more towards debating and hot takes. An example of that is Lebron’s show that he’s doing himself. Obviously, athletes are going to feel more comfortable talking with other athletes where they can control their own narrative. They don’t trust the media as much. Part of that concern is valid and part of that is not. Not every media person is out to get them, and sometimes I don’t think the players understand that media has a job to do. Which is why, for me, I just don’t approach it from that angle. I approach it from the angle of, I want to get to know who you are, and I was trained to do this. That is the big difference. The athletes are trained to be professional athletes, that’s not to say that they’re not talented to do different projects, because they certainly are. I was trained to be a television producer, to be a television host, and to be a journalist. So, there are certain tactics and techniques that I know how to use. There is still value in that. It’s going to be an interesting few years trying to figure out what direction sports television needs to go in because people are starting to need something fresh.
Jay: Due to the saturation of information on social media it seems that eventually both the media and the athletes will have to evolve their message again.
Kristine: Yeah, and I’m all for evolving. I think that’s a great thing. It challenges both parties to become the best and change and adapt to what we have. Social media is an ugly thing but it’s also a really great thing.
Jay: I want to close on this final question. You’ve interviewed so many different people — there’s probably nobody you can’t access or haven’t already done so — but is there one person that you would spend an hour with if you could?
Kristine: Well I’m going to give you two people, because on my show we interview a lot of different people. We interview athletes, we interview musicians, and we interview entertainers. So, Russell Westbrook would be one and Cardi B would be another. I relate to Russell Westbrook because I’ve always considered myself a nerd — to me it’s a term of endearment. It’s just doing what you want to do.
Jay: I don’t think anybody would call you a nerd.
Kristine: No, Jay, they would. Anybody who knows me would call me a nerd. It’s doing what you want to do unapologetically and not caring what people think about you. And I think Russell Westbrook is the perfect example of that — he’s just him. He does what he wants to do. He gets criticized all the time. He’s been told he’s not a good teammate and that Kevin Durant left him because he doesn’t like him or he’s a ball hog or all these different things. He dresses weird. But he just does what he does. And you don’t see him in the media really at all. He doesn’t do those kinds of interviews because he doesn’t care. He’s like, this is who I am and I don’t need to explain it. I want to talk to him about that and get to know more of who he is. I know he doesn’t care about other people seeing that, but I’m interested in it, and I’m sure other people are too. And he’s a fantastic basketball player, also. So, I would want to interview him for those reasons.
Kristine: Cardi B is honestly for the same reason. Love her or hate her, she is who she is, and she doesn’t care what people say about her. She’s gonna do whatever she wants and I appreciate that.
Jay: Absolutely, genuine. I think that’s what it boils down to.