Why you should care
This podcast is the magic that happens when country stars talk about sports.
The pre-performance rituals. The anticipatory butterflies in the stomach. The steady roar of the crowd.
For musicians and athletes, there are a surprising number of parallels between a concert and a game. And when sports journalist and music lover Lindsay Czarniak realized that, she knew she had to find a way to dig deeper into what makes these larger-than-life figures tick.
That’s the basis of her new podcast with Cadence13, Players With Lindsay Czarniak, which debuted in early November. In each episode, Czarniak sits down with a country music star — guests so far have included Cole Swindell, Chris Young, Lee Brice, Scotty McCreery and Darius Rucker — to discuss the significance of sports in their lives, as well as what motivates them to be a top music “player.”
“I think a lot of what makes people feel inspired is when someone becomes relatable,” says Czarniak. She believes that Players talks to people whom some might perceive as superstars and gets “to the core of what has driven them and what they care about.” Essentially, the conversations are based around the topic of sports, “but this really is about people ‘making it,’” she says.
Guests’ stories are punctuated by laughs, gasps and other asides from Czarniak.
It was years ago that Czarniak, a former ESPN SportsCenter anchor and broadcast reporting vet, started exploring her separate interests in both sports and music, and brainstorming the ways she might be able to get an artist and an athlete together to talk about the similar forces that drive them. “There are so many different themes that weave through both worlds,” she says. Podcast episodes so far have touched on everything from the similarities in athletes’ and musicians’ hype-up routines to handling rejection to the importance of parental encouragement in high-profile career pursuits.
Initially, Czarniak assumed the project would be within her traditional wheelhouse — television and sports. But when a friend in the industry told her that a lot of country music artists would love to talk about sports, she opted not to renew her contract with ESPN in 2017 and started exploring the idea of launching a podcast, a new medium for her. She fell in love with the format, where longer conversations inevitably take a different direction from the planned one. Guests’ stories are punctuated by laughs, gasps and other asides from Czarniak, keeping the conversation fresh and not overproduced.
To wit, in one episode, country star and former American Idol winner McCreery discusses his New England sports fandom — a topic you might expect given the podcast’s central conceit. But he also shares other stories about his life. After becoming Idol’s youngest male winner ever, McCreery returned to Garner High School in North Carolina for his senior year, where the public school system insisted on two armed guards accompanying him at every moment — which alienated his friends. “I was just trying to be normal again … and none of my friends would talk to me,” he tells Czarniak. Needless to say, McCreery soon dispensed with the security detail.
As for what the podcast could evolve into, Czarniak says she and her creative team are “not going to say no to anything.” It’s possible that future seasons could feature athletes talking about their favorite musicians, or getting athletes and musicians together in the same room for a joint conversation. But five episodes in, Czarniak is “really excited about the concept as it is right now.” So too apparently are listeners — the 67 reviews on Apple Podcasts average 5 stars. They’re also offering suggestions — such as having the artists bring on an acoustic guitar and play a bar or two of a song.
Sports fans will love Players for the insight it lends into which musicians share their rooting interests (Miami Dolphins fans, for example, may feel a particular kinship with Rucker). Music lovers will appreciate Players for the treasure trove of little-known personal stories the guests share. And if you happen to love sports and music? Well, this crossover podcast is currently the only one out there that incorporates both.