Why you should care
Because taking a red-carpet ride shouldn’t be so fun.
Seeing Jamie Foxx sitting in a giant tennis ball and serenading Serena Williams with his tennis ball song? Pretty much the first time I realized I wanted to go the ESPYs. But as a freelance journalist? A near impossibility. But then, with a twisting turn of fate, I made it to this year’s 25th annual ESPY awards. I didn’t just make it, I was on the red carpet. Interviewing athletes no less. And doing it well.
No small feat in the face of Cali’s crushing heat. I felt like I was in a mobile sauna. I felt like I had to take a shower and hang my suit out to dry.
Total elapsed time: 20 minutes.
But I saw this laser-focused journalist for Slam magazine, Alexis Morgan. I asked her for advice because, well, she looked like Kobe before a championship game. “You have to be aggressive and respectful at the same time,” she said.
Advice that came in handy when I saw Jemele Hill. She was probably the biggest reason for me being at the ESPYs. She had answered questions for an article on retired NFL players that I had done. Which impressed the media crew at ESPN.
In my head I had developed a great question, but instead … “What tips do you have for working hard?”
I yelled, “Hey, Jemele! Can I get a few minutes to talk to you? Please?”
She looked in my direction and yelled, “I will get back to you! After the show.”
There were a few other people I wanted to interview, like A.J. Andrews, Richard Sherman, Kevin Durant and Mr. Badass himself, Samuel L. Jackson. But being a new journalist, I decided that I would interview as many people as I could. That meant thinking up questions on the fly.
Great example: I interviewed the Miz, WWE Intercontinental Champion, and I couldn’t think of anything to talk about except, well, hard work. See, a WWE cameraman had once told me about how great of a work ethic the Miz had during movie shoots. In my head I had developed a great question, but instead I ended up leading with “What tips do you have for working hard?”
Yes. I couldn’t believe I asked a question that dumb, but sadly I did. The Miz answered anyway, though.
“That’s not a good question, because you just have to work hard.”
I think he saw the embarrassment on my face because he then went on to discuss his thoughts on goal setting and using hard work to get there. This was full-blown Miz compassion, for which I was suddenly very thankful.
And all the while I’m looking around and seeing athletes carrying on conversations with journalists around me, like they were the best of friends. By ear hustling, I found out that some of them had been to the ESPYs party the night before. For example, Julian Edelman acknowledged a journalist from Audience Sports, then proceeded to explain how nice he looked. He sounded like fashion designer Tom Ford. Edelman explained how the symmetry, fabric and texture of the suit meshed well together: “I actually like it, you got the double polka dot going, clean suit, nice white undershirt.”
A.J. Andrews was one of the people on my list to interview, so when I saw her I yelled her name. I felt like a screaming fan, but it didn’t matter — I was going to get to interview the first woman to win a Gold Glove in pro softball. Her smile glowed brighter than her gold dress. “It is an opportunity to break barriers and sets the stage for softball,” she said. She also told me, “Softball is here, and it’s poppin’!” which I loved.
My designated spot on the red carpet was located close to the entrance of the Microsoft Theater, where most of the attendees were camped out, fatigued from walking and giving interviews in the LA sun. I saw Richard Sherman, so I yelled his name and he turned around James Bond–style.
“I will give you a couple of questions,” he said, largely unaware of how shocked I was that he had turned back around to be interviewed by me. Not quite the “You mad, bro?” thug you read about.
Then I went on to interview Candace Parker from the Los Angeles Sparks, Malcolm Jenkins from the Philadelphia Eagles and, in a curious turn, ’90s hip-hop stalwarts Naughty by Nature. The temptation to break out with a “Hip hop hooray!” or a “You down with O.P.P.”? Almost overpowering. But good sense got the better of me.
After Jemele Hill finished her show, she made her way over to be interviewed, true to her word. I stumbled over my words letting her know I appreciate her work. I was sputtering, I was pretty sure, like I was Sylvester the Cat from the Looney Tunes cartoons. Luckily she had on her cool shades to block the spraying I was doing while saying what I was saying, which was to ask her what advice she had for me. “I hate when new journalists ask me, ‘What should my brand be?’ You don’t need a brand. The work is your brand! The delivery method in which we present the news continues to change, but the thing that will never change is that we are still in the profession of journalism, where you have to tell the audience things that they don’t know. You have to gather information and you have to develop relationships with sources, so stay committed to the craft and the rest will follow.”
After the staff closed the red carpet, we headed over to the media room. But I was done. I was tired, hungry, sweaty and stinky. I took one more look around and a selfie with Candace Parker near the ESPN broadcast booth. As I walked away, I took stock of what had just happened.
I mean, forget about interviewing. I had had an opportunity to shoot the shit with not just all of the aforementioned sports celebs but also, in a dream-come-true moment, London Brown and Donovan Carter from the hit series Ballers, about their careers, the future of sports and which one of them has the best chance of beating the Rock in an arm-wrestling match (Brown claims he does: “I can beat him, I am not worried about if he thinks I can’t.”). Back home looking over my notes, I didn’t know if I had much of anything yet, but one thing was for sure: I had made it to the ESPYs.