When you're enjoying your favorite sport, more than likely, it's more than just watching the game, it's about the mechanics, knowing about the team, specific players, coaching staff, its history, how you feel about it in terms of memories growing up and more. It's about the storylines and how sports is immersed in our day to day lives from the community, pop culture, social good and entertainment. We had the chance right before the start of the 100th season of the NFL, to talk with Tracy Wolfson 4 X Emmy Nominated Lead Reporter, NFL ON CBS, NCAA Basketball and Studio Host for the network. We talked about when she fell in love with sports, her journey in sports broadcasting that brought her to CBS, the importance of preparation in her field and storylines that are exciting to keep an eye out for.
ATHLEISURE MAG: What was the moment when you realized that you wanted to work in sports?
TRACY WOLFSON: I was about 7 or 8 years old. I was sitting in my room, I was a little tomboy and all I really wanted to do was watch sports. My parents had no idea how I came to wanting to do that. I had no brothers, my father wasn’t really into sports, but I became obsessed with it and I became so intrigued with every sport out there. So, that’s when I decided that I would do everything that I possibly could to be a reporter and to talk about sports for the rest of my life. I watched the NBA Inside Stuff which I’m dating myself, but back then, it was Ahmad Rashad and Willow Bay. I said, “you know what? If Willow Bay can do it, then I can do it.” That’s when I decided to do it.
AM: Wow, well we have had the opportunities to interview a number of broadcasters especially those in sports. What was your journey to get to CBS – how did that happen?
TW: Well it was a really long journey because back then, there wasn’t really a It was a long journey. Back then, there wasn't a blueprint for it and there weren’t a lot of people that you could reach out to and talk to or for anyone to give you advice. I knew I wanted be in sports so I went to the University of Michigan for the academics but also because they were surrounded by sports, so I figured that at least I would be around it. I could meet people and find a way to get into this business that way. I took some communications classes and I did a few internships and met a few people from CBS around that time. They said, “ok when you go back to school, why don’t you help us out when we come to do games? You could be a runner and get water and coffee.” And that’s what I did. I did a bunch of football games and some basketball games. I did some ice skating shows with them and I kind of got my foot in the door, but I wanted to be on camera and I didn’t have any experience and there were no classes I could take at Michigan at the time that I started out as a researcher at the time at CBS. They hired me and it was my first job out of college. I would basically get research for all the other reporters and announcers out there and I put portfolios together. I was there for about a year and I got the offer to move up to the next level as an Assistant Producer type thing. I said that I would go for it, even though I knew that I wanted to be in front of the camera, but I didn’t have a tape. So I got the interview and the guy said, “I know you love sports and you know sports, but not like the guys do.” I was like – huh? That was my first experience of being a woman in this business so, I said, “really?” It was like the best kick in the pants that I could have gotten – I was like, “I’m out of here.” He’s no longer with CBS by the way. I found a job as an agent representing broadcasters and seeing a completely different side of the business: how to put together a tape, how to sound, how your voice should sound, what you should be wearing and what news directors you are looking for. I sent a bunch of tapes around for other people. I got one girl by the name of Jenna Wolfe who is now out in this business. I got her a job from Upstate New York to Philadelphia. She was my age and she was already in the number 1 market and I said, “oh my gosh, she’s already in the number 1 market and I haven’t even gotten on the market yet – come on! What are we waiting for here?”
So I left and I still had to get in front of the camera. I got a job as a producer on News 12 Long Island producing sports. Every time a reporter went out and did his reports, he’d let me do my reports. I made a fake tape and sent it out all across the country and I got one job in Trenton, NJ. I was never live there and was there for a year and a half. They didn’t have any live sports, so I just did 5 minutes of sportscasts a day – highschool, minor league stuff and college sports. I put together a tape and sent it to some agents and different people and I got a job at MSG Network. I got a job doing Oxygen Sports at the time. I was with ESPN for a year doing college football. It was my first time being live for ESPN College Football ever doing a live game. It was pretty incredible, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was yelling into the microphone. They were like, “you don’t have to yell, that’s why you have a microphone!” So I did whatever I could. I was there for one season and then CBS had an opening for a number 2 reporter and because I had been there, I think they kind of remembered me and I had a lot of friends. It was between a few of us, but then I got the job and now I have been with CBS for 17 years.
AM: You do so much on CBS, as we enjoy seeing you report on the NFL and obviously during the Final Four – what are the different roles that you have there?
TW: I do a lot of different things and it has grown over time. I started at CBS and I covered rodeo, covered auto racing, track and field, tennis, gymnastics – you name it. Anything CBS would have, they would ask me to cover. Now, I specialize a little bit more on just the NFL. I did college football for 10 years covering the SEC. So now it’s just NFL, college basketball and the NCAA Final Four March Madness and I have a show with the most incredibly talented women on CBS Sports Network called We Need to Talk where it’s former athletes whether it’s Summer Sanders (Team USA Swimming 4 X Olympic Medalist, sports commentator, reporter), Dara Torres (Team USA Swimming 12 X Olympic Medalist), Swin Cash (retired WNBA athlete and VP of Basketball Operations and Team Development for the New Orleans Pelicans), Lisa Leslie (retired WNBA athlete, studio analyst for the Orlando Magic broadcasts on Fox Sports Florida and Head Coach for Triplets in the BIG3), Laila Ali (retired undefeated professional boxer and TV host), Amy Trask (former CEO of the Oakland Raiders) and so many other women with different perspectives on sports. We just don’t talk about women’s sports. More often than not, we’re talking about the NFL, but it’s a really good show and it’s something different then my normal reporting. There’s a lot of hosting involved and also just a talk show giving our opinions and our viewpoints. A lot of times our view is different than a man’s.
AM: What we love so much about how you approach it is the fact that you have a storytelling aspect and just getting everyone into it. How do you prepare for your NFL coverage and how does that work with you?
TW: It really stems from my research background. I love it and that’s what you need to do to find the stories. It’s kind of like Groundhog’s Day. You come home on Sunday or Monday, you unpack that wheelie bag, you repack that wheelie bag, and then you get focused on the game at hand. A lot of time, I start back to my previous game. So I know that I have my 2 games and I start studying to find something that's different. I start reading all the beat reporters because they’re there 24 hours a day with those teams. I switch teams every week. So I really read everything that I can find whether it’s on the Internet or what they send us from the teams. I make calls and dig deeper and we’ll have meetings with each of the teams and their star players – the quarterbacks, coordinators, coaches, defensive players and really find out more information. You know the X’s and O’s – you have to know that because your questions are going to come from that and your story lines are going to come from that. But you can also weave in different stories at the same time and I think that that is really the balance between being a good reporter and having the best broadcast – how do you weave those stories in and then what can you find from the field? A lot of the stuff, you can’t prepare for. You’re the eyes and the ears on the field. You’re getting things that the men and the women in the booth can’t get. So, I just run the field over and over again looking, searching and listening whether it’s an injury or something that the offensive line coach may say or maybe it’s the way that a quarterback reacts after throwing an interception. You try and bring that to light and bring it to the broadcast and make the viewer at home feel like they are right in the game.
AM: How do you take time for yourself as you’re all over the place with your travels. How do you manage it all by having a family as well as your schedule?
TW: The juggling is really difficult and I tell anyone that wants to get into this business and have their family as well as working on sports and being on the road or anyone that is doing a business and juggling their families, you really do come last. You really have to do that as for me, my number 1 job is actually being a mother. I always say that and I will continue to do this until it doesn’t work for them. If it doesn’t work for them, then I am out! It does work for them because I am able to juggle and I have the experience and I have figured out what’s worked. I know what’s right and how to balance that time.
I make sure that I set my routines for my kids. I get them to bed on time, they get a good night’s sleep and they can get up in the morning feeling refreshed. It makes my job much easier and then they go off to school and that’s when I focus on my work. And then when they come back home, we get back into that routine and once I get their bedtime routine going and getting them into bed, I know that they’re getting their rest and I can focus on myself again and do more work. Then I get myself into a really good routine and I think that that’s the way of really finding time for yourself. If you feel good, if you’re refreshed, if you’re energized, you know that you’re in a good spot and place, then that’s ok. That’s where I really need to be because you’re being spread so thin everyday of our lives.
AM: How essential is it for people to have great sleep and what should we do around that so that we can get it?
TW: I see it from the top watching athletes. They need to get good sleep, they talk about it all the time in order to have peak performance levels out on the field or on the court. Then it starts with me, I need to be at my top game every single day and every time I’m out there. Not only working as a sideline reporter, but waking up early and being on the field for 7-8 hours. But also as a mother being on my peak. I need to be at the top of my game and being refreshed and ready for them. So I try to pass on those routines to them and I truly believe that sleep, especially going into the school year, is so important to set those routines. Being a partner with Sleep Number, I’ve learned and always have been a huge proponent of this by setting up a routine early, getting that consistent schedule down, limiting the light, taking away those phones, Playstations, devices so that they have the time to relax. Understanding that sleep is coming and being consistent with that. An hour before bedtime, I have an 8 year old, a 10 year old and a 13 year old – so all my kids are boys and they’re all hyper with a lot of energy and it’s important to have them wind down.
But the schedules are all different. The 8 year old needs something different than the 13 year old. The schedules stay the same in terms of having them calm down, taking away devices an hour prior to bedtime, they get their reading done in bed and I come in with them and sit down to go over some things with them. Maybe I read with them, they love that and look forward to that and then I turn the light off and I move onto the next kid with my 10 year old who enjoys the same routine. Then the 13 year old, well teens are difficult, they have a lot of stuff. They have sports, a lot of school work, their after school activities and they have their friends and they want to be social. I have to be able to balance that out with him as well and set a good schedule with him. I have to remind him that sleep is crucial in terms of lowering that stress level, making him have that best performance that he can in the classroom and on the field. I talk to him over and over about it and then I show him that I do it and that it’s time for my bed too. I need a schedule also and hopefully I set a good example also for them.
AM: As someone who does travel so much, what are 3 things that are must have in your carryon?
TW: Ok well, I definitely bring sneakers with me. I don’t wear sneakers on the field because I’m only 5’2” and everyone that I interview is a lot taller than me. I actually need the height, but I bring the sneakers with me because I feel that exercise is so important and it gives me a chance to just calm down and to relieve all the stress that’s around me. It allows me to have some alone time which is really important. I definitely bring a little tinted moisturizer that will maybe cover up a little of the bags under my eyes or the imperfections that we all have because that HD screen shows everything! Then, I bring a really good book because a book is really important to set that sleep routine up for me. I want to turn my TV off, I want to limit that light, I want to have that same schedule that I have at home, on the road. That way, I can be ready for that game in the morning. I bring a book, it may not be a lot and I may not have time to read a lot, but I want to be able to put my work away and just focus on relaxing, spending that last hour to chill out and to just have that me time and knowing that I will be refreshed and ready for the morning.
AM: What are you excited for this season?
TW: I’m really excited. We have tremendous match ups and so many exciting things going on at the NFL right now! I’ve been talking about the Cleveland Browns which really excite me with all of their personalities, faces, and the excitement in Cleveland to potentially have a winning team! All the noise – can they handle the pressure, as we kick off the season with that game against the Tennessee Titans. They have questions of their own like who’s going to start as quarterback it’s Marcus Mariota’s team but Ryan Tannehill right in the back? Then you have the Oakland Raiders and Antonio Brown with helmet gate. You also have Jon Gruden and can they get back to their winning ways? Then there’s Le’Veon Bell switching teams and how are the New York Jets going to do? Can they take over and make that next step? Are the New England Patriots going to be back on top again? How is Tom Brady going to perform now at age 42? It’s incredible!
Then you have the Chicago Bears, a team that really made a run at the end of the year. Can Mitchell Trubisky take that next step? I think that their defense is going to be very strong and can they take that North? We can go down that line, but that’s what’s exciting about this season as there are so many storylines and hey, we just found out about the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck.
AM: YES! We couldn’t believe he retired!
TW: I can’t tell you. I was sitting at home with my kids. We were watching a college football game and when I found the news, my heart kind of sunk. It was so upsetting.
AM: We were preparing questions for this interview and when we heard, we literally went to Twitter on your feed.
TW: I didn’t even know how to react. I got up the next morning and I was still really upset. I have had a lot of time to be around him and he’s such a good person, so smart, he knows the game, comes from a great family, I know his father well and to see the toll that it took to get to this point. You feel for him because of what he’s been going through, you can just imagine over the last few years and it’s so sad that it had to come to that. He’ll be fine and he’s in a good spot because he is so smart and he will have a lot of good opportunities ahead of him.
AM: It definitely tugged at our heart. But it’s a reminder that selfcare is so important and you really have to take care of yourself.
TW: I think that the game is trying to get better too and trying to prevent a lot of those hits and the physical side to it. They’re changing these rules in trying to do that so that players don’t have to go through that as much. It wasn’t necessarily hits to the head, but your body just breaks down after awhile. It was really devastating and that’s yet another storyline with Indianapolis and I know you will be following that!
You can hear Tracy Wolfson next month on our show, BUNGALOW SK which is a part of Athleisure Studio, our multi-media podcast network! Make sure to subscribe to find out when the episode drops. You can hear it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts and wherever you enjoy listening to your favorite podcast.