By Michael Rand
There could be 10 things as crazy as last night’s Red Sox/Rays game that happen between now and 5 p.m., and the truth is we won’t be touching on any of them. You’re getting nothing but the prepackaged good stuff today as we travel to North Dakota for a little quality time with the parents. First up: an interview we recently conducted with Charissa Thompson of Fox Sports and the Big Ten Network. Thompson does sideline work for Big Ten and NFL games and appears regularly on Best Damn Sports Show Period. She worked the sidelines for last week’s Vikings/Lions game and will be working Sunday’s Vikings/Bears game for Fox (if you don’t recognize her immediately from the picture, she recently changed her hair color, which we’ll get to later in one of many hard-hitting questions). In any event, here we go:
RandBall: Looking at your bio — is there anything you don’t cover for Fox these days? And does that get overwhelming?
Charissa Thompson: I’ll put it this way: I’ve been lucky enough to be busy. Having a job and being busy is a luxury these days. … Of course I enjoy them all, as long as I stay organized. Anytime you travel, there is the uncontrollable. But you learn not to try to control the uncontrollable. The work itself is amazing. At the end of the day, it’s sports and it’s fun. It doesn’t really matter how I get there or how late I’m up.
RB: How would you define the role of a sideline reporter?
CT: It’s kind of changed over the years. … What I have an opportunity to do down there is see things the guys in the booth can’t see. I see Calvin Johnson (last week), see the defensive unit, the emotion from the coaches. It’s interesting in watching these different teams. Minnesota’s defense shows such emotion, and it’s evident. Someone in the booth is not going to be able to see that. I put the detail and the color into it.
RB: Are there rules, written or unwritten, for where you are allowed to go and what access you get?
CT: It’s different for college and NFL. I do Big Ten stuff, and … teams are more guarded with information. You can report what you see, not what you hear. I couldn’t say, “Rich Rodriguez said X.” But if, for example, we’re in coaches meetings the night before and he said something that he then repeats during the game, I could (reference it). … They’re giving you access, but it becomes intrusive if you go quote for quote what they’re saying. The NFL is same way, but they’re more lenient in being able to walk the sidelines. Minnesota is pretty open … but I’m not going to say which teams are not.
RB: So could you get close enough to see the individual hairs on Brad Childress’ mustache?
CT: I don’t know if you’d want to get that close. Actually, he is one of the best coaches to talk to at halftime. Some guys don’t want to talk. I try to find certain questions that are going to get a more specific response. He’s generous with his time and open with his responses.
RB: Has there been a defining moment so far in your career when you knew that you had “arrived” in a sense?
CT: In New York, it was August or September, and we did an NFL seminar, with all the guys from the NFL. One night we went out and did a team bonding deal at a bowling alley. There were executives, along with guys like Howie Long and Michael Strahan, and we were all bowling, and I looked around, and it was a moment where I learned to appreciate exactly what I was doing. … And a moment on Best Damn when Dr. J. showed up. I thought, “I’ve been given the opportunity to do this for a living.”
RB: We’re in the Internet era, and we’re also in an era where sideline reporters seem to be somewhat of a phenomenon — Erin Andrews and so on. Does it make you more cautious or aware of what you’re doing?
CT: You’d be lying to say you don’t care about those things … there is some ignorance out there and people can say whatever they want. (Someone wrote), “Adult film star is now a Fox reporter.” My name, if you Google it, is the same (as that of an adult film star). It’s ignorance. But … I don’t have to like everybody. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.
RB: What role does apperance play in your field?
CT: You’d be lying if you said it didn’t matter. Two weeks ago, I dyed my hair from blonde to brown, and it was unbelievable how much attention it caused. In dying my hair, I realized how much perception is emphasized in looks. It was a good case study to figure out how you’re looked at. (Appearance) is a foot in the door. Everyone needs a little luck, to show the potential you have.
RB: What is your greatest on-air fear?
CT: It happened last week in the Minnesota game. … The mic wasn’t on. It’s always on. It happens, and I didn’t get upset about it because I can’t control it.
RB: How would you describe your off-air personality?
CT: I’m definitely a smart-aleck, and that can get me in trouble. But nothing really changes … doing a show like Best Damn, you use a lot more of your personality. On the sideline, you get 20 seconds.
RB: Is this where you envisioned your career going, and what is the next step?
CT: This is it. I made a video when I was 11 years old of being a sportscaster. I interviewed my brother, and he was being Jay Buhner. … I actually had that on my first reel. A paper towel roll and a tennis ball was my first microphone. So this is something I always wanted to do, and maybe that’s why I have a greater appreciation for it. To use the cliché, “the sky is the limit,” I just want to keep going and fulfill the potential that I think I have.