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Viewers are used to seeing the biggest names in sports being interviewed on the field, in post-game press conferences or in a TV studio — but what happens when you get catch them in their natural environment away from the chaos?
That was the aim for the new SportsCenter Special: InFocus With Hannah Storm, in which the ESPN host went beyond broadcasting boundaries to really get to know UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, Texas football coach Charlie Strong and Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank.
The special was a follow-up to her Face to Face series, which was inspired by some of TV’s legends. “It goes back to people like Barbara Walters and Bob Costas — the great interviewers who sat down and got to the heart of who their subjects are,” Storm tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The SportsCenter co-anchor took time out from playing Connect Four with NBA stars, doing downward dog with linebackers and hitting the rodeo circuit with NFL players to fill THR in on the special, which airs at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday on ESPN.
What sparked the unique direction of the show?
There really wasn’t anything like it in the sports world in terms of long sit-downs with very little voiceover. The sports space is so full of opinion that you aren’t hearing from the athletes just speaking for themselves. We are such a Twitter-oriented society with radio talk shows, TV talk shows and social media — what you are missing is the authentic, unfiltered aspect of who these people are.
It is something that is not done much anymore because of the fast pace of TV and what sports media has become, so in some ways it is a classic format.
How did you go from “classic” to hitting the trail with a UFC champion?
What I did is to make it active, so it’s not just me doing the interviewing. I will do something they are passionate about like with Ronda Rousey, we went on a hike to Runyon Canyon in Hollywood. I’ve been bowling, fishing, working out, we went to a rodeo — we make it more interesting than someone just sitting in a chair. People are much more loose if you are having fun. I had a basketball player who was really soft-spoken and then we played Connect Four with him and he really opened up!
Who were you most interested to interview and why?
Ronda was at the top of my list, I know nothing about her sport and she has single-handedly made me pay attention to it. I am a sportscaster and I didn’t care about UFC, but I care about her. I knew she was really tough and fierce, but what I really appreciated afterwards was what a role model for young women she is — telling them that you shouldn’t be apologetic for who you are. We had a really great conversation. We were up on a mountain in sweats in the sun, it really beats sitting knee-to-knee in a chair.
Vin Scully has been my broadcasting idol for a long time. He is so humble — he has the exact same work ethic that he had 65 years ago. His family is what he cares about the most and at the heart of his whole being is his marriage and kids. Being with Charlie Strong made me think I want to play football with him! He is the first African-American head coach in the history of men’s sports at Texas after being passed over for job after job but never giving up. Then you have Kevin Plank with Under Armor, which after initially screwing up the women’s line now has a ballerina as one of the many faces of the brand. He is so crazy passionate about his clothing line, and the one common denominator of them all is their passion.
What are the most bizarre situations you’ve ended up in doing out-of-the-box interviews?
I did yoga last year with a bad shoulder injury with Clay Matthews (linebacker for the Green Bay Packers); I went sailing with Russell Wilson; and I’m going fly fishing with defensive player of the year from the [Carolina] Panthers, Luke Kuechly.
I’ve been out of my comfort zone a lot, and it makes me more vulnerable, but I have to draw the line somewhere and don’t think I would go skydiving!
SportsCenter Special: InFocus With Hannah Storm premieres at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN on Thursday.
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