Jeff Pearlman

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Charissa Thompson

#202
Yeah, she's never heard of Sheena Easton. But the veteran sportscaster and A.C. Slater's Extra sidekick studied law, asks probing questions and doesn't take shit. In other words: Perfect Quaz. POSTED April 14, 2015

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You’ll likely read the 202nd Quaz and presume I don’t like Charissa Thompson.

Actually, lemme rephrase that: You’ll likely read the 202nd Quaz and presume Charissa Thompson doesn’t like me. Which may well be true. In the four-year history of this interview series, she certainly offers some of the most biting responses to date. She doesn’t take shit, she doesn’t bring forth cliches, she doesn’t agree with everything she’s supposed to agree with.

Which, to be honest, I love.

A co-host on both Fox Sports Live and Extra, Thompson is one of the biggest stars in sports-entertainment media. But she’s no phony, and she works her ass off. I actually first met her more than a decade ago, when I appeared as a guest on The Best Damn Sports Show. I remember little from that experience, except that Charissa was well-prepared and as professional as could be. That stuck with me.

Anyhow, enough babbling. Here, Charissa defends her Seattle rooting interests, poses a question for Sheena Easton and explains how she went from aspiring lawyer to media stalwart. One can follow Charissa on Twitter here and on Instagram here.

Charissa Thompson—you’re Quaz No. 202, dammit …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Charissa, generally in journalism one keeps the critical questions toward the end. You load up on softballs, and then break out the bat. But I’m going to reverse that here. During Seattle’s amazing run to the Super Bowl two seasons ago, you did an on-air segment about being a Seahawks diehard. There were shots on you in a Seattle jersey, cheering, screaming, etc. And, to be honest, it rubbed me the wrong way. Because I think, in sports media, there’s something to be said for maintaining impartiality, at least professionally. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right.

CHARISSA THOMPSON: Well … Jeff. Can I call you Jeff? I am an employee of Fox Sports. This just in—in case you read the wrong Wikipedia page and you thought you were interviewing the other Charissa Thompson who is a porn star. I digress. I work for Fox, they told me to fly to Seattle, do a feature on being a 12th (man/woman) so I adhered to the request … like a good little employee. As for it rubbing you the wrong way … that’s on you. Do you have a problem with Michelle Beadle being open about her affinity with the Spurs? [Jeff’s answer: Yeah, I do] Linda Cohn is a diehard Rangers fan. Erin Andrews roots for the Florida Gators and, as an alum, she should. Melanie Collins loves Philly teams. (Please notice I am just mentioning the females, but if you want me to include the long list of men in the sports journalism field that show their allegiance to a team or their hometown, I will oblige). Now, where were we? Ohhhh right, question No. 2 …

J.P.: OK, so your bios are filled with lots of career highlights, but few details of your pre-media existence. I mean, I know you attended three colleges, got a law degree from UC Santa Barbara, etc. So, Charissa, who the hell are you? How’d you get here? When did you know this might be the career you wanted?

C.T.: I’ll give you the abbreviated version. I always wanted to be a sports reporter. I made a fake newscast with my brother when I was 11. I pretended he was Jay Buhner and I used a paper towel roll with a tennis ball attached to it. I moved from Seattle to Orange County at 18—I wanted sunshine. I went to community college for the first two years because I needed residency (I wasn’t born with the old silver spoon … blah, blah, blah). I transferred up to Santa Barbara and graduated with a pre-law degree. I wanted to be a lawyer—wait, let me back up. Being a lawyer was my backup plan. I wanted to be a sports reporter but cue the, “You know how hard that is to actually get an on-air job, unless you want to move to the middle of nowhere and start from the bottom …”—which I had no problem doing.

Post-graduation I moved to Los Angeles and took a job in the only department hiring at Fox Sports—human resources. Anyone who knows me will tell you that’s the last place I should be working. I worked there a year, and during that time I would go up the highlights department at night and log tapes to learn the production side of the business. I took a job in Denver as a production assistant a year later—they didn’t renew the girl’s contract who was previously on air and the FSN (regional Fox Sports channel) was kind enough to let me try some standups (TV talk) and report on a few things. Eventually they gave me my first contract and on-air gig! I traveled with the Rockies and I eventually moved back to LA. I worked on the Best Damn Sports Show, I started sideline reporting for the Big Ten Network (a Fox property) and some NFL games. I was living my dream—and that’s not me being cheesy. It’s true.

Did I say I was going to give you the abbreviated version? Anyway, I later worked for ESPN, NFL Network, Yahoo Sports; I hosted rodeo shows, games shows, reality shows and even covered hockey. That’s still one of my favorites to this day

It was a circuitous route to come back to Fox but I’m thankful to be “home” again.

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J.P.: Most trying stretch of your life? And what did it entail?

C.T.: The most trying time of my life was when I took my job at ESPN. It wasn’t the job. The job was my dream. I had “finally” made “it” … but my struggles were on a personal level. I was going through a really tough divorce, most people didn’t even know I was married, living in Connecticut all alone, not knowing anyone. Thank God for people like Sara Walsh, who became my best friend, and Jay (Williams) also came into my life at a really bad time. I will always be thankful to both of them for helping me through that. (Grab a tissue) I know this is emotional for you. (In case you haven’t figured out I use sarcasm to avoid dealing with reality) at least that’s what my therapist tells me. Just kidding—I don’t have a therapist … well, not any more.

J.P.: On Instagram you posted something that read, BEAUTY SHOULD BE THE ICING … NOT THE CAKE. You’re tall, pretty, thin and blonde—which seems to be, to varying degrees, the on-air demographic many networks look for in women in sports. I also happen to think you’re talented and excellent at your job. But I do wonder whether you think women in sports media are treated fairly, because—from here, it least—it seems like if you’re a woman who is the physical equivalent of a Chris Berman or Joe Buck, you’re not going very far in TV. Fair? Unfair? True? Not true?

C.T.: Here’s the reality: I am blonde, I work in sports. Period. I am over this whole pretty girl narrative. I took a likeness to the quote because in any field of work or a relationship … beauty should be secondary. I know some gorgeous men and women and their looks might get them into some doors, but if they don’t have talent to back it up, well, how long with they last? There has to be substance. I have been in this business 10 years now and I would hope that I am not in this business still because I fit a mold.

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J.P.: You’ve recently started working on Extra as a co-host alongside Mario. I have a theory about our obsession with celebrity lives, and it’s this: We’re bored, and we think the famous have more interesting existences than we do. Do you agree? And, well, do they?

C.T.: I completely disagree. Are you bored with your life, Jeff? Should we talk about this further? Enough about me–let’s discuss how I can help you. I’m kidding. Honestly, I think our celebrity obsession is because (at least it was for me—originally, pre-Extra) was because it’s an escape. After talking sports all day I loved going home and watching horrible reality shows and, as I like to say, “mindless” TV where I can just veg out and be entertained. And now working on a show like Extra, the curtain has been pulled back on this world and it’s fascinating. There is so much more to it. And yes, I am forced to talk about Kim Kardashian booty pictures but … whatever. It’s OK to make light of things like that. It’s not serious. There are much larger issues going on in the world and sometimes people just want to be entertained. The same way sports is an outlet for some people, entertainment is also an escape from people’s own reality. And whether or not those people are bored (like yourself—kidding), well, I can’t say. All I know is I am having a blast hanging with Mario, who is truly one of the nicest people I have ever met, and embarking on this journey with someone as sweet and accomplished as Tracey Edmonds.

J.P.: You’re very natural on TV. It’s a huge strength, one that, I’m guessing, didn’t always come easy. So how’d you learn to be yourself? Hell, are you being yourself? And what are you thinking when you’re standing there, talking before a camera?

C.T.: Well, that’s a very nice thing to say. Who wrote this question? Ha. Jokes aside, that is a very nice compliment.

Without coming across as oblivious, I don’t think about it. I don’t even think about the camera and when I do acknowledge the camera it’s to try connecting with the audience (That sounds like such a corporate answer). But I like when a host or reporter acknowledges the audience. Also, do not take yourself too seriously. I should probably not be so goofy at times but I am afforded the luxury of talking about sports and entertainment. I mean, c’mon. If I can’t have fun with that then I need to do something else.

J.P.: I’m going to throw a random one at you, for kicks: I have no religious faith whatsoever, and I’ll tell you why: I’m living a great life. A great, great life. So I’ve been told I’m supposed to be thankful for that and thank God for all the good he’s giving me. But there are kids bleeding from their eyeballs because of Ebola; there’s someone right now dying in a car accident, in child birth, in a tornado, etc. There are millions of people living in poverty throughout the world. If God is so great, why do all these awful things happen? And should I really be grateful to God if so many others are suffering?

C.T.: Since this is our first “interview date” I will abstain from elaboration. But I will say I am a proud Christian.

J.P.: I appeared three or four times as a guest on the Best Damn Sports Show, which you ultimately hosted. How do you explain the long run? And where the hell is Tom Arnold?

C.T.: Tom Arnold is currently sitting next to me with his adorable son. He is such an awesome dude who never fails to make me laugh. Tom and his baby! As for Best Damn I will never say an ill word about that show. Those people are my family and any pundits of the show are just that. Y’all media types can beat up on a show that’s been off the air for eight years but I won’t! I still keep in touch with Chris Rose, Rodney Peete, John Salley. Those dudes were all big brothers and family to me. I think that show concept still works. Athletes and entertainers alike loved coming on that show. It was a laid-back, not-so-serious show where people opened up and were more themselves than a serious sit down interview.

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J.P.: You’ve earned the rep for being refreshingly honest, so I’m gonna ask what might be an awkward one: Last year Fox replaced Pam Oliver with Erin Andrews. Pam is, for my money, one of the absolute best in the business, and it struck me as a setback for older women in the business. Not that Pam is even that old. You agree? Disagree? And do you worry that the interest you get now, at 32, won’t be there 10 years down the line? That men running the biz will want younger, perkier?

C.T.: Older women? Did you really just say that? Jeez Jeff. What year is this? Should we also just get back into the kitchen? Enough.

Pam has earned a great reputation in this business and has done her job extremely well and at the highest level. I have nothing but respect for her. The decision to move people around is way above my pay grade. It’s no mystery Erin is one of my best friends so if you are trying to get me to say something for a headline … try again. Erin and I have the same birthday and we joke all the time about getting old. It’s a reality. I learned a long time ago a valuable lesson from a women in this business who will remain nameless. She was so mean to me when I got hired for an on-air position. I vowed to never do to young up-and-coming girls what she did to me. I am not interested in competing with anyone in this business. There will always be someone prettier, younger… you have to hope the job you’ve done will keep you anchored in the business because we can’t all stay 25. No BS. I want everyone to make it. I am 32 and haven’t always been perfect. I haven’t always done things the right way. I am sure I have hurt people or said things that the 32-year-old me regrets. I am work in progress and Erin makes fun of me now for being l’il miss positive lately but I have decided I am going to approach life from a glass-half-full perspective.

I used to waste so much energy on trivial things. And, heck, I am no poster child for how to navigate through this business. But I will say I will do what I can to encourage any young woman in this business and I may not be able to get you a job but I can give you some of my time and what little advice you’re willing to hear from my own experiences. I am a smart-ass and sometimes my sarcasm might be taken as bitchy but I really hope when all is said and done I will be someone who was respected for her work, didn’t take herself too seriously and was nice to people along the way. Even the assholes.

J.P.: What do you love about doing TV? Like, what does it for you? What about the medium? The moments …

C.T.: Becoming a sports broadcaster was my dream, I’m beyond grateful it’s now my reality. And now adding entertainment or anything that comes my way … I will relish the opportunity and continue to try to get better at my job each day. Cliché as it sounds, it’s my truth.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CHARISSA THOMPSON:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Beach Boys, Chris Evert, Willie McGee, soccer moms, Brian’s Song, Walter Isaacson, Dan Patrick, Peter Criss, Michael Vick, crab legs, KFC: Dan Patrick’s my favorite. I don’t have any “least.”

• You shower three times a day—and you live in a state being decimated by drought. Um, are they at least quick showers?: Ask anyone who knows me … one long shower in the morning and all other showers are, literally, a rinse off. Cleanliness and hygiene are critical. I will let my flowers die before I won’t take a shower before I go to bed. We all make sacrifices.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No. I can make something up if you want me to.

• Greatest on-air screw-up of your career?: Working a college football game in Minnesota at the end of the year. It’s the last game, and outside of the stadium I was frozen and instead of saying “Play clock” I said something else.

• Six best sportscasters of your lifetime: Keith Jackson, Al Michaels, John Madden, Vin Scully, Harry Carey, Dick Vitale (Honorable mention because I love him and he is the reason I would watch sports with my dad—Chris Berman. I’ll kick your ass if you laugh.

• One question you would ask Sheena Easton were she here right now?: I just Googled Sheena Easton. I was born in 1982. My question: Your hair is on point. Who does it?

• The father of my son’s new best friend sells guns. If you’re me, do you allow a play-date at his house?: No

• Five all-time favorite movies: Too many, but I am always quoting Meet the ParentsThe Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, National Lapoon’s Christmas Vacation (basically any John Hughes movie).

• On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely do you think it is that there’s life on other planets?: 10

  • Jim McGonigle

    Bimbo……

    • Katie Nolan

      What gave it away, Jim? Was it her wildly successful career or her law degree?

      If all YOU see is a hot chick, that sounds like a personal problem.

      And if that’s your daughter you’re holding in your photo, I hope you realize just how big of a problem it is.

      • Jim McGonigle

        Niece and it was a pre-law degree from the esteemed UC-Santa Barbara, home of the Banana Slugs. I’m sure she’s a fine person but she epitomizes much of what is wrong with sports journalism today.

  • Cd1515

    pretty girl, seems a little full of herself. (I’ve not seen her TV shows)
    am I missing the “biting responses”?
    what did she say that was so outspoken?
    everyone you asked her about is the greatest person ever.

  • KA Cérniglia

    Combative. A trait ESPN and Fox both like.

  • Ted Mark

    I won’t be around in ten years to confirm it, but I suspect she and her pal Erin won’t be around either.

  • Bill

    Great article. Charissa is one of the best on TV! She’s smart, personable, beautiful, a great interviewer. It’s a shame she’s not seen more because of FS1. Her career is skyrocketing. I also love how she’s so positive and try’s hard to surround herself with good people. My only advice is be careful of EA, she’s kind of phony and her career is trending downward. Be carful!

  • http://reignoferror.blogspot.com greebs

    One thing I really like about Thompson is that she tweets about taking off her weaves — it’s just a subtle acknowledgement that what we see on TV isn’t always real, that women don’t naturally have tumbling locks of hair down to their back, etc….I’ve met her before and she’s one of the most striking, stunning women I’ve ever met, but its also nice that she does try to ‘keep it real’ and let folks know she a) puts a lot of work into looking so good and b) some of it is fake, so folks shouldn’t aspire to false ideals.

  • Lake Desmond

    Jeff, fix the head bust: does’t

  • Chris

    “it seems like if you’re a woman who is the physical equivalent of a Chris Berman or Joe Buck, you’re not going very far in TV.”

    This is the elephant in the room that no women in sports media want to address. They may not have been hired solely for their looks, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s the deciding factor between two candidates. It just seems like it’s hard to ignore that almost all of the female reporters/hosts/etc are attractive. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence. I don’t watch much FOX News but every time I turn it on, the host of the current show is an attractive, blonde female. Is it really a coincidence that two of the first on-air personalities that FOX hired for FS1 were Erin Andrews and Thompson?

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life