But here’s what you won’t see from the Los Angeles Chargers’ team reporter: Pictures of her with her head enlarged via Snapchat filter. Pictures of her in a skimpy bikini on a beach. You won’t see Elwood partying with players, hobnobbing with celebrities, auditioning via YouTube videos to land a spot on some stupid reality TV show.
Dating back to her days as an undergrad at UC San Diego, Elwood has prided herself on professionalism; on earning respect via hard work, knowledge, inquisitiveness. That’s why, for my money, she’s one of the best NFL team-employed reporters in the profession.
That’s also why she’s the 356th Quaz.
Today, Hayley talks about how her career has been made (largely) off of Twitter; how—as a San Diego native—she felt about the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles; how Natrone Means is better than Kevin Quackenbush and Celine Dion has herself a new employee.
Hayley Elwood, you’re the new Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Hayley, you work as the Los Angeles Chargers’ team reporter. And I ask, with no disrespect, what exactly that means. If you work for the team, how is there reporting involved? Like, are you digging for information, scoops, breakthroughs? Or is it more about conveying the information relayed to you?
HAYLEY ELWOOD: No disrespect taken. The reporting is conveying news that’s either relayed (hires/player signings) or gathered on own (through interviews) on the team’s website and social channels. Since the media landscape has evolved, so too have sports teams’ own digital departments. I can really only speak to the NFL, but teams have digital media departments comprised of writers, reporters, producers, shooters/editors and social media people who create content for the teams’ websites and social accounts. I spend my days writing articles and doing videos for Chargers.com. Very rarely are we the “news breakers,” given a little thing called Twitter, but we’re more of the “news confirmers” and in other ways, try to highlight stories that may be different from what you see on ESPN or another place. It’s our job to be a hub where Chargers fans can go to for news.We also get access to players that other reporters don’t given that we’re around these guys so much. So that’s nice for getting to know a player on a more personal level and finding a unique story.
J.P.: So you spent 2015-16 as the Lakers’ in-arena host at the Staples Center—which means you worked Kobe’s last game. I’m fascinated to hear what that was like; what you remember. Also, how would it have changed your role/approach that day had Kobe, say, shot 2 for 14 and scored six points in a blowout loss?
H.E.: That game was so insane, and there are times where I still have to remind myself that I was there. It was a “lighter” game for me given I had essentially zero in-game responsibilities, so it was one of those take-it-all-in kind of days. I just remember an immense media presence. Which, duh, it was Kobe’s last game. My usual in-game hangout spot was in one of Staples Center’s Zamboni tunnels but towards the end of the fourth quarter, they started letting media in for the post-game festivities and it just became a swarm of people. Given my role, Kobe’s performance or hypothetical lack thereof, wouldn’t have affected me that much, but I think if the score/stats had been different, the whole vibe would have been a bit more subdued. But he went out in true Kobe fashion and Lakers fans probably couldn’t have asked for anything more.
J.P.: You’re a UC San Diego grad, you worked for the Chargers for three seasons before they moved to LA. So, I wonder, how did you take the news of the move? Personally, I was genuinely crushed for the people of San Diego, who had loved the team for decades. But, I guess, business is business. Or … something?
H.E.: The news was interesting to say the least, especially also being a native San Diegan (we do exist!) But, for me, I got a job out of the move. I had worked my butt off for years in hopes of obtaining that elusive full-time job in the sports media industry (more on that below), so I was and am, very fortunate and thankful to have received an opportunity.
J.P.: So you’ve described your path to sports media as “atypical.” Which seems pretty fair, considering you spent 10 years working at a dance studio; considering that you held three jobs simultaneously. So, soup to nuts, how did you get here?
H.E.: So quickly on the dance studio, that was a job I held all throughout college and beyond. I grew up dancing but when I graduated high school, I traded in the tights for the computer. I went from working the front desk to managing, and it was the perfect job because it was working for a small business that had a little bit of everything. Post-UC San Diego (where I majored in communication), I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do as a career—the studio paid the bills, but it wasn’t what I went to school for.
My parents work for a local news station so having grown up around that environment, reporting/anchoring was kind of always in the back of my mind to maybe pursue. But, instead of going the small market route, I chose the freelance path. I grew up a football fan so my first real experience in the sports world was interning for EAG Sports Management. When I realized PR wasn’t for me and I figured out I wanted to be more in-front of the action vs. behind the scenes, I enrolled in some classes at Palomar College to get the more “hands on/practical” experience and was able to build a reel. From there, I hustled, and I have Twitter to thank for pretty much every job after that.
I freelanced for FOX Sports Next/Scout.com as a field producer covering high school football recruiting. I literally followed the guy on Twitter who ran FS Next, he followed me back and I sent a message with my resume. Got an interview and then a job. I started with the Chargers in 2014 which was another job I initially saw posted on Twitter. Then in 2015, I saw the Lakers tweeted an application for their hosting position. That was the craziest year because I was managing a dance studio while working for two professional sports teams. The studio was awesome because my boss allowed me flexibility to pursue other passions on the side, while I was still able to work/collect a paycheck that came with full benefits. There’s no way I could have done the freelance thing without having some sort of sustainable income. It hasn’t been easy, and it’s taken me a while to get here, but it’s paid off. So to those who may be grinding it out, just stay patient. Things will come in due time.
J.P.: The other day you Tweeted out the news that the Chargers hired Rip Scherer as the new tight ends coach. And I got to thinking—do you care about stuff like that? Do you have to care? Does Scherer’s background, experience, etc impact your career?
H.E.: I do care and I think if you don’t, then why are you even doing this? When you work for a team, you essentially become an extended part of that team. Whether it’s players, staff or coaches, these are people you see virtually every day. Now, what Rip does on the field doesn’t directly affect me personally, but, you always want the team to do well (always better covering a locker room after a win than a loss) and coaching certainly plays a role in that. Knowing I had to do a sit down interview with him, I obviously had to do research on his background and find unique angles to talk about. One of them? He was Ken Whisenhunt’s coach at Georgia Tech when Whiz was a player there. But now, the shoe is on the other foot with Rip working under Ken. Small world.
J.P.: A lot of young journalists read these, and I think one of the issues they often face with pro athletes is fear and trepidation. Fear of approaching, fear of asking “stupid” questions, fear of being embarrassed. Did you have that at all? Do you ever still have it? And what’s the secret to walking boldly in your field?
H.E.: I absolutely had that and still do in a way. As reps and years have gone on, I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable, but I’m not complacent. I think the second I don’t feel challenged when preparing for an interview, then something is wrong. I’ve worked with Laura Okmin, who as you know, has had incredible longevity in this business, and even she says she still gets nervous before her first game of the season.
The key to walking boldly is preparation. Know what you’re talking about, and you’ll give yourself the tools and the power to have a conversation instead of a generic Q&A. I’ve learned to phrase questions in different ways to find better answers. I’ve “studied tape,” aka watched other reporters in the business whether it be sit downs or post-game interviews, and noted the types of questions they ask. I’ve learned never to start a question with “talk about….” That’s not a question, that’s a command. Lastly, don’t ask someone something that can be answered with a yes or no, because that may be what you end up getting back.
J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
H.E.: Greatest moment? Lots of good ones, but I’m still young, so it hasn’t happened yet. Lowest? Probably blanking/freezing during a live standup. It wasn’t ideal, but having it happen allowed me to check myself. I made a joke about it in the next standup that I did, and I regained confidence. The best part was that the woman who wrote the script put the part I froze on in the next week’s script so I got a chance at redemption. Luckily, second time was the charm.
J.P.: I’ve always bemoaned the fact that female journalists/reporters are routinely judged and critiqued on appearances, whereas men in the same field can look like lumpy potatoes. Do you feel like you deal with this? Do you hear the chatter, the remarks, the assholes? Does it impact you? Am I making something of nothing?
H.E.: You aren’t. There’s a definite double standard. I read this interview on Vulture.com last weekwhere Meredith Vieira talked about filling in for Bob Costas during the Sochi Olympics when Costas was dealing with pink eye. She actually became the first woman ever to solo host prime time Olympics coverage. But as nervous as she was to make sure she did a good job stepping in for Costas on her first night, she said so many comments she received on social media were about what she was wearing. Like huh? How is that okay?
With all that said, I’ve been lucky that I’ve been OK as far as not receiving comments on social media and what not, but I know others haven’t been. I’ve had to get serious about working out (on my own accord, it wasn’t like someone told me to) and in-season, I’m basically camera-ready every day at work because I usually shoot at least one video a day. Camera-ready for a woman is doing your hair, makeup, wearing the right clothes, etc. Guys can essentially roll out of bed, shower, get dressed and be good to go.It’s different for us because we get judged on appearance and knowledge.
J.P.: On Jan. 15 you posted the news of your engagement on Instagram, alongside a photo of you kidding your fiancé. First, mazel tov. Second, how far are you willing to go, RE: sharing personal info on social media? Is there a line you won’t cross? Do you prefer to be wide open?
H.E.: Thanks for your well-wishes! I have such a love-hate relationship with social media. Love it because of how it’s opened doors for me professionally, but hate it (at times) because it’s become such an integral part of today’s media landscape and I feel like people in my role sort of have to be more active on it. I don’t want to be wide open because I need to maintain some sort of privacy at the end of the day. I enjoy Instagram, but I try to keep a good blend of personal and work stuff on there.
In regards to the engagement, that actually happened the day prior to posting the photos. I felt like I wanted to put it out there on social because it was a part of my life that I wanted to document, but, I gave it time to enjoy on my own with calls and texts to family and friends. I think lines I won’t cross are doing things that could jeopardize me being taken seriously in this business: Doing IG stories with filters on my face, posting photos in bikinis looking off into the distance with some pithy quote as the caption. These social accounts are not only extensions of you as a person, but also as a professional. I want to go far in this business and be respected, and I think talking into a camera with dog ears or heart eyes can take away from that. Look, I enjoy having fun and maybe I’m taking it too seriously, but that’s just my m.o. If for some reason I end up doing one or any of these things, feel free to remind me of this conversation!
J.P.: You worked the Pro Bowl in the rain. Nobody tackles. The scores are often 50-43. Does this game need to be fixed? Are there improvements that can be made? Does it not matter?
H.E.: I don’t think it matters because the fans still eat it up and fans generate revenue. What’s crazy is literally how many people go to the week’s festivities and the game. I had never been before, but the last two days of practice were slammed with fans. I guess if you really love football and want to see a bunch of players in one setting, the Pro Bowl is your chance to do that? But man, I couldn’t believe how many people were there. However as for a non-game-content suggestion? Put it back in Hawaii!
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH HAYLEY ELWOOD:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Natrone Means, pinto beans, tudor homes, Migos, Kevin Quackenbush, iTunes gift cards, clean tissues, cranberry muffins, Shania Twain: Cranberry muffins, iTunes gift cards, clean tissues, Migos, Twain, Means, tudor homes, pinto beans, Quackenbush.
• Who wins in a bubble gum blowing contest between you and Antonio Gates? What’s the outcome?: Gates. Guy’s a future hall of famer.
• I never get invited to the fun parties. Any advice?: I don’t either! Maybe it’s because I don’t do Snapchat filters?¯\_(ツ)_/¯
• One question you would ask Keyshawn Johnson were he here right now?: Looking back, what did you learn from your time in Tampa and your contentious relationship with Jon Gruden that you didn’t realize at the time?
• Three things we need to know about your fiancé?: Originally from Kansas, plays guitar, has two middle names and a hyphenated last name.
• How do we solve the problems of climate change?: Start by acknowledging that it’s real. Which given the current political landscape, we’re unfortunately not going to be solving it for a while.
• Three things you always carry with you?: Phone, prescription sunglasses and hand sanitizer.
• The world needs to know—what’s the key to not dropping a microphone in heavy winds?: Work on that arm strength.
• Celine Dion calls. She’ll offer you $500 million to move to Las Vegas for a year and serve as her personal minute-by-minute life MC. Meaning, 20 hours a day, 365-straight days, you need to broadcast everything she says into a toy mic. You in?: Yes! Who wouldn’t be in for $500 million?
• Why do I have so many mugs?: Because it’s always important to stay hydrated—or have ample dust collectors.