Danyelle Sargent always knew she wanted to be on national television. And at the ripe old age of 34, she has already landed anchor gigs at ESPN, FOX, and now NFL Network.
In this wide-ranging Q&A, Sargent details her fast rise in the sports world, examines how widely the media has changed in ten years, and shares a little vulnerability when it comes to women and football cred.
Sargent inteviews Lawrence Tynes following Super Bowl XLVI
Melissa Jacobs: How did you get your start in the sports world?
Danyelle Sargent: I started out in high school as a complete sports lover. My dad was a huge baseball and basketball fan. I grew up going to a ton of games. But he didn’t like football so the first time I went to a football game above the high school level was at Florida State, where I went for college.
By my second year at Florida State I knew I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. Someone from ESPN came to one of our classes looking for runners and they picked me. So I started out carrying cable at Florida State games whenever ESPN was in town. That just spiraled and I got to do some similar work for ABC Monday Night Football games. While there, it was an opportunity to pick people’s brains, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. People have no idea how hard it is to break into this business. Finally someone helped me get into CNN/SI. I was a production assistant so I edited highlights and just continued to work on my tape. Sometimes through public television I would get on the set during breaks and read the teleprompter. Eventually someone in Makon, Georgia felt bad for me and offered me a job. One of my old friends at CNN had gone to Kansas City, to Metra sports, which is a regional there. She said they were looking for a one-man band. I was there for two years, got gradually better, then I got the amazing call from ESPN.
MJ: After ESPN, you went on to host a highlight show at FOX for five years before it was canceled. That must have been tough.
DS: I kind of thought I’d get out of TV after that show was canceled because I had my daughter, I got married [to former NBA coach Eric Musselman], and I was living in the Bay Area. My husband wound up getting a job coaching the Lakers developmental league team so we moved back to LA. And that’s how I ended up getting in with NFL Network.
MJ: If your husband had not received the job with the Lakers, do you think you would have stayed “retired?”
DS: To be honest. I think so. I was actually working for Yahoo!, which is based in the Bay Area. I don’t know how they found out I was around but they reached out to me. The gig was a couple days a week and it gave me a taste of the world I love. They cover major events, so I went to the National Championship, I covered playoffs games, and I went to the Super Bowl. And had I still been working there I would have gone to the Olympics. I probably would have stayed in that role. But you never know what path you have until you take it.
MJ: What are the major differences in television and media as a whole between when you started out in college and now?
DS: It makes me feel old whenever I think about it. If there had been YouTube around whenever I started out in local TV in Macon, Georgia, oh boy, who knows what might be on the Internet. I was run over at a football game one time when shooting. If YouTube was around, I’d probably be an Internet sensation for that. The social media aspect – Facebook, Twitter, none of it was around and has changed the business oh so much.
From a strictly media perspective, when I first started out there were not as many women as there are now. I remember being in college and I was in Tampa and I saw Sage Steele on air because she worked in local TV there and she was such inspiration for me because I never really saw any African American sportscasters who were women. Very very few. Now here we are ten years later and they’re everywhere. It really changed.
MJ: Have you gotten to know Sage since?
DS: Yeah, I got to know her about 4 or 5 years later and it turns out we have the same agent. She’s actually one of my favorite people. She’s awesome on TV and in real life. She is one of the people in this business that I just love.
MJ: Talk about you current gig with NFL Network in terms of where we can see your face.
DS: The show I work on is called “Up to the Minute,” which is on Monday. Mondays and Thursdays are the huge days for us, with a full slate of games on our air. I do a half-hour show, and every week it feels like five minutes because it’s so fast paced. We try to get out to all our reporters and try to keep the audience up to the minute.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays I’m the morning update anchor for the network. I do lots of breaking news and team press conferences, and we’ll talk to coaches. It all depends on what went on the prior weekend.
MJ: Does working for NFL Network give you instant football credibility, or do you feel like you need to garner it through other channels?
DS: It’s something I always feel a little self conscious about. I am a woman. I never was a quarterback. But I’ve loved this game forever, and I always wanted to do national television. Even when I started out, some people want to be the “main” anchor in Chicago; I always wanted to do national, and I’ve always really enjoyed football and basketball. Now that I’m married to a basketball coach, I know more than I’ve ever wanted to know. You get a little self-conscious in general, but I have to have faith in the fact that I know what I’m talking about. I do my homework. I watch the games.
MJ: One of the outlets I’ve noticed is your blog at DanyelleSargent.com, where you smartly tackle topics related to football and seek out lessons. Recent examples range from the Sandy Hook tragedy to the Josh Brent situation to even Colin Kaepernick’s rise. What was the impetus for the blog?
DS: It’s a couple things. First off, I would always get emails from young girls asking me how I got into the business, and always reaching out to me. So I wanted to do something that was my voice. On NFL Network I’m not talking about anything other than straight football and what goes on in the league, and I just wanted a space where I could be myself and talk with people. I feel like there’s so many ways sports transcends into your life and I wanted to address that.
MJ: When it comes to social media, Twitter in particular, I know you have the blog and your programming on NFL Network, as well as any analysis you want to get out there. You have a big following on Twitter. We all have objectives when it comes to Twitter usage. Can you define yours?
DS: Whenever I’m at work I do tweet out a lot of breaking news stories because honestly I’m probably one of the first people seeing these stories cross. The majority of people that follow me are sports fans and I know that’s what they want to hear, but I also just want to give people a taste of my life. It’s very unconventional, so I just put out there some of the things that happen to me. It’s definitely not all about football. My husband just started tweeting and all of his tweets are inspirational quotes. That’s his thing but I keep telling him he has to tweet something personal. But he’s not ready to go there yet.
MJ: What’s his handle so he can all follow him and pepper him with personal questions?
MJ: I bet I’m the first person who’s interviewed you that started following your husband mid-interview.
DS: Ha, I love it.
MJ: Back to the good old NFL. Are you a fan of one team in particular?
DS: I am a huge Falcons fan. I do not hide it. When it comes to football, I love my Florida State Seminoles and I love my Atlanta Falcons.
Proof she’s a Falcons fan!