12 Rising Sports Media Stars Take On Ray Rice, Washington Redskins and LA’s Potential NFL Team

TheWrap picks the dynamic, risk-taking and compelling faces in broadcasting who are powering up the ranks of the industry

Last Updated: November 8, 2014 @ 6:21 PM

From LeBron James and Peyton Manning to Ronda Rousey and Serena Williams, the sports world is full of famous names who dominate the headlines, but what about the talent who bring their stories, wins, losses and even scandals to life?

TheWrap spoke with the biggest rising stars in sports media — including two talented on-screen pairs — across ESPN, NBC, Fox, CBS and Turner to learn how they won their coveted roles on the sidelines or in the studio and which other broadcasters they admire, plus their stances on current controversial topics in sports news including Ray Rice’s football future, the NFL domestic abuse crisis, the Washington Redskins name controversy, and whether L.A. should get an NFL team.

Read interviews with TheWrap’s picks for 11 Rising Sports Media Stars:

Tony Reali - Rising Stars

Tony Reali
ABC’s “GMA” social media correspondent and host of “Around the Horn” on ESPN
After 13 years of being the Stat Boy on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” Tony Reali has graduated to morning TV with “Good Morning America,” but saying goodbye wasn’t easy. “It was a wound for me, like leaving my family and the people I grew up with,” he said of his departure from hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon in September. Reali recently moved to New York for “GMA” but will continue to host frenetic sports roundtable show, “Around the Horn” on ESPN.

“It is very exciting to be on a show that does it all so well — story-telling, live news,” he told TheWrap of his latest gig. “Being a social media correspondent makes a lot of sense for me, I really like to investigate the digital space and all the platforms,” he explained. As for the pattern of his career choices since he first joined ESPN in 2000 as a researcher/writer, “I am attracted to people with a chemistry and I like TV that leads with its heart,” he added.

Since expanding from sports to morning TV, Reali has burst out of his own comfort zone reuniting the cast of the “Wonder Years” and dancing with Julianne Hough. “For me, that is so exciting,” he gushed. “Now my day is flipped, I do ‘GMA’ and then ‘ATH.’ Morning TV is a beast like no other. At least I have the most beautiful alarm clock [newborn daughter Francesca] in the world!”

What are your thoughts on Ray Rice and his possible return to the NFL?
The NFL has been in a crisis … and is still in a precarious position in a lot of ways. It takes one team to take a chance on someone — and the comparison that everyone makes is Michael Vick [who served prison time for dogfighting] and was brought back to a team. [If his ban is lifted] people will look at it and say ‘we can bring Ray Rice back.’ If a team is trying to sign him and get him to play in the post-season, I don’t think that would be a self-serving maneuver. I do know that whichever team does sign him will then have to publically support domestic violence groups in their area.

Do you think the Washington Redskins name is racist and should owner Dan Snyder still be pressured into changing it?
I have not said the name for a number of years. It is on the wrong side of history, and it is not something I want to be a part. I believe something will change. It is not a right to own a team in the NFL — it is a privilege.

What is your take on the prospect of an NFL team returning to L.A.? As a sports media personality, would that be a good move and do you think fans would support the team?
I don’t know if fans in L.A. want that to happen or not, I know that they watch all the games anyway but I understand that it is such an enormous market. With a city of that size, the NFL is going to want it — and if they want it then they are going to get it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in the next five to seven years.

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate grow up?
I grew up in New York City and listened to radio shows like “Mike and the Mad Dog,” so a mix of guys who called games and yelled at the top of their lungs. It is the kind of chemistry that I love, it’s like the conversations you have at the dinner table with your family.

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
“Raging Bull” is one of my favorites — it is so beautifully shot. Boxing translates so well [to film] because the ring is a stage.

Should NCAA college athletes be paid for their performance?
Yes, that is the place they have to go but it is a loaded issue, there are so aspects to consider and there are so many different sports — I am not smart enough to figure it all out. It makes zero sense to me.

Cassidy Hubbarth 2

Cassidy Hubbarth
ESPN’s “NBA Tonight” host and studio anchor
Currently the main studio host in ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut studio for “NBA Tonight,” Cassidy Hubbarth is now also heading up “NBA Coast to Coast” on ESPN2. “It is like the red zone for the NFL, where we dip in and out of games and talking about the main storylines,” with live analysis spotlighting teams and players that often get overlooked, she told TheWrap.

An Illinois native and Northwestern University graduate, Hubbarth kicked off her career at Big Ten Network and Fox Sports South, where she won a Southeast Emmy for Interactivity for her work on SEC Gridiron Live before joining ESPN in 2010. “I fell in love with sports broadcasting in grade school,” reveals the former soccer high school player. “I would daydream about interviewing people and rush home from church with my family to watch the Chicago Bears game on Sundays.”

What are your thoughts on Ray Rice and his possible return to the NFL?
I don’t know if any team will actually pick him up … the process has been botched by the NFL. I think the NFL has the history of second chances but I don’t think anyone is going touch him this season. I am glad it brought under a microscope a bigger issue in this league and in our society.

Do you think the Washington Redskins name is racist and should owner Dan Snyder still be pressured into changing it?
I think they should change the team name, if it bothers people — why are you holding on to it? It brings bad light to your team. Dan Snyder is trying to convince people it is a prideful symbol and you are honoring them.

What is your take on the prospect of an NFL team returning to L.A.? As a sports media personality, would that be a good move and do you think fans would support the team?
L.A. should have a team! It is tough with [fan] allegiances as they are passed on, and if it is a new team a fan base could hold a grudge. But there are new sports fans born every day and I don’t think they will have a hard time growing a fan base.

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate growing up?
My TV idols are Pam Oliver and Linda Cohn. Plus, I look up to Erin Andrews because she opens up a whole new world of sports and entertainment, which is merging more and more into pop culture.

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
“Love and Basketball” and “Remember the Titans” are favorites. I grew up watching so many sports films. It is all about likeable characters who are people you want to cheer for. I always want a happy ending, like in “A League of Their Own,” I still cry when she [Geena Davis’ Dottie Hinson] drops that ball.

Should NCAA college athletes be paid for their performance?
It opens up a Pandora’s box, I don’t think they should be paid for being players but if someone uses their likeness to profit, whether in a video game or a jersey, then that is different. If they are selling Jameis Winston jerseys, then he should get some of that but I don’t know how you divide it up.

Tony Gonzalez - Rising Stars

Tony Gonzalez
CBS Analyst and Former Atlanta Falcons Tight End
After being drafted in 1997, Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez made the huge move from the field to the studio when he joined CBS’s “The NFL Today” alongside James Brown, Boomer Esiason and Bill Cowher in 2014. “I am enjoying it a lot more than I thought I was going to. It is nerve-wracking and I am still getting my feet wet but getting used to it,” Gonzalez told TheWrap. “It kind of feels like a game almost, it takes me back to my rookie year and getting that first hit. It is very different going from playing football to talking about it.”

When it came to learning a game plan before taking to the air, Gonzalez got advice from an NFL player who is dominating morning TV like he did the New York Giants defense. “Michael Strahan is a good friend of mine, I sought his counsel and he said ‘just be yourself and everything else will fall into place,'” said the former Atlanta Falcon. When it comes to tricky topics, Stahan advised Gonzalez to “take a stance and pick a side,” he says. “I never said anything controversial as a player, I did not want to ruffle feathers, but now when I am getting paid to give an opinion I have to take a stance. You are going to piss people off.”

What are your thoughts on Ray Rice and his possible return to the NFL?
I think it is too soon, my feeling is that he should be out for the season, but there are rules and regulations in place. It is a first time offense, but when I look at that tape — as a husband and father of daughters — I wouldn’t want him playing football this year. He should come back next year and if he is good player then someone will pick him up.

Do you think the Washington Redskins name is racist and should owner Dan Snyder still be pressured into changing it?
I think Washington needs to be address the name and that was one of the things at the beginning of the season I was cautious to address. My wife is Native American and her father is a member of the group Redbone — I’ve asked him about it, and he says absolutely it is offensive. The name should be changed. I get that the fans are connected to it and it’s something they have grown up with — but they can change it up in a positive way.

What is your take on the prospect of an NFL team returning to L.A.? As a sports media personality, would that be a good move and do you think fans would support the team?
I hope L.A. gets team, I grew up here with the L.A. Rams and Raiders, it so sad that they don’t have one in the second biggest market in the country. One of the reasons is that the franchises didn’t have support because they weren’t that good. I don’t fault the league for shying away from it, especially as in L.A. there is so much going on — hockey, basketball, baseball, etc. I don’t think it should be a new franchise, because they need that fan base and if you bring a new team and they are not good that will be tough to get those fans coming. The Chargers or Jaguars would be good, but I would love to see the Raiders come back!

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate growing up?
My current pick is Strahan because he is damn good at what he does. He is absolutely himself, what you see is what you get. He is fun, outgoing, charismatic and a genuine person. But I am not saying I want to do the same things or a morning show — he is special, doing things that no other athlete has ever done and he is busting down doors.

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
I am a little old school, I like “North Dallas Forty” with Nick Nolte, which is a football film from 1979. I also love “The Longest Yard,” “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams” and “Remember the Titans.”

Should NCAA college athletes be paid for their performance?
I think they should get paid, not a lot of money, but a scholarship check is not enough compared to what these students are bringing in, which is millions of dollars and they are only seeing a fraction of that. I remember being in school [at Cal Berkeley] and at the end of the day I had $10 to eat, but was lucky to be in a position where my parents could help me. [Student athletes] don’t have time to get a job, there’s no way to do that, get good grades and attend practice … their job is to go out and play.

Allie LaForce - Rising Stars

Allie LaForce
CBS Sports anchor and co-host of “We Need to Talk”
As a former Miss USA, Allie LaForce has broken stereotypes and impressed viewers with her expertise. “People have come to respect my knowledge, the fact that CBS made the hire and that I have a lot to offer,” she told TheWrap. “We are certainly making strides. If you are a man or a women and you do a good job, people will take notice.”

Last September, CBS made TV history with the first all-female sports show that teams LaForce up with Lesley Visser, Andrea Kremer, Dana Jacobsen and Laila Ali. “You wouldn’t have seen that a few years ago,” she explained, and especially with issues such as the current NFL domestic violence crisis dominating news headlines, “it is the perfect time. We are getting great reviews and feedback, because we are treating it like a normal sports show. It is not women sitting around and talking.”

One of the reasons LaForce managed to excel in the traditionally-male industry is her experience both on the court as basketball player and on the sidelines as color analyst in Ohio. “Playing basketball was reason I got this job because you have to be comfortable on camera, being a player creates a different layer of skill.”

What are your thoughts on Ray Rice and his possible return to the NFL?
“It is really hard because once the example was made and the video was shown, there was public outcry and the NFL had to make a change. I wish they had done that without the outcry. There is no way in my mind I ever want to see Ray Rice on the football field again or root for him.

What is your take on the prospect of an NFL team returning to L.A.? As a sports media personality, would that be a good move and do you think fans would support the team?
I think it is silly that we don’t have an NFL team in the number two market in the entire country. I think it is an outstanding opportunity to engage more fans and use Los Angeles for the draft and as a Super Bowl location, it just makes a smart business move. I know there are a lot of long suffering St. Louis Rams fans that are keen to move there! I think the Raiders are likely too. I think it is more about the expense, what is affordable, what about parking and traffic? Plus finding a venue that is accessible.

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate growing up?
I really look up to [WNBA player] Lisa Leslie, she embodied everything that a female athlete should be. My mom always told me, ‘Watch her — you can be a lady and a jock and a businesswoman all at the same time.’ I also really admire ESPN’s Hannah Storm. She can host, anchor and interview talent.

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
I love “A League of Their Own,” “Remember the Titans,” and “Rudy,” because I was an underdog. The key to a sports movie is it needs emotion — sports are a great platform for overcoming societal and personal issues.

Should NCAA college athletes be paid for their performance?
We were just having that discussion on the show, I don’t think that student athletes should get paid but they should be able to make money from their likeness, such as their jerseys or autographs. But whether colleges should actually pay them is a slippery slope — then you have to ask what about baseball players, the women’s sports, lacrosse? That will drastically affect recruiting and emphasize the difference between the larger and smaller schools.

Tim Tebow - Rising Stars

Tim Tebow
ESPN’s “SEC Nation” Analyst and “GMA” contributor, Heisman Trophy winner, former NFL player
The biggest name in college football is now a member of the “Good Morning America” broadcast team and an analyst on the newly-launched SEC Network, but rather than transitioning from football to TV, Tim Tebow says he is still training everyday. “Studying film, players, teams is something I’ve been doing for years,” he told TheWrap. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend game day with SEC fans every week.

“‘Good Morning America’ gave me another way to share something near and dear to my heart. #MotivateMeMondays is what I want my life to be about — bringing faith, hope and love to people that need a brighter day; and a lot of people do,” explained the former Florida Gators QB who is currently a free agent after entering the NFL in 2010. The live nature of  “SEC Nation” doesn’t phase the Heisman Trophy winner either — and neither does giving his opinion. “I’ve never had a hard time saying what I believed or standing up for something. I look at the game from an objective prism and try to share an insight with the viewers just like I always have any time I’ve had the opportunity,” he explained.

Many have questioned whether Tebow’s hosting duties mark the end of his professional football career after stints with the Broncos, Jets and briefly at the Patriots, but the devout Christian is leaving that in the hands of a higher power. “One of my favorite quotes is ‘I don’t know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future,'” he explained. “And in that, it gives you peace to just continue to work, go after what your heart desires and when you do that, you don’t have any regrets. I think that’s the best way to live life.”

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate growing up?
There are so many legends in this business. Brent Musburger, Keith Jackson, Verne Lundquist just to name a few. I heard their voices every weekend of my life and it is an honor to work in the business they helped to build. I’ve always respected analysts who speak honestly and continue to be students of the game. I tried to learn a little bit from everyone and take what they do well and dissect it. I’ll continue to try to learn every single day to be the best I can. Fans are hungry for knowledge and I strive to be a credible source of it every time I am on air.

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
I love “Rocky” (especially “Rocky 4”), “Rudy” and “Hoosiers,” but my favorite would have to be “Remember the Titans.”

Andy Scholes - Rising Stars

Andy Scholes
CNN Sports Correspondent
After launching his career as a local sports anchor for KLST and KAMC in Texas, Andy Scholes went national and took the helm as CNN’s fulltime sports correspondent in June 2013, also hosting the Bleacher Report segment on “New Day.” “I am the reporter mainly in the mornings, for the cool things like the Final Four, or the World Series,” Scholes told TheWrap, modestly saying that when “people think of CNN they think of Rachel Nichols, as they should,” but he is getting more attention from viewers but warns them, “If you’re not up early, you may miss me!”

What are your thoughts on Ray Rice and his possible return to the NFL?
The Ray Rice situation is tricky, because he was suspended for two weeks and then it became double jeopardy. We all know the NFL should have done a better job at getting the videotape. Everyone deserves to get a second chance — whether is Mike Tyson or Michael Vick. What he did is terrible but should he be suspended the whole season and lose his job?

Do you think the Washington Redskins name is racist and should owner Dan Snyder still be pressured into changing it?
I go back and forth on the Redskins, this became an issue just a few years ago — where was this debate for the first 28 years of my life? I am not Native American so if someone finds that offensive then I can’t argue with them. I am not on either side of the fence. I don’t think the name will change — Dan Snyder said he won’t do it — unless the government makes them.

What is your take on the prospect of an NFL team returning to L.A.? As a sports media personality, would that be a good move and do you think fans would support the team?

It was predicted that the Rams, Raiders or Chargers might move soon and all the signs points to [L.A.] getting a team soon, it makes sense financially. I have never even been to California, but there are so many things to do there and the weather is amazing, so filling a stadium with 80,000 people may be challenging.

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate growing up?
I have always appreciated watching [NBC’s] Bob Costas and how he handles sports stories, the Olympics, and Sunday Night Football.

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
I am not the biggest hockey fan, but “Miracle” always gets me — it is probably the best sports film ever made.

Should NCAA college athletes be paid for their performance?
I don’t think college athletes should get paid at all, in my mind they are already are with free housing and education. In Texas [where Scholes grew up] that can be upwards of $200,000 per student [in total]. Paying them would ruin the game, they could just up the specific spending money.

Tara Lipinksi & Johnny Weir - Rising Stars

Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski
NBC Sports Group figure skating broadcast team
NBC Sports’ latest dream team both earned their stripes on the ice before moving to the broadcast booth, with Johnny Weir as a three time U.S. champion and Tara Lipinski an Olympic gold medal-winner. After winning over fans as well as judges covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi for NBC and making cheeky style commentary at the Kentucky Derby, the pair recently joined Terry Gannon helming the network’s figure skating broadcast team. “This is surreal. I couldn’t be prouder of this team. It is a dream come true,” said Lipinski.

“We have grand plans and big dreams but you have to crawl before you can walk. But first things first, it’s figure skating … to get fans behind the stars of the sport and the new favorites,” explained her outspoken sidekick, Weir. “I never think what we say is that outrageous. If you call it like you see it, that’s what the audience likes,” he continued, referring to their colorful commentary that has sparked criticism among some of the sports’ traditionalists.

“When we talk it is more a conversation between us and the audience. You have to be authentic, we are not trying to talk down to them. I don’t think there is anything outrageous about that,” said Weir. “Give us one minute or an hour and we’re going to be us.”

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate growing up?
“Scott Hamilton and Dick Button fall into that category for me, just looking at what they’ve done, they are pretty big shoes to fill,” said Lipinksi. “When I started commentating a few years ago, I looked back at all those tapes and listened to their iconic voices and sayings that as a viewer really resonated to me and meant so much. I definitely look up to them and hope to bring some of that to viewers,” she added.

Weir went on to joke, “For me, it is 100 percent Kim Kardashian,” before getting serious. “Looking back there are so many iconic faces that enveloped sports, they take you back to a place in time when you first heard them. Dick Button has been such a wonderful mentor to me and such an inspiration. I admire the things that he brought to figure skating. As a little boy in Pennsylvania, the voice that stuck to me the most was Verne Lundquist on CBS as it resonated,” he went on to say. “These voices help create the world of figure skating for people and I hope that Tara and myself can do that,” he pledged.

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
“There was a made for TV Canadian movie that our one video shop had called ‘Blades of Courage,’ it was over-the-top and focused on a lot of craziness that happens in the figure skating world,” recalled Weir. “I will never forget it and it is by far my favorite skating movie. I have it on VHS tape so if you can find a VHS player I will show it to you!”

Lipinski’s pick is far more mainstream, “Mine is ‘Miracle’ and I cry every time I watch it. But I love all sports movies so it’s hard to find a favorite.

Charissa Thompson - Rising Stars

Charissa Thompson
Co-host of “Fox Sports Live” and “Extra”
Like network pal Erin Andrews, Charissa Thompson balances both sports and entertainment having hosted “Fox Sports Live” since it launched on Fox Sports 1 in Aug. 2013, along with her latest stint as a co-host on “Extra” on NBC. “Waking up at 5 a.m. and getting home at 11 p.m. is tough and there are certainly days when I ask myself ‘What was I thinking?’ agreeing to do two jobs,” she told TheWrap, saying the secret to pulling it all off is “a lot of concealer to cover up the bags under my eyes.” Having worked as a sideline reporter, an ice-level reporter and even hosting a rodeo show on networks including Fox, Versus and ESPN since 2007, entertainment is new to the 32-year-old, and makes her feel like a “little kid” she said. “I am meeting all these celebrities for the first time, enjoying this glitz and glamour of this world.”

Juggling her duties across both genres, Thompson explained the best advice she’s ever been given is to do her homework. “Research, research, research,” she told TheWrap. “I am never nervous if I am prepared … remember the names of your cameraman, lighting guy, anyone who is working with you. It seems simple but you would be surprised by how many people don’t do that. Common courtesy can go a long way!”

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate growing up?
I loved Melissa Stark [NFL Network reporter and former NBC “Today Show” correspondent/ESPN reporter] and I still do, but I haven’t ever actually met her.

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
I loved “Field of Dreams,” is that so cheesy? And “Love and Basketball,” especially the soundtrack featuring Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work.”

What is your take on the prospect of an NFL team returning to L.A.? As a sports media personality, would that be a good move and do you think fans would support the team?
I would love it if a team moved to L.A. I have seen the fandom of people in this town with all the Kings recent [Stanley Cup] success and obviously the Dodgers, Lakers and even the Clippers resurgence.

Should NCAA college athletes be paid for their performance?
I am all for paying college athletes. Maybe I am brainwashed being around a ton of former athletes and having even dated one. Jay Williams [former college basketball player and current ESPN analyst] was always bringing up the fact that he would constantly be seeing his likeness used on video games. Plus with jersey sales and all the money the university and people around him were making off him, but he couldn’t even get a job to pay for extra stuff he wanted. It was frustrating for him.

Men in Blazers - Rising Stars

Men In Blazers, a.k.a. Michael Davies and Roger Bennett
Hosts of “Men In Blazers” on NBC Sports Network and NBCSports.com
The dry British Premier League gurus made the move from ESPN and Grantland to NBC in August after winning U.S. fans with wildly entertaining World Cup coverage down in Brazil. Michael Davies and Roger Bennett are back in the “crap part of Soho,” for their new NBC Sports show airing a 30-minute show every Monday night. “We mostly just try to have a conversation with each other about football [soccer] and try to make each other laugh,” Bennett told TheWrap. “Over time, our listeners have become the third person in that conversation, so we keep the camera close enough so it feels like we’re talking to them.”

Despite the cozy closet-style set, the pair has attracted some famous names to join them in banter about the weekend’s matches. “I always targeted our pod at Billy Beane,” said Davies, referring to the Oakland A’s general manager who Brad Pitt played in “Moneyball,” who has appeared with them on-air five times since. “Billy is to Men In Blazers what Alec Baldwin is to ‘Saturday Night Live,'” quipped Davies, who is also a producer on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens: Live.” But still on their wish list of guests are Mike Myers, Elvis Costello — “both huge Liverpool fans” — Bill Murray and Sir Alex Ferguson.

How has your unique style captured American audiences and perhaps turned them onto a sport they had never watched?
“We just talk about what we find funny and interesting. Football is amazing, and frankly, you don’t even have to like the game. All you need is a love of narrative, never-ending drama, slapstick comedy, larger than life characters and athletes with lots of different body shapes, hairstyles and neck tattoos,” said Davis. 

Which sports broadcasters did you emulate growing up?
“George Michael of the George Michael Sports Machine.  Both Davo and I shared the same experience as Englishmen new to this country in the early ’90s,” joked Bennett. 

What’s your favorite sports movie of all time and why?
“I love ‘Gregory’s Girl’ directed by Bill Forsyth [in 1981] or ‘Happy Gilmore,'” said Bennett, but  “Caddyshack II” was not a favorite. Meanwhile, Davies thought “Victory” was a classic, but wasn’t picking “Draft Day” in his first round.

Erin Andrews - Rising Stars

Erin Andrews
“Fox College Football” host on Fox Sports and ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” co-host
While she is risen rather than on the rise, Erin Andrews remains one of the hottest faces in sports broadcasting and isn’t afraid to get into the midst of the action, whether sparking a post-game rant by Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman or suing an alleged stalker. Andrews, now 36, began her career at Fox Sports Florida, and after moving up the ranks at ESPN covering everything from the Little League World Series and the National Spelling Bee to Major League Baseball, she’s back on Fox hosting “Fox College Football.” But Andrews hasn’t said goodbye to The Walt Disney Company, and is juggling her sports duties with hosting “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC after appearing as a contestant in 2010.

In July, it was announced that she will also be replacing veteran Pam Oliver as the sideline reporter on Fox’s lead NFL broadcasting crew.

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