Having a father who was a powerful and successful sports executive, and her own passion for sports and being in front of the camera, the journey was clear for Hannah Storm. Her intense work ethic and fierce desire to succeed would take to her to unmatched heights as she broke down barriers for women in sports that had been up for so long. As you will see in her Y1on1, Hannah Storm has done just about everything one can do in sports broadcasting on a global level. And few have done it with as much poise, professionalism, integrity and love. Hannah sat down with us after her coverage of the Rio Olympics and the U.S. Open recently and this is her Y1on1:
Was it always a dream of yours, to be in front of the camera, talking all things sports? And did you ever think you’d be where you are today?
Growing up, I was constantly surrounded by sports; my dad was a sports executive for most of my childhood, starting in ticket sales for the Chicago Zephyrs, and moving around the country to work with the Baltimore Bullets, the Indiana Pacers, the Kentucky Colonels, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Atlanta Hawks… before becoming commissioner of the American Basketball Association. My childhood home at times was like my ESPN set, with athletes and coaches routinely in my house!
I also loved the limelight when I was younger – I was a real “ham” in high school. I got into acting and performed in our school plays and musicals. So when I got to college I thought: What better way to fuse my two passions – performing and sports – than by becoming a sportscaster? The only issue was, for a woman in 1983 (which is when I graduated Notre Dame), that was pretty much a pipe dream. There were almost no other women in the sports media industry then, and I had the door slammed in my face more times than I could count. Just to get experience on the air, I started as a rock DJ in Corpus Christi, Texas, and eventually became the first female sportscaster at CNN! So while I’m not surprised about the field I ended up in, I am often grateful that the hard work and perseverance paid off.
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You’ve worked at CNN, NBC, CBS and ESPN/ABC. Looking back, when did you feel you really made it, you really arrived and could be a force in the industry?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific moment or accomplishment, but I have definitely experienced that feeling at different milestones in my career. Right before I joined CNN, I worked at a start-up TV station in Charlotte covering Nascar and the first NBA basketball franchise there. I remember when the Chicago Bulls came to town and there was a lot of buzz surrounding Michael Jordan, who was from North Carolina. I never liked the part of my job that involved going into the players’ locker room, but Michael treated me with such respect and class, that he really set the tone for how the other NBA players treated and worked with me and the few women in the business. I’ll never forget that. After that, landing my role as CNN’s first female sportscaster really got my foot in the door; from there I went to NBC and hosted the NBA Broadcasts as well as Notre Dame football, the Olympics, and so many other great events.
That brings me to two big turning points for me: hosting the Olympics for the first time at the 1992 Barcelona Games and becoming an anchor on CBS’s The Early Show in 2002. When I was starting out, there weren’t any female role models in sportscasting; the closest person was Jane Pauley, who hosted The Today Show and also traveled to host Olympics coverage. She was my idol.
So in that way, those two accomplishments – hosting the Olympics and anchoring a network morning show – really gave me that sense of “I’ve made it.” And obviously, landing a job that combined both of those things at ESPN and building out the Face to Face brand on SportsCenter has been truly gratifying.
Being the first female to attain such lofty heights as a sportscaster is something you’ve done a few times (most notably the first woman in American television history to solo host a network's sports package when you hosted NBC Major League Baseball games from 1994 to 2000). While the industry isn’t as male dominated as when you started, what advice can you share with girls in America today that want to follow in your footsteps?
Thankfully, women have come a long way in sports media – but there is still plenty of progress to be made, and pursuing a passion for sportscasting is no easy task. In college, I had a sports talk show on the local radio station, did sports reporting for an NBC affiliate in the area, and spent my summers waiting tables so I could then intern at TV stations for free. After I graduated, I applied to hundreds of jobs in sports television, but even with my experience, I received rejection letters, slammed doors, and comments like, “We can’t hire a woman; why don’t you do feature reporting instead?” But my dad told me to believe in myself, and reminded me that I needed just one person out there to believe in me, too. So I turned to another media platform – radio – and landed that first job at a rock station in Texas.
I moved on to report on sports for different local station affiliates in Houston until I finally got the call from CNN to join Sports Tonight. They actually had me take a sports quiz before hiring me. But I kept a steady belief in myself that I was deserving and more than capable of what I had set out to do, and that belief is what propelled me from CNN to NBC Sports to CBS’s The Early Show, and finally, to ESPN. It is also what gave me the courage to start my own production company, and I have been able to direct and produce several award-winning films. I have also followed a life-long dream and launched my own foundation, which funds surgeries for children suffering from debilitating vascular anomalies and birthmarks.
So my advice for today’s young women is: Follow your passions, keep an open mind regarding opportunities, and never give up. Also, work hard – that part is critical and cannot be overstated.
Youth1 celebrates and covers the best of youth sports in America. With your experience, what advice do you have for youth athletes today? What character qualities should they possess to be most successful?
I actually ran track and field in high school and I lettered in both that and cheerleading. (I was the school Mascot!) Succeeding in sports, at its core, is similar to succeeding in any other field – it takes a lot of hard work and self-confidence. The frequent practice is important, as is the strategy involved, but the foundation of athletic achievement lies in the urgency of giving it your all every time and the belief that if you work hard enough, you can deliver on what you set out to do.
In regards to injuries and safety in sports, do you think the right measures are being taken to protect young athletes and athletes at all levels, specifically when it comes to concussions?
The safety and health of athletes should always be a priority, and there remains much work to be done in this area, in both research and protection in the course of athletic participation. One positive step has been the openness to having conversations that were previously taboo in the sports world. We used to be afraid to talk about controversial things in sports, pertaining to topics like race, sexuality, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and lifelong physical and mental consequences for those injured playing sports. Now we’ve brought these and other topics to the forefront; hopefully that leads to greater safety in many areas for athletes.
You’re fresh off heading up the coverage of the Olympics in Rio for ESPN and right back to work. No rest for the weary. Can you share with our readers a few of your most memorable moments there in terms of what you saw and experienced?
Like other Olympics, it really felt like history was being made right in front of me. There were some all-time great performances: Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt (whom I’m very excited to sit down with on SportsCenter later this week!). I loved watching them excel but also thoroughly enjoy the process. That was special. And of course, seeing runners Abbey D'Agostino and Nikki Hamblin help each other up and embody the meaning of compassion and sportsmanship – that was a transcendent moment. There was also an incredibly difficult moment for me as well, having to announce the sudden passing of my beloved colleague, John Saunders. That, for me, is as much a part of Rio as anything else.
Interviews with Presidents, pop culture icons, and probably every major athlete past and present has been part of your resume. Two or three that stand out to you as most memorable? And is there one elusive one that has gotten away or is still on your radar?
It’s been a long run so it’s nearly impossible to select just a few! I feel privileged to have chronicled the entire career of Michael Jordan. I have also covered Tiger Woods’ career since his U.S. Amateur days, as well as Roger Federer, Serena Williams, the Manning brothers, Steph Curry, and so many others. A more recent interview that had an impact on me as a journalist was with Carmelo Anthony to discuss social activism and its place in the sports world today. And hosting coverage of Muhammad Ali’s funeral and memorial, where I interviewed Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Harry Edwards, was an honor.
Another series of interviews that stand out are those I conducted with Olympic athletes in the weeks leading up to Rio. Hosting the Olympics was always a major dream of mine growing up, and the Games hold a special place in my heart. (Rio marked my fifth time hosting the Olympics!) Speaking with athletes like Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Kyrie Irving, Carli Lloyd, and Bubba Watson as they were at the pinnacle of anticipation for Rio, was an Olympic experience I had never had before.
I know you’ve been asked this many times, but can you share with us the short term and even long term effects of the burns you suffered as the result of the grill accident in 2012? Your words of perseverance I’m sure would mean so much to our audience of how to overcome the greatest of obstacles.
That was a real life challenge. There was quite a bit of physical damage – the first- and second-degree burns on my face, hands, chest and neck; my singed corneas; my lost eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair. But there were also blessings: my family supported me in so many ways, from the moment my oldest daughter had to call 911 when the accident happened. My daughters changed my bandages, washed my hair, and left me little notes about when to take my medication. I was anxious to return to TV as quickly as possible, and I couldn’t have made it back there in the short three weeks I did without them. It also underlined a lifelong thought process about appearance. For weeks after my accident I was disfigured, but I was able to handle that better because of my past.
I was born with a port-wine stain, a hemangioma, underneath my left eye. I learned from a young age that beauty really radiates outwards from within. Without makeup, it still looks like I have a black eye; my parents told me that that was where the angel kissed me before I was born. Although I am still self-conscious about it at times, I have learned to embrace it as part of who I am. It inspired me to start my foundation for children suffering from debilitating vascular anomalies and birthmarks; to date, we have already funded close to 30 surgeries.
What was the inspiration behind your book Go Girl! Raising Healthy, Confident and Successful Girls Through Sports? And while that was in 2001, is there a follow up in the works?
My mother once gave me a framed quote, which I love and keep on my desk at ESPN, from Marianne Williamson. It says, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you NOT to be?... Your playing small does not serve the world.” Sometimes young girls make themselves smaller because of outdated ideas about femininity. They stop raising their hands in math and science classes and stop participating in sports. In my book, I wanted to illustrate how participation in sports benefits girls in so many powerful ways, and I offer a lot of guidelines for parents who are going through this process to educate them.
Lastly, we’d love to have you share as much as you’d like about the foundations you are part of and of your amazing philanthropic work you’ve done. Share with our readers where they can go to find out more about some foundations you started and those you are closely tied to.
The awareness and treatment of vascular birthmarks is a cause that’s close to my heart because of my own experience. In 2008, I created the Hannah Storm Foundation (HSF) to raise awareness, fund treatment, and provide educational information for children suffering from debilitating and disfiguring vascular anomalies. Our goal is to inspire individual potential and to promote an active and fulfilling life. We have sponsored surgeries for children around the world, from Montana and Massachusetts to China, South Africa, and Slovenia.
HSF also funds the Hannah Storm Journalism Internship at Notre Dame, my alma mater. This internship provides opportunities for current Notre Dame undergraduate students interested in communications and marketing to gain practical experience in order to better prepare themselves for their careers later on.