Charissa Thompson on what it takes to be a woman in sports broadcasting
Charissa Thompson is a small blonde version of Kelly and Michael's Michael Strahan: With one foot in the football world and the other in entertainment, she is a versatile host who can interview John Hamm one day and DeMarco Murray the next without skipping a beat.
The co-host of Fox Sports Live and Extra is now a spokeswoman for Biotrue, and SheKnows caught up with her to talk about having two great jobs, how she has earned respect in a field that still has "Top 20 Hottest Female Broadcasters" lists, and how she learned to own who she is.
SheKnows: In a story that Sports Illustrated did on you last year, you said that when you were 11 years old you would do mock newscasts and pretend to interview your brother. How did this dream of broadcasting come to you at such a young age?
Charissa Thompson: I was obsessed with my dad, and my dad would refuse to go to church with us on Sundays because football was on. So I thought to myself, how could I spend more time with my dad? I started watching football with him every Sunday, and it was just something I fell in love with. And so I made a mock newscast with my friend Amy. We'd set up the camera, an old VHS camcorder, and I did the sports section and interviewed my brother who pretended to be Jay Buhner... against his will, of course.
SK: Just a few weeks ago, two female sports reporters were blocked from entering the Jaguars locker room. Do you find that sports media is still a boy's club or is that a misperception of where things stand in your field today?
CT: Michelle Beadle and Rachel Nichols experienced it at the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. They spoke out about Mayweather's track record with abusing women and they were banned from going into the fight. If a man had spoken out about that, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have been banned. But being a woman in this industry will open up doors because there aren't as many women as there are men, but it's your job once you're in the door to prove yourself twice as much as a man. Because you're under a magnifying glass.
SK: Our motto at SheKnows is "women inspiring women." What does that mean to you?
CT: It means being a support system. I don't want to be in competition with anyone. I'm friends with women I work with and I applaud any success they have in their careers. And I'm not just saying that because it sounds good, I genuinely want people to do well and have success.
SK: What does feminism mean to you?
CT: Feminism means to me being comfortable with who you are as a woman and being unapologetic about it. In the very early stages of working in sports, I was sick of being referred to as "the Barbie doll" because I had long, blond, fake hair. So I went and bought a boxed hair color, dyed my hair black, and put on glasses. And I looked ridiculous. I looked like a completely different person. I was trying to get away from the stereotype but what I realized in doing that is that what I say and how I conduct myself in what I do will speak for itself, and I don't need to apologize for being a woman in that space. I don't have to alter the way I look — I can still wear a short, tight dress, but if what I'm saying is correct, then hopefully you garner respect. You don't have to apologize for being feminine in a male space.
SK: You've talked a few times about being brutally honest and transparent, but you've also talked in the past about being very careful with your words so that they don't bite you in the rear later in your career. How do you strike that balance?
CT: My boss at Extra once accused me of letting my thought bubbles be my words. She has said, "I want you to think a thought, and then think about whether or not you want to say that." It's a work in progress. For me, it's about being authentic and saying how I feel, but also putting a governor on it. I look at the Chrissy Teigens of the world, who I absolutely love, and I wish that I could say some of the stuff that she says. But I know where I want to go in my career path and I know that there are some things I can't say.
SK: Let's talk about your work at Extra. It seems that you have worked exclusively in sports throughout your career, so how did this opportunity to work in entertainment news come about?
CT: I had spent over 10 years in sports, and there's such a natural crossover between entertainment and sports. It's more common to have both of those in your arsenal. Lisa Gregorisch, Extra's executive producer said, "You work in sports, you've done live events, you can think on your feet, you've interviewed innumerable people. It's just switching topics." It's asking someone what they're wearing and not how many yards they rushed for. The game is the same, but the players, pun intended, have changed.
SK: Let's talk about the future. What do you still want to achieve career-wise?
CT: Right now I am happy to play in both of the spaces. I have the best of both worlds. I can talk about Taylor Swift during the day, and at night I can sit in front of the TV and watch Thursday night football. At some point, if the two converge and it becomes one job where I can still talk about both, that would be amazing. But until then, I'm happy working seven days a week to do them both.