Analyze This: A conversation with CBS and SportsNet New York broadcaster Taylor Rooks
On Cam Newton, Pam Oliver and athletes being a pivotal part of change in America
Analyze This is a daily Q&A with African-American college football broadcasters and analysts during The Undefeated’s Fall TV Week.
Taylor Rooks covers pro sports for SportsNet New York (SNY), and will also spend this college football season as a sideline reporter for CBS Sports Network. Rooks recently joined SNY after two years with the Big Ten Network as a reporter and on-air host. A native of Georgia, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she majored in broadcast journalism and covered Illinois football and basketball for scout.com. She comes from a storied sports family — her father, Thomas Rooks, was a running back for Illinois from 1982-85, and her uncle, longtime St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Lou Brock, is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Before the start of college football season and her new job, Rooks talked about why she chose to pursue sports journalism, black female representation in broadcasting and Cam Newton’s recent comments on race.
What’s your first recollection of sports broadcasting? Who was your on-screen inspiration?
The first time I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. Wow!’ was when I saw Pam Oliver on TV. I tell people not to ever underestimate that representation. I’d watch football games — and you usually see a lot of older white men doing the games. So I remember when I saw Pam Oliver and I was like, ‘Wow, she’s on TV talking about sports.’ Somebody who looked like me. A black woman. Seeing Pam Oliver, I was like, ‘You know what? I could do this.’ Because she was able to do it and she looks like me.
Is there anyone else you look up to when it comes to female sports broadcasters?
I love Cari Champion. She is just like the queen to me. I can do this because there’s other people that do this and they’re so unapologetically black. I feel that way about Cari. I just always think about what would sports journalism be like if there weren’t people like Champion or Jemele Hill. That’s why it’s important to have more black people in sports journalism — more black women in sports journalism — because we make up such a pivotal part of [sports].
How much pride do you take in being an African-American sportscaster?
I love it. Your blackness is something you should embrace, especially in a climate right now where you’re able to bring a voice to people that maybe don’t understand or don’t know. You can talk about topics that not everybody can because you’ve lived them. I want people to see me as a black journalist, 100 percent, because that’s what I am.
Are there specific difficulties you face being a black journalist, “100 percent”?
The biggest difficulty I’ve faced, in general, is when I’m talking about something on Twitter — like, about Colin Kaepernick or when I’m talking about police brutality or whatever it may be — people automatically kind of write off what you’re saying because you’re black. They feel as though you’re only saying this because you are a black person, as if every single black person is the same and they’re going to automatically back this other black person. So it’s hard sometimes … to say that it’s not that I’m a black person, it’s that your view of what a black person is, isn’t what it actually is. Me having this opinion doesn’t have solely do with the fact that I’m black.
Speaking of Kaepernick, what’s it like being a broadcaster right now with athletes speaking up on race, especially given the summer this country has had?
It’s a crucial time. Everybody watches sports, so when you see sports figures discussing things, there’s no getting away from it. Sometimes people try too hard to get away from the conversation. That’s why having Colin Kaepernick do that, having Deshaun Watson talk, having LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony talk — you can’t get away from it. In years to come, when we look back on this summer and this time, we’ll be like, these were things that happened and they were things that needed to happen, and it sparked conversation. College athletes are realizing they have a voice. Even at Mizzou [University of Missouri], they were like, ‘If we don’t play, if we don’t practice, things will change.’ I wish that all athletes realize they have that voice … they can be such a pivotal part of change in America.
If you were to pick one athlete who hasn’t spoken out, but who you’d like to hear voice his or her opinions on these issues, who would it be?
I don’t know exactly who I would want to speak up, but I will say someone who kind of let me down when they spoke up was [Carolina Panthers quarterback] Cam Newton. When Newton said we’re past racism, racism is gone — I feel like it’s dramatic to say that it set back the cause, but I wish he’d used that platform in another way. I think it’s not true to say that racism is gone. That’s just not the truth. So if he had used that platform to maybe get a little more candid about things that have happened, I just think that it could’ve been really good. If you have the reigning MVP talking about how racism needs to be confronted and the things that he’s experienced, it shifts the conversation. But everyone’s talking about how Cam Newton said he was past racism. But, hey, maybe he feels like racism is gone. I don’t know how he could feel that way — but maybe he truly does.