Breaking barriers with Tracy Wolfson
A series of interesting conversations with interesting people.
Tracy Wolfson is a four-time Emmy nominee, lead NFL and NCAA reporter for CBS, co-host of the all-female sports show, We Need to Talk, and a mom of three. We caught up with Tracy to chat about her journey to the top in a male-dominated industry, how she manages to prep for game days in between shuttling her three boys to sports practice, and what she likes to read in the few spare moments she gets each day.
You are currently in your 13th year with CBS as their lead sideline reporter. What does a typical day look like for you, if there is such a thing?
During football or basketball it is total chaos. Early in the week I am in total mom mode. Packing lunches, dropping to and from school, shuttling my 3 boys to all their sports and doing homework. I really don’t do any of my work until they are asleep. Then I repack my just unpacked wheely bag and head to the airport either Wednesday or Friday morning depending on what day my game is. On the road I continue doing my research for the games, meet with players and coaches, have a production meeting with my crew and get ready for game day. Game day is all about reacting to what’s happening on the field and using all you have researched to enhance the game. Then I fly home and do it all over again the next week!
There is a lot happening both on and off the field during any given NFL game. How do you prep before going live on Thursdays and Sundays?
I do tons of research, I read a lot of articles, save most of them to Pocket so I can read them on the plane or wherever, whenever. I talk to players and coaches and meet with them on site.
You are one of the hosts of We Need To Talk, the all-women sports show on CBS Sports Network. How was the show conceived and what does it mean to you to be part of this groundbreaking program?
I remember when CBS came up with the idea. We talk about how women often have a different perspective when it comes to sports or various issues. I think from the outside it looks somewhat like The View for sports. If you watch, you see while we try and have fun, we also address serious topics, we break down games, we look ahead at what one can expect in the coming week, we cover all sports, male and female, and we have unique perspectives from athletes, commentators, and businesswomen all with sports backgrounds.
When did you know you wanted to be a sports reporter and would you say there was a moment you finally considered yourself one?
I remember watching The NBA Inside Stuff with Ahmad Rashad and Willow Bay. I was about 8 at the time and I watched Willow Bay talk about basketball and I said to myself “I want to do that”! It took a long time to get there, but I never wavered once. That was my dream. My first live on air sideline job was for ESPN but it wasn’t until I covered the SEC for CBS till I felt like I made it.
You have been breaking barriers left and right since you began your career in on-air sports broadcasting 17 years ago. What have some of the highs and lows of the journey been?
I’ve been told I didn’t know sports like the guys do, I was not asked back after my first ESPN stint, I got booed off center court at the USOpen — all lows but I never let it bring me down. I learned from those bumps in the road and it made me stronger. I continued to plug away, hone my craft, and in February 2015 I covered Super Bowl 50 for CBS. Certainly the high point of my career.
If you were to give a piece of advice to women entering the world of sports broadcasting what would it be?
Be confident, be knowledgeable, and be nice. Sounds simple, but that confidence in what you can do is huge. It shows on the air. Know that you can stand toe-to-toe if you work hard and know your stuff. And if you do that and are great to work with you will have longevity in this business.
What sports broadcasters do you admire most and why?
There are so many, but Lesley Visser has always been a mentor to me. She always shares her stories, gives me advice, and sends me notes to inspire me. Andrea Kremer is someone I have gotten to know more since We Need To Talk. She always teaches me little tricks to be a better reporter or gives me advice as I go forward in my career. Se also gave me the best piece of advice at the Super Bowl, reminding me to take the time to soak it all in. And longtime CBS director Suzanne Smith who knew me when when I was covering auto racing for CBS! She has been alongside me every step of the way and being the only female director in network sports, she’s an inspiration.
Over your nearly two decades of reporting you have covered everything ranging from Rodeo to the Olympics. What have some of your most memorable live coverage moment’s been?
Wow, too many to list but here are some that stand out. I was a tape librarian for CBS at the Olympics in Nagano. I remember Tara Lipinski winning the gold over Michelle Kwan and I acted like a fan, devastated. I interviewed Danica Patrick at an ALMS race before anyone knew who she was, but by the end of the interview I knew she would be a star. I was on center court way into the wee hours of the night for the memorable Andre Agassi/James Blake match. I covered the kick six at the Iron Bowl — one of the most memorable sports moments in college football history. I was part of the horrific injury to Louisville’s Kevin Ware in the NCAA tournament but also an incredible moment when he was back on the sidelines watching his team win a championship. Another March Madness moment was Villanova’s buzzer beater to win their championship. And, of course, the interview with Peyton Manning after he won the Super Bowl. His last on-field interview before he retired. So many memories.
You have been nominated for four Emmys. What does that level of recognition mean to you?
I’m kind of like the Susan Lucci of sports television! Lol. Just kidding. With so many talented men and women out there working so hard every day it is such an honor to be recognized. It’s an event I love to attend because you run into so many people in the business and everyone’s there because of their passion for sports television.
All in all, what type of impact do you hope to have with your work?
As a reporter, you always want to inform viewers, teach and share insights, and bring a fan inside the game more. But as far as an impact, I hope that I inspire other men and women to go out and chase their dream. I also hope young girls see how you can succeed in a male-dominated business, and balance being a mother and working full-time. It’s not easy but it is so rewarding. I love my job, but I love my family more than anything in this world. I feel very fortunate to be able to have both.
What have you been finding interesting lately? What have you been saving and recommending about recently?
I always save sports articles for my upcoming games or interesting topics for We Need To Talk. I like saving SI.com and their MMQB articles, the Players’ Tribune, and several tweets from players that I want to look back on later. As for non-sports articles, I save interesting New York Times articles that I don’t have time to read right away, POPSUGAR and PureWow articles on easy meals or good books for my kids that I can always turn back to.
What are your go-to places — sites, apps, people, etc — for finding new stories to read and watch in Pocket?
I find a lot on Twitter. I follow beat reporters of all the teams, I follow coaches and players and the teams themselves, and I immediately save the articles I like from them that I don’t have time to read right away. Bleacher Report and SI are good for football content and of course CBSsports.com.
If you had the chance to escape and read all of your current Pocket saves where would you go to do it?
Any quiet beach. Doesn’t matter how far away because I can read my articles on the plane too (even with no wifi!).
Who would you want to see us interview next?
A professional athlete or coach.