Off-the-Wall: A Knicks Wall Q&A with Kerith Burke
NBC’s Kerith Burke talks to TKW about her career, the Rio Olympics, and more
Fresh off her coverage for NBC in Rio, Kerith Burke answered The Knicks Wall’s questions.
She talks about the UConn Huskies Women’s Basketball team, being in the locker room for Knicks coverage, and the (non-) difference of the “big and bad” New York media.
Kerith is the first feature of our “Off-the-Wall” question-and-answer series. We enjoyed the time she allowed us to learn more about her career! Read her answers below:
The Knicks Wall: What made you interested in sports reporting?
Kerith Burke: I come from a sports-loving family. My dad taught my sister and I how to play baseball, tennis, and hockey, plus I did cross-country, basketball and track in high school. My family always watched big events on TV together. Watching Kerri Strug at the Olympics or seeing Michael Jordan and Bulls dynasty built up that kind of sports love that enables you to talk to strangers because you watched the same thing.
I got my start as a reporter on the news side, but I didn’t like it. I had trouble covering stories where kids got hurt, or stories of corruption. I was too sensitive for news. Sports on the other hand is a lot more black and white. There’s a winner, there’s a loser, and everyone gets to go home. All the things I like about broadcasting — informing people, the rush of being live — I get to have in sports without the gloom.
TKW: How was your time reporting on the UConn Huskies and what will you miss about reporting on the team?
KB: I doubt anything in my career will compare to covering four consecutive National Championship teams. The UConn women are special. What I’ll miss most is the way the players talk about the game. Every single one of these young women knows the X’s and O’s but also the history of the game and the issues facing it. They were a delight to cover.
TKW: How does New York’s media differ from everywhere else?
KB: Surprise…it doesn’t. New York likes to think it’s big and bad, but every newsroom is the same no matter where you go. The amount of reporters is a difference you can point to because of all the media outlets, but in reality, everyone out here is just trying to do their job. Most everyone is friendly, even when we’re in competition with each other.
I was nervous to work in this market when I moved to NYC from Raleigh, N.C. I thought the market would be mean and aggressive, but it hasn’t been that way. I’m sure an athlete would answer this question differently though. The amount of reporters probably makes the scrutiny feel bigger.
TKW: What were your experiences like covering the Knicks for SNY? Do any moments stick out specifically?
KB: The Knicks, like any pro team, have rules for media that put things on lock. Access is limited. Within the confines of the access they give, covering the Knicks felt fine. TV reporters differ from the newspaper guys. TV folks are only looking for post-game interviews. I don’t recall going to practice often unless there was a really big story. The newspaper guys who put in the work everyday to go to practice and games have a different experience. They’ll tell you the Knicks front office and PR people read what they write and get upset when it’s not positive — what they perceive as positive anyway — reporters have to be honest about team turmoil. It’s not a reporter’s job to appease the team.
One thing that stands out to me about covering the Knicks is how thoughtful Carmelo Anthony is with his answers. He’s funny too. ‘Melo is a guy who deserves more credit for speaking his heart, and finding the words time after time when his team went through some major losing streaks. That’s not easy.
TKW: How was covering the 2016 Rio Olympics? Were your nervous or excited with the assignment to go to Rio?
KB: The Olympics were awesome! It’s the pinnacle of sports, and for a reporter, it’s the best assignment you can get. I was both nervous and excited for Rio, because I wanted to make sure I did a good job. It meant a lot to me to get the assignment.
All of Team USA basketball, men and women, stayed on the same cruise ship for their lodging in Rio. You could feel how close-knit they were in there common goal of winning gold.
TKW: Was there a noticeable difference in competition at the Olympics that you witnessed vs. an NBA or NCAA game?
KB: There was a difference in the games because of the international rules. The flow of the game felt different sometimes, and what was called a foul varied. Sometimes games were noticeably more physical than what you’d see in the states. In one game, there would be whistle after whistle. In the next game, the refs would swallow the whistle. Hard to know what’d you’d get.
TKW: How do you deal with athletes who respond with non-answers to questions?
KB: I’m lucky in this regard, because when I cover basketball, it’s been UConn or Team USA and the players do so well expressing themselves. They don’t need to fall back on crutches like “Just gotta take it one game at a time.”
When it comes up though that an athlete speaks in cliches, I try to remember where that athlete is coming from. They’re surrounded by reporters, it can be uncomfortable how close the microphones are to their mouth, and they’re answering so many questions it can be a stretch to find new ways to speak on the same topic repeatedly.
Plus you have athletes who feel burned by the media, so they don’t want to share anything deep. They’ll speak on a surface level to deflect anything that requires revealing something personal.
The best way to get a good answer from an athlete is to ask a good question. So there’s another side to this: reporters can try harder not to deal in cliches themselves, like the dreadful “talk about…” questions. There’s a way to find common ground to bring out the best in everyone.
TKW: What are you working on in the future? Anything we can look forward to?
KB: I’m taking a break! Less than a week after I got home from the Olympics, I moved to the west coast. This summer was hectic, lots of big life events. But I love my job and I’m looking for my next avenue to keep going in sports. I’ll be refreshed when the time comes to jump back in.
— Reid Goldsmith, managing editor