The career of Fox 8 sportscaster Jennifer Hale changed dramatically a year ago. Hale was working on the New Orleans-based morning news broadcast with Rob Masson at the time, but due to the loss of two of the station’s sports reporters and a twist of fate, the former LSU cheerleader who had majored in Political Science in college turned into a sports anchor for the station and also a sideline reporter for NFL games for the Fox Network.
While there have been other female sports anchors in New Orleans in the past, none have ever been involved with a major network for coverage of the NFL.
“We had a couple of our sports reporters leave for other jobs and the station liked what I had done in covering the training camp period for the Saints and offered me the sports anchor job at 4:00PM and I was also involved in our weekly Saints show, “Hale said. “I had pretty much decided that the morning show and investigative reporting was going to be my niche in the broadcast field. I played softball and ran track in high school, and I always had an interest in sports.”
Hale said that Saints vice president of communications Greg Bensel had seen some of her work, such as covering LSU Sports for LSU Sports.net and the negotiations between the Saints and the Mike Foster administration during the state deal for the team.”
“Greg (Bensel) told me during the summer training camp period that the Fox Network was looking for sideline reporters and he made a call for me and the next day I received a call back from Fox,” Hale said. “I have never had a break like that before in this business.”
Recently Hale came to terms with the Fox Network to work her second season as an NFL sideline reporter working on the broadcast team with John Lynch and Dick Stockton.
While Hale was born in New Orleans, Jennifer grew up in Mobile, only to return to Louisiana to attend college. After finishing up at LSU she earned a Master of Science in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. Hale also studied political journalism at Georgetown University and spent several weeks in Belgium and Germany studying the German and European systems of government and trade.
While working in Monroe, Baton Rouge and Birmingham Hale also did work for LSUSports.net and participated in both news and sports.
“I loved returning to LSU and doing work for their web site and doing interviews with the players. This jump to the Fox Network was big for me, but I was determined to make it work,” Hale said. “The amount of material sent to you weekly is enormous. You get about five to six inches of paper work from the NFL and you are also getting newspaper write-ups from each of the teams you are covering. I get in touch with the communication directors each week and get information from them and I know in my position I am looking for an angle to cover that doesn’t interfere with what the play-by-play and the analysts will talk about during the broadcast. Every week the challenge is to get ready for just about anything to happen and I have index cards on every player because you never know who will be the gamechanger that week.”
Hale says each week they get to talk to the home team’s coaches and a few select players, notably the starting quarterback, on the Friday leading to the game and they get time to talk to the visitor’s coaches on the Saturday.
“It was interesting to hear the talk amongst the coaches and players and have them tell you what is on their minds that week. Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys talked to me about trying to control his weight during the season, I spoke to Tanard Jackson, the safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers right before he played his first game back after being suspended for a over a year and he was very candid about his off the field problems. Larry Fitzgerald the wide receiver with the Arizona Cardinals is a terrific football player and a real classy guy during interviews and every week there seemed to be an issue with the games I was covering with the health of one of the starting quarterbacks. In particular, the game I covered late in the season with the Detroit Lions was that quarterback Matt Stafford would be wearing a glove on his right throwing hand due to an injury. He actually was using gloves like the ones that wide receiver Calvin Johnson wears and he gave me one to show the viewers that day.”
The award winning journalist also was on the sidelines when Saints head coach Sean Payton sustained his major leg injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was on the sidelines for the heart-breaking loss by the Saints to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs.
“Part of my job is to watch the sidelines to see if any injuries occur and I was on the Tampa Bay sidelines when I saw the collision with Coach Payton and Jimmy Graham and I raced to the other sideline. I saw immediately Payton’s face was ashen and he was in a lot of pain, but he insisted he would call the plays from the bench. I could see he didn’t look good and right before halftime they took him away. I was the first to report he would not return to the sidelines, but it was a real smooth transition of coaching power to Joe Vitt and Pete Carmichael. The Saints certainly didn’t play their best that day and yet late in the contest that had a chance to pull the game out.”
“I was covering the game for Fox 8 for the San Francisco game and I hit the football field right before Jimmy Graham scored the touchdown with about a minute left and you try to be neutral, but I felt with everything that went wrong for the team that afternoon that maybe destiny was on their side. When tight end Vernon Davis made the long catch he ran right by me and I could almost feel the wind of his speed. That was a tough lockerroom to cover. Players that normally would talk to you were just sitting there speechless and many were openly crying. That was a tough moment because I knew just how much the players cared for one another and how much the city’s emotions ran on how well the Saints do.”
It was just Hale’s first year covering the NFL, but she came away with a strong impression on who were the best players she saw last season covering the NFL.
“The two players that really stood out by their performance in the games I covered were Calvin Johnson, the wide receiver with the Detroit Lions and tight end Jimmy Graham with the Saints. Both were impressive last season and the two took their game to another level and Jimmy’s story is so inspiring. I was able to do a one-on-one interview with him at the Saints camp during the season and it goes to show that you can beat the odds in making it successful in life, if you have the drive to do so. One rookie I saw that really stood out was Julio Jones, the wide receiver with the Atlanta Falcons and he has a chance to be a breakout star this season.”
During the off-season Hale has worked both news and sports for Fox 8, but she really enjoyed the one-on-one interviews she was able to do with former Saints defensive back/special teams ace Steve Gleason-who is fighting ALS and Gayle Benson-the wife of Saints owner Tom Benson, and also covering the NBA draft from Newark, New Jersey.
“I really love the one-on-one sessions I do,” Hale said. “I enjoy the research on their background, trying to find the right questions to ask them and also part of being a good interviewer is just being a good listener and letting them talk. It’s something I would really like to do more of. It is an inspiration to see the courage of Steve Gleason and to see him fighting all the health issues that comes with the disease and how his wife, Michel, who is just wonderful, is handling this. Mrs. Benson was terrific and very open about her life, her faith and how involved she was in getting Mr. Benson to buy the Hornets.”
“It was exciting to cover the NBA draft. It was the first time I got a chance to see the process from right where the action was in Newark, New Jersey. Last season it was hard to give a good evaluation on coach Monty Williams because of all the injuries, the trade of Chris Paul, Eric Gordon missing so much of the season and the uncertainty of who would eventually own the team. There is clarity in that department now and they have three outstanding talents in Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Darius Miller to help put the building blocks in place for the future. Signing Eric Gordon long-term is the big key for success from everyone I spoke to who covers the NBA. He certainly was a difference maker when he came back from the injury late in the season and then they acquired a sharpshooter from Orlando in Ryan Anderson. I know expectations will be high for them, but this is still a young team that plays in a tough conference and it will take some time to mesh together. But I feel as though they will be very exciting to watch this season.”
With all of her accomplishments Jennifer Hale is humbled by being labeled a trailblazer in this area for women.
Jennifer Hale says her growth as a sports reporter has provided her many great learning experiences and some obstacles along the way.
“I have never thought of myself as pioneer for women in this area, but I know I have a lot of pride in doing the best job I can. I fully understand that being on television locally other young women see me and I hope I can inspire others to also get into this profession, if that is what they want to be. I am still learning some facets of the NFL and also the NBA and the leagues are constantly changing scheme wise and personnel wise, so it keeps you studying every aspect each day. I was surprised to some extent by some resistance on me covering sports from people I wouldn’t have expected that from. Covering politics in the past helped me get through some times that were baffling to me, but I really enjoy covering sports and also keeping my feet in the hard news part of the world also. I am a professed workaholic and I understand just how much work goes into putting on a production like the NFL. As a journalist I just want to have people say I am fair with them and give the facts the best I can at the moment with my coverage of a team or comments about players. If I can accomplish that then it is a success for me.”