Sports

Kristina Pink Brings A Unique Energy To The Thursday Night Football Broadcast

The role of sideline reporter in the NFL this season is different than any other, as they are no longer, well, on the sidelines. COVID-19 guidelines from the league have pushed them off the field, and on Thursday nights, this means Kristina Pink and Erin Andrews deliver their reports from a perch in the front row of the stands above the sidelines, remaining socially distanced while still trying to deliver insight and information on what’s taking place on the gridiron.

That requires a different kind of work to gather information, as access is limited on gamedays and there aren’t the same opportunities to talk with players and coaches at the stadium. For Pink, a self-described “people person,” not having those face-to-face interactions has been the most difficult part of adjusting to this new reality. Instead, it’s all about leaning on relationships she’s built over her eight previous seasons at Fox to facilitate phone calls and conversations with players and coaches on her own during the week prior to the game.

“The work now is done before you get to the stadium,” Pink tells Uproxx. “Which for me it was always, I’d get on the phone during the week and we’d do our calls with the different teams and the crew. But I always felt like the best stuff was from those face-to-face conversations. Like, if a guy is a last minute injury question mark or something like that, being able to walk over and talk to people in person. So it’s really tough not being able to do that.”

For the broadcast team, the conversations that Pink and Andrews have on their own becomes vital. Pam Oliver played a big role in helping Pink get comfortable in the sideline role when she arrived at Fox nine years ago. Among the advice Oliver gave was to go out and do the work on your own, making those calls to your teams during the week separate from production meetings, but to always share those notes with the rest of the broadcast crew, because you’re a team.

This year, as TNF producer Richie Zyontz notes, those production meetings have become more limited. As such, the broadcast team relies heavily on the information Pink and Andrews provide from the conversations they coordinate on their own.

“That becomes pretty crucial as our access is more and more limited,” Zyontz says. “They’re able to get a lot of background information from people that we don’t talk to on the phone. You know, when the crew has a meeting with the team now we get on the phone, we talk to a head coach, we talk to a quarterback, we talk to a coordinator. That’s pretty much it. Time is limited. So they’re able on their own to get people on the phone. And they have information they share with us, share on TV, that the rest of the crew isn’t able to get.”

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It’s now Pink’s third season as part of this Thursday Night Football team, as she joined Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Andrews when Fox added the broadcast to their package in 2018. When she arrived, those three had been doing broadcasts for years together. As Buck recalls, there was some concern about adding someone else to that well-oiled machine. But from the jump, she’s fit in to their broadcast family like they’d been together forever.

“You know, I gotta be honest, I didn’t know how she’d mix in,” Buck tells Uproxx. “Because Troy and Erin and I have been together for some years before Thursday Night was added to the package, and she just stepped right in like she’s been with us the entire time. It was seamless three years ago, and it’s only grown from there.”

A big part of that is Pink’s energy and personality, which is an asset on-air and off. Talking with Pink, you can’t help but recognize the enthusiasm she has for the job and her general zest for life. Being a sports reporter is what she’s wanted to do since she was an undergrad at the University of Florida, and that shines through on the broadcast, whether on NFL games or in her role on the sidelines for the L.A. Clippers.

“Other people tell me, I’m kind of like the Energizer Bunny,” Pink says with a laugh. “For me, sports – covering the NFL, covering the NBA, even when I worked in local TV in small town local TV – for me, it’s fun. I look at every game and every broadcast like I enjoy what I do and I want people to enjoy watching me. So I just try to have my natural energy and presence when I am on the air, and so I don’t know if I ever learned to do that, I think it was organic. I think I just got more comfortable letting my personality shine as I got further in my career.”

Pink admits it took a little time for her to get more comfortable in her role. Early in her career, Oliver recognized a bit of herself in Pink, a former local TV reporter stepping onto a national stage for the first time, and made sure to reassure Pink that she belonged. As Oliver says, “I probably got a little motherly about it,” but she wanted to make sure Pink recognized that she deserved the role she was in and, while it was a big opportunity, she didn’t need to make it bigger than it was.

It took Pink a little to really take that to heart, but in her third or fourth year, she got her first big sit down interview for the Fox Pregame Show with Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. Later that year, she was asked to do another with Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys, which further cemented that she was someone the network had immense faith and trust in to carry out big assignments.

“So I’m like, OK, they’re having me do an interview with the Cowboys, this means something,” Pink says.

Now, she’s a veteran of the sidelines and is on a standalone national broadcast each week, seeing every team in the league. Nine years in, she still gets excited about writing a great lede or being able to tell a new story on the air, and tries to approach the broadcast like she would a call with her parents, explaining breaking news to her mom or dad over the phone. The ease with which she makes you comfortable as a viewer is among her greatest assets, as she delivers reports not at you but to you, a subtle but important difference that helps her shine in the role. And it’s her combination of skill, natural energy, and a commitment to her craft — both in what she reports and how she helps steer the broadcast — that impresses her colleagues the most.

“She really, really works incredibly hard and she takes great pride in all the information that she gets, whether it’s during the week talking to players or gameday during the actual game,” TNF director Rich Russo says. “Her ability to see things on the sidelines, which really can help us, even if it’s things she’s not going to report she can kind of get information to us and we can get cameras to certain players and shots. She really takes great pride, she’s so incredibly talented at what she does and works very, very hard at it and it’s very obvious about that.”

“I can honestly tell you I have never seen Kristina in anything but the best mood,” Buck says. “She’s just happy. She brings a smile to the truck compound. On the air, I think it translates. I think viewers like that, and I think she’s really smart and does a really clever report every time we go down to her. Like last week, for example, we were talking about how there’s this offensive explosion around the NFL, and she said, ‘But the Jets, who are averaging just over 12 points per game, are still waiting for takeoff.’ It’s a cute turn of a phrase, but that stuck with me. Nothing I do sticks with me as we talk now, but that does. So I think she’s really great at her job, but apart from that I think she’s a really great person who just shows happiness on the air.”

That energy and enthusiasm wouldn’t be as effective if she weren’t also extremely good as a reporter. She started at Florida, working at the university’s TV and radio stations before working her way through stops in Jackson, MS, New Orleans, and Miami before landing with Fox and, later, with the Clippers. That path gave her the reporting chops that she carries with her still, and it’s part of why Oliver takes such pride in seeing her rise.

“She’s a trained reporter,” Oliver says. “She came up not the pretty way. She got her hands dirty. That’s what I have tremendous respect for her about. She did not come up as some YouTube star or Twitter queen or anything like that. It was down and dirty, hard work. Editing and shooting your own stuff. But she knew how to report, I had no doubt about that, but when she eased into it she really eased into it well.”

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Pink’s path has also given her great confidence and understanding in who she is both as a reporter and also a person. The sports world as a whole isn’t as kind or welcoming to women, particularly Black women, as it should be, but Pink’s approach to navigating those challenges is to simply carry that same kindness and joy at all times, keeping those that are positive close and ignoring those that aren’t.

“I would say you have to be 100 percent comfortable in your own skin, and do your best not to pay attention to what people say,” Pink says. “And it’s hard, it’s hard for people in everyday life, and it’s hard for us when you’re on TV. I will say I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience throughout my career, but I do remember someone making a comment on social media and I’m not one who ever responds to things but someone said something I felt was challenging my intelligence, I was like, ‘OK, really?’ I’ve always been like, kill ‘em with kindness and you realize the more you engage it’s just not worth it. And I can respond in a nice and kind way and they said something back and I just realized this is never going to go anywhere. So you have to operate inside knowing who I am, knowing who my circle is, my colleagues who like, love, respect my work; that understand how hard I work, and not worry about that outside noise. I do think that’s hard, but I’ve kind of managed not to really listen to it.”

There’s not much that shakes or rattles Pink, but she does note towards the end of our conversation that she’s been more uncomfortable talking about herself for half an hour than she ever is delivering a report on the air to millions of viewers. She’ll likely have to grow a bit more accustomed to it, as she’s among the rising stars in the industry. For Oliver, she points to Pink as the present and future of the business, as well as a tremendous role model who pave the way for more young Black women.

“I’m tremendously proud of her and I look at it and, people talk about the next generation and, you’re looking at it,” Oliver says. “It’s sitting right there in front of you. I hope it’s just not the end, that we’ll seen more young African-American women, women of color, coming up right behind her on this scene or the local scene or whichever level it is. That Kristina is in that category where young girls are starting to look and say, ‘I want to do what Kristina Pink is doing.’ You know I’m the sideline grandma, they’ve known me, but I think she’s entering a stratosphere of stardom, reluctantly or not. You look at it like, I don’t want to be a star I want to be a journalist, and she would be one of those people who would say that. But that’s the reality of it. Her star is rising and her upside is tremendous and everything’s pointing up.

“Everything’s pointing up for Kristina.”

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