Success Along the Sideline

Fox Sports Journalist Jen Hale brings her upbeat personality, professional tenacity and can-do attitude to all of her endeavors in life, especially reporting from the NFL and NBA sidelines. Most recently, Hale added women’s health advocate to her growing list of challenges, after a life-altering diagnosis of cardomyopathy required her to make some big changes, and face the possibility of a heart transplant. Never shy about facing adversity, Hale has become a true leader on and off the field, inspiring women of all professions and backgrounds to take control of their dreams and their health.

Q: Professionally, what attracted you to sports journalism? I’ve always been an athlete. My dad was a coach before he became a special agent, and he didn’t know what to do with a little girl other than teach me sports. I grew up watching football games on his lap and having him push me on the field of competition. He never let me get comfortable or settle. I wanted to go into either sports or political reporting when I graduated, but ironically I couldn’t land an interview for a sports position. When the chance to transition to sports came years later after I’d become a news anchor, it was definitely an old dream come true!

Q: How has your experience been working in a more traditionally male-dominated field of journalism? Definitely interesting – NEVER a dull moment! I’ve grown so much personally and professionally from covering sports. Working in a male-dominated field has taught me/is teaching me: how to stand up for myself, separate emotion from decisions when needed, to rely on emotion when needed and not apologize for it, to trust my instincts and most importantly, to embrace who I am while simultaneously learning about how I can improve myself. Plus, covering the NBA and NFL puts you under a spotlight that is fun, but also harsh. It’s made me a better journalist because, trust me, every flaw is identified.

Q: What has been your favorite sport to cover from the sidelines? They’re all so different, it’s impossible to choose! Even though it keeps me super busy, as in no personal life for months, I treasure getting to cover all three. I love covering the NBA because I’m always with the Pelicans, and it’s an honor and privilege to be assigned to my hometown team. Most NBA reporters move to cover their team assignment. I love the personality, pageantry and spirit of college football. The NFL is the most impressive athletes competing at the highest level of sport. Regardless of which one, there is an unmistakable rush every time the game begins when you get to be on that sideline. Even though I’m not competing, my adrenaline kicks in from the beginning of the game to the end. It really is sort of an addiction, in the very best way.

Q: What advice do you have for women looking to break into sports journalism? 1. Always be over-prepared and on your A-plus game. You have to be better than the boys to earn your spot. 2. NEVER jeopardize your integrity or credibility for anyone or anything. Always be a pro’s pro. The rules are different for guys versus girls. It’s not fair but neither is life. Men can get away with certain behavior or “mistakes” that women cannot rebound from nearly as cleanly.

Q: In addition to leading the way in sports journalism, you have also recently become a role model and an outspoken advocate for women’s heart health, after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. How did you balance work and health? A lot of prayer and strength from God. When I was initially diagnosed, I had to wrap my head around the worst-case scenario possibility: a five-year life expectancy. It made me treasure every day, even all of the annoying little things. Suddenly if somebody cut me off in the grocery store parking lot, it didn’t annoy me.  I didn’t know if I’d be well enough to go to the grocery in three years, so I was going to enjoy being there at that moment. When you realize everything you consider routine could disappear, it gives you an entirely different perspective. Also, my girlfriends and I have a foundation called Sideline Pass to mentor at-risk female athletes and young women in foster care. It’s hard to complain about anything when you see what these kids go through on a daily basis. It definitely keeps you grounded.

Q: What advice do you have for women and heart health? Women are caretakers and often put everyone else first. It’s so important to respect your symptoms and trust what your body is telling you. Believe me, I’m all about being tough, but you also need to be smart. I stupidly excused my symptoms for so long that my heart had deteriorated to 16 percent function when I was finally diagnosed.  Also, everyone should write down their family medical history, whether it’s heart disease, cancer etc. Who was diagnosed with what, at what age and what the symptoms were leading up to diagnosis. My cardiology team had my mom go back through family medical records…turns out my dad, uncle and grandfather all died at age 50 or younger from heart failure caused by cardiomyopathy. Exact same symptoms as me, from what we can tell. I always thought they died from heart attacks. Two very different things that I mistakenly lumped together. I wasn’t aware of what symptoms I should be cognizant of because I didn’t understand what our family history truly involved. Despite classic heart-failure symptoms, I never considered that I might be having heart trouble since I was a non-smoking female in my 30s who exercised and didn’t even eat red meat. I thought I just needed to suck it up and stop being a wimp. Turns out, genes are powerful little suckers that you’d better respect.

At A Glance

Born/raised: Born on the West Bank at West Jeff, Raised in Mobile, AL.

Education: undergraduate degree – LSU Honors College; graduate degree – Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University; certification – The Fund for American Studies’ Institute of Political Journalism at Georgetown University.

Favorite book: “Gone with the Wind”

Favorite restaurant: Impossible to answer – like asking a parent a favorite child.

Do you have a favorite NFL player? NBA player? I couldn’t choose one favorite. So many of them are such great guys who are unbelievably down to earth and want to use their fame to give back. It’s inspiring.

Guilty pleasure: My collection of high heels. I’m a shoe addict and have a separate walk-in closet just for my shoes and purses.

True confession: I hated it, but my nickname in high school was “Mookie.” I grew up on a farm outside of Mobile, and part of my daily chores included feeding the cows/chickens/donkey before school each day. (My classmates killed me for that.) I was a gymnast as a kid. My dad wanted me to be able to practice at home, so he built me a balance beam right next to the cow pasture. Since the cows were used to me feeding them, they came running whenever they saw me. I spent hours every week out there on my balance beam, practicing in front of my bovine audience.


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