"From Timeout to Touchdown.
Taylor Rooks is making plays on the big screen.

Photo Sep 10, 5 22 28 AM.jpg

@TaylorRooks

Taylor covers pro sports for SportsNet New York (SNY), and will also spend this college football season as a sideline reporter for CBS Sports Network. Rooks recently joined SNY after two years with the Big Ten Network as a reporter and on-air host. A native of Georgia, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she majored in broadcast journalism and covered Illinois football and basketball for scout.com. She comes from a storied sports family — her father, Thomas Rooks, was a running back for Illinois from 1982-85, and her uncle, longtime St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Lou Brock, is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

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Episode 4: From Timeout to Touchdown with Taylor Rooks

Written by: Sope Aluko

TELL US about your childhood and how your journey began.

Taylor: I’m from Georgia so I’m a huge Falcons fan and obviously I grew up in a state that is full of football where there’s college football and everyone loves the Falcons. I really grew up loving that sport. My dad played football and my uncle played baseball so my family was extremely sports-oriented. My mom has never lost in fantasy football. I always knew I wanted to do something involved with the camera and I enjoy talking. I knew I wasn’t going to be Serena [Williams] or anything like that. I ran track, and  played soccer when I was young. I knew I wasn’t great at that but I knew I could be great at something that involved sports, so I decided to pursue sports journalism.

we all have crazy things that we aspired to be. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Taylor: I went through that phase where I really wanted to be a lawyer because my mom said that I like to talk a lot and argue, which I do. You have that phase where you want to be a football player. I think I knew for sure that I wanted to be on-camera, talk to people, and tell stories since I was in middle school. I’ve always really had a passion for  that aspect of journalism.

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WHATS the mission of Sportsnet New York and how are YOU putting a spin on things here at the network?

Taylor: I think that one of the main reasons I wanted to come to a place like New York was because it is just the breeding ground for everything that happens. Every big thing  comes through New York. In a place like this, there’s an opportunity to break stories, to tell stories, to meet the top athletes and to allow them to tell their story. That is one of the reasons I wanted to revamp my podcast here and have it based on talking to athletes to speak and give their side. I think that we have lost that aspect of sports journalism. We have become too involved with what a host has to say. If two hosts argue about a topic, it becomes news when I feel like you’re not supposed to be the news. I want to do something where it’s me and the subject and they’re talking about  how everyone else is talking about them. I think that’s one of reasons people feel comfortable coming on the podcast. I had Kevin Durant on and he said he wasn’t doing any media during the offseason but he was like, “You know, I’ll come on.” It’s a place where you have very enticing discussion and I ask you questions that you may not feel comfortable answering, but it is not a place for you to be attacked. I think sometimes people want to interview athletes just to get them to slip up or to say something that they know is going to go viral. Those things have happened on the podcast but not in a way that is malicious-  it’s just a thing that happens in daily conversation. I think that that’s one thing that I wanted to  bring to SNY was a place that gave not just me a voice but athletes a voice.

How DOES SOMEONE position THemselves as a trusted reporter in the sports industry?

Taylor: I think that social media has a lot to do with it. I am extremely vocal on social media, whether it be about race or politics, or how I think something is fair or unfair. I think when you feel you’re getting a piece of somebody , it’s easier for you to feel you can give a them a piece of you. People know where I stand,   and feel about certain things and how I will react. I’m open to having open dialogue about all subjects. I think that if you want to view my view on something as polarizing then you can, but that’s not going to change how I feel. “Polarizing” is in the eye of the beholder. You may think its polarizing but someone else might just me speaking my truth.

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Looking back to high school and college, what were the initial steps you took to gain experience?

Taylor: Most of it was in college. When I was a freshman, I started this blog called the “Online Sideline” and in that blog I interviewed whoever I could- team managers, my family,  or someone I knew from high school. I just wanted to get better at storytelling and interviewing. I was a sophomore and wanted to get really good interviews on my reel so I can build it up and show that I can do this. I told myself I was going to go to All-Star Weekend, get my credentials and interview Kobe Bryant, Lebron and all these other people. I’m hounding the NBA Communications people about giving me the credentials and just kept emailing and emailing. They gave me the credentials, so me and my two friends drove to Orlando and I just got as many interviews as I could. I posted them and some of them got picked up because people were watching and Fox Sports eventually saw my blog. I got to interview Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Kobe Bryant. I was sticking my mic in everyone’s face! When I was at All-Star Weekend, I was obviously totally inexperienced- I didn’t know how to interview and I didn’t know how the scrum works. When it was all done, I didn’t get to interview Kevin Durant. I went to his media person and his security guard and they said he wasn’t doing any interviews and he was done, but he said he would. He did the interview  and I always say that when you’re young and you’re trying to get stuff done and you are trying to make it big, a lot of people tell you “no.”  I always remember Kevin because he said “yes” when he really didn’t have to. All-Star Weekend was really an awakening for me like, “You can do this!” I posted my stuff and Fox called me and asked me to intern with them my junior and senior years and I covered Illinois football, basketball and recruiting. When I graduated, I got the job offer from Big Ten Network, worked there for two years, and then came to SNY.

who are the mentors that have guided you along the way professionally?

Taylor: Cari Champion is a big mentor of mine and she is my favorite person on Earth. She’s such a boss and is good at what she does. The thing I admire most about her is that she is herself. Sometimes people get into this job and feel like they have to compromise parts of themselves- they can’t be too much and they have to tone themselves down. But Cari is like, “This is who I am and who I am is going to get me to where I want to be.” I think she has really mastered being comfortable with who she is and making people love her for who she is. She’s always there when I need advice. There are also people that I haven’t met like Robin Roberts and Doris Burke.

This is who I am and who I am is going to get me to where I want to be.”
— Cari Champion
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If you had to name four people on your Mount Rushmore of Inspiration, who would you say?

Taylor: I would say Cari, Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Pam Oliver. All of these people excel at their job and have been pioneers at what they do so I’ll always look up to that.

A major staple of this series is “Passion changes everything.” What is your passion and when did you know?

Taylor: I think my passion really is people-learning about people and telling people about people. I think that there is a lot of things in the world that you can’t find realness and truth in, but I do think that journalism and reporting should be about truth and realness. I think being able to bring that to the forefront has always driven me and  is something that I’ve been passionate about. Every single person has a story. Every single person is interesting. I could talk to people all day long. Helping people spread whatever it is that makes them special and whatever it is that needs to be told has always driven me in this job.

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What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

Taylor: I think the biggest challenge is the same challenge for every woman in journalism, or maybe even in general. Right now, there’s this idea that everything is about how you look and that people only care about the aesthetic of you. Being able to find that balance and make sure that people understand that you are very good at your job, and that its not about the way that you look or act. Every time I bring a story, I’m like “I did THAT because I asked the right questions.” I also think that you can be feminine and look nice, and still be strong, smart, and knowledgeable. Those things can coexist. People try to put women into a box by saying, ‘She’s this so she can’t be this.” I think every woman deals with that people see them as a woman before people see them as a journalist, or see them as pretty before seeing them as smart.  That’s something we all are going to have to overcome.

What separates people who have made their dream a reality from those who haven’t?

Taylor: The challenge isn't finding a dream, it;s pursuing it. It’s easy to be scared when you’re passionate about something because many people are afraid to fail. Everybody can have a passion, but is your passion going to push you forward enough to make it your life? When you love something, you have to make it your life. I don’t think you can really excel at it if you make it a little part of it or something you do on the side. You have to do it all the time. In college, every summer I was interning. During the year, I would miss class because I would have to go to games. You have to sacrifice a lot of things but the reward is going to be so much greater than any sacrifice that you make.  The main thing is making sure that the passion is worth all the other stuff.

It’s easy to be scared when you’re passionate about something because many people are afraid to fail.
— Taylor Rooks
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What inspires you to succeed?

Taylor: Obviously my family because they are the most supportive people that I have.  I’ve always wanted to make them proud. I’ve always wanted to be significant and change something about something. I knew I wanted to be in front of people and talk to people and bring awareness to things. I can’t remember a time I didn’t feel that way.  I want to be remembered for something and tell stories that mean something. That’s where it comes from.

What are you reading these days?

Taylor: I actually got done reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. I need to read Outliers. I just finished a Jodie Picoult book, Small Great Things, which is about this teacher who is White, and this nurse who is Black. Someone comes into the nurse’s office pregnant and they don’t want her to deliver the baby because she’s Black. It deals with current race relations from a really interesting view. If I say anything else about it, I’m going to give it up!

the political climate is rocky since the recent election. What’s your stance as a public figure on the issues facing the Black community?

Taylor:  I could go on and on about this. It is extremely sad but the only positive thing that has come out of it is that I think it is impossible to ignore racism now. For a really long time, people have been saying, “It’s not like this anymore” and “Eventually we’re going to grow out of racism.” Tell that to White supremacists and all the people there being violent, simply because that they feel that because they are White they are superior. I think there is this idea that is absurd to me that the burden to stop the oppressor is on the oppressed. It’s not. It’s not our job to meet racists halfway.  I saw some people tweeting that Kevin Durant said he was wasn’t going to go to the White House and everyone was like, ‘If you really care you need to go there and talk to [Trump] to show unity.” Why show unity to someone who has not shown you unity?What is going to the White House going to change for Donald Trump? If anything,  you’re inspiring people by saying, “I’m not going to associate myself with someone who has these views’ because you don’t want to enable that kind of mindset. It’s disturbing that we have this “Alt-Right” but now people have made up this thing called “Alt-Left” when all they are are people who believe there shouldn’t be racism and Nazis.  That shouldn’t have to be a stance that you take. Everybody should automatically be “Alt-Left.” You shouldn’t have to be Alt-Right or Left. For people to feel that you have to choose one side is amazing to me. Every person on Earth should be Alt-Left, and the outliers should be Alt-Right.

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What can young Black millennials do to take action, other than post on social media?

Taylor: I think the main thing is educating people. Sometimes people don’t want to have the conversation but it needs to be had. I think a lot of the time, Black people feel as though, when somebody feels a certain way, you can’t challenge it because you’re going to be perceived as angry or mad, but if you’re saying something that is genuinely wrong, it’s everyone’s responsibility, whether you’re Black or White to correct that. I know there are a lot of social media activists and I think it really does play a role because a lot of things have changed as a result of  social media, because someone decided to say something about something on Twitter.  I don’t want to knock it. I remember when all that affirmative action stuff started happening some people that I know genuinely thought every Black person goes to college for free. That’s not how it works. I think that you’re told something once and it passes along, but you have to have the conversation. Some people really are just unaware.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to shine in the broadcast journalism industry?

Taylor: I would just say continue to work really hard and follow the thing that you know is your passion. Don’t feel like you have to be something or someone else. It’s the same thing Cari told me. It’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten. You’re going to do the job well if you feel like it’s the job you’re supposed to be doing. Anything else won’t be as good as the thing that’s really true to yourself. If you feel like your strength is talking to people and telling stories, pursue that. Don’t think that you won’t succeed at it and do something else. You’re not going to be as good at anything else as the thing you know you love. I truly, truly believe that. I know I’ll never get tired of talking and interviewing people.

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Interested in learning more or connecting with Taylor?

Instagram/Twitter: @TaylorRooks

Website: Soundcloud.com/timeoutwithtaylorrooks