Like millions of Americans, Kristine Leahy filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket. But, as a member of the CBS Sports family, the 2005 Prairie Ridge graduate had to publish her picks for a national audience. (Hint: She successfully placed Dayton in the Sweet 16 and has Florida beating Louisville for the national championship). Based in Los Angeles, Leahy is a sideline reporter – including for the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament. She also works as an anchor for CBSLA and KCAL.
I’ve been lucky enough to cover a Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final and I didn’t realize it going in, but I would say March Madness is – by far – the bigger and cooler event. You’re seeing these kids who live and breathe basketball and it’s the biggest moment of their life until they get married or have children. The whole country’s eyes are on these games and everyone fills out a bracket. So no matter if you’re a sports fan or not, you’re watching these games and you can kind of feel the magnitude of the event.
I like to connect with the fan in what I do and if you remove yourself too much from that experience, you become more of a reporter and you lose touch with what the fan wants. It was hard not to do that at March Madness, because the fans are so crazy. College kids go nuts for these games. So you kind of have to take a step back and look around. I feel like I wouldn’t fully grasp the experience if I didn’t do that.
The sideline reporter is really a scrutinized job because a lot of people just look at it as the sideline girl. But you can really take it to a place where you can become a value to the broadcast rather than a distraction – and that’s always been my goal. We’ve seen a couple of situations in the NFL this year where a coach goes down and gets sick and had to be taken away in an ambulance. Had there not been a sideline reporter on that game, it would have completely been a lost story. So that just shows the value of the position. I never look at it as something of a lesser position. I think it’s a great thing and I always try to live up to the expectation of being a good sideline reporter. I try to add to the story because I’m seeing things other people aren’t.
If there is anything negative that people say, it really doesn’t bother me because they’re not in my shoes. They don’t know what’s going on and people are going to say what they’re going to say. If they want to comment on my looks, that’s fine, because that’s part of the job and you definitely don’t want to look bad, but it is what it is.
I think (building working relationships with athletes) is about being a person. It’s about developing relationships the same way you would if you were just out doing your everyday life. It’s just showing them that you’re real and that you care about them, that you’re being professional and doing your job. I try to find a common interest with them. I will kind of bring something up like that to get that relationship going. Once they trust me, they open up. They’ll start telling you things that are valuable and sometimes, it’s best not to say that and just hold it in and gain their trust. Then, when it’s something really big that can be really big for you, that’s when you use all that built-up trust.
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