ESPN's Lisa Salters on NFL protests, avoiding Twitter and growing up an Eagles fan
Salters, the sideline reporter for "Monday Night Football," grew up in King of Prussia rooting for Wilbert Montgomery, and thinks it's weird that Ron Jaworski knows who she is.
If you ask ESPN reporter Lisa Salters whom she aspired to be growing up in King of Prussia in the 1980s, she won't mention Frank Gifford, Al Michaels, or any of the other famed broadcasters she stayed up late watching on Monday Night Football.
Her idol growing up was Lisa Thomas Laury, the beloved 6ABC reporter and Action News anchor who retired last year.
"She was royalty to me," sald Salters, 51. "I saw a black woman on TV that I admired, and I wanted to be like her."
Salters, who was just inducted into the Montgomery County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, is in Philadelphia this weekend for the Eagles' Week 7 Monday night match-up against Washington. The lifelong sports fan grew up watching Wilbert Montgomery and the Eagles, but she never dreamed of becoming a sideline reporter. In fact, Salters wasn't even considering a career covering sports when she graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in broadcast journalism.
Instead, Salters climbed the ladder of traditional journalism, honing her reporting chops at WBAL in Baltimore before becoming a national correspondent for ABC News. There, she covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials, the crash of TWA Flight 800, and O.J. Simpson's criminal and civil trials, among other major events. Her bureau chief was the son of an ESPN executive, who recruited Salters to the network, which she joined in 2000.
Since April 2012, she has been ESPN's sideline reporter for Monday Night Football. When Salters moved into the gig, the first person she called was her father, a devoted Eagles fan.
"I remember calling him and saying, 'Guess what assignment I'm going to be doing next,' " Salters said, pausing before humming him Monday Night Football's unmistakable jingle, "Bum bum bum bahhh."
The week before each game, Salters starts researching the two teams to uncover interesting stories or angles to pursue. On Saturdays, she and her ESPN colleagues, including play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough and color analyst Jon Gruden, meet with the home team, and on Sundays they meet with the visiting team. All that reporting gets distilled into possible segments for Monday Night Countdown and one or two spots during the Monday Night Football broadcast.
"Of course, it's not as many as I'd like," Salters joked. "I would like to be on once a quarter."
Still, those brief spots put Salters in front of an audience of millions of passionate fans. And that can lead to a flood of nasty comments on social media, especially Twitter.
"I have a Twitter account. I just don't participate," Salters said. She's tweeted only a handful of times this year. That's allowed her to avoid some potential pitfalls in a political environment that seems rife with danger. Just last week, ESPN suspended Jemele Hill, the cohost of the 6 p.m. SportsCenter, for two weeks over tweets the network said violated its social media guidelines.
"For me as a journalist, it's black and white. My opinion should never factor into anything I do," Salters said. "The lines have been blurred now because we've created journalists who are now supposed to have opinions, and I think TV viewers don't always understand the difference."
Hill's comments on Twitter extended from the debate over NFL players protesting racial injustice during the national anthem. President Trump's repeated calls for all players to stand during the anthem have only added to the heated rhetoric surrounding the issue.
"I wouldn't call them anthem protests," Salters said, pointing out that players who choose to kneel prior to games aren't protesting the national anthem itself.
"They're silently demonstrating. They're using a symbolic act to represent something else," Salters said. "Journalists should refer to them as a police brutality or racial inequality protest that happens during the anthem. I don't think it's that difficult."
Salters said she had no desire to start offering her opinions on the air, about sports or otherwise. She also doesn't see herself entering the booth to call games, noting that her roots are in journalism and that she's happiest when she's reporting. But she was a bit surprised to hear the criticism of ESPN's decision to have her colleague Beth Mowins call the nightcap of Monday Night Football's opening-week double-header, becoming the first female broadcaster in 30 years to call a regular season game.
Among the most head-scratching reactions came from 97.5 The Fanatic host Mike Missanelli, who lost his weekly gig at 6ABC after he said it was "unnatural" for a woman to do play-by-play for an NFL game.
"What a neanderthal," Salters said of Missanelli's criticism. "Beth didn't do the game because she was a woman. It wasn't a gimmick or an attempt to be quirky or offbeat. Chris Berman was retiring, and she was the next person up for the job, and deserved to be so."
Salters has worked for ESPN for 17 years, but she said she still finds it hard to believe she works beside players and coaches she grew up watching on television.
"I still just take a breath and think, 'Wow, these guys are my colleagues.' I don't get to see Jaws a lot," Salters said, referring to former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, "but I still think it's odd that Jaws knows who I am."