Lindsay Czarniak is known to many sports fans for her years at Fox and ESPN, and before then at Washington’s NBC affiliate.
But before she got to the D.C. area, where she also went to high school and college, she spent the early years of her life in Camp Hill, Pa., just a few miles outside of Harrisburg. Her father worked for Gannett News Service, and covered the Three Mile Island accident when she was 18 months old.
“Big yards, and it was more of a country atmosphere, and I loved it,” she said. “I remember it as just this great neighborhood that we were in. … I like the size of Harrisburg, and I do think the people there are just really cool.”
This summer, Czarniak will put a spotlight on some of the most famous grass — and courts, tracks, and other surfaces — in sports. She’s returning to NBC to host a daily Olympics show online dedicated exclusively to women’s sports. “On Her Turf at the Olympics” will stream for free on NBC’s Peacock platform, with Czarniak joined by cohosts Lolo Jones (a former Olympian in track and bobsled) and MJ Acosta-Ruiz.
“I feel very grateful to have this opportunity, because there are so many really cool opportunities when the Olympics come around. … But to host a show like this, dedicated and focusing on women, the timing is awesome,” Czarniak said.
The show will have a mix of highlights, longer storytelling features, and panel discussions. Some of the most famous American athletes are set to be showcased, including track and field’s Allyson Felix, soccer’s Alex Morgan, and swimming’s Katie Ledecky.
“It also gives us a really cool chance to talk about some things that you don’t get to spend a ton of time on,” Czarniak said. “Really talk about the issues and talk about what it means to be a woman at the Games, and talk about equal pay, and about the decision to become a mom or not, when you’re weighing that with competing.”
Those subjects will certainly be of interest to Felix, who with athletic apparel company Athleta created a $200,000 fund to pay for childcare for athletes traveling to competitions; and Morgan, one of many competing mothers whose babies and caregivers the IOC barred from traveling to Japan amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘This reckoning of strong voices’
Czarniak will record the show at NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford, Conn. It will be posted each day at around 7 p.m., with the show’s panel talking to athletes in Japan during the morning U.S. time. That should make the time-zone gap manageable. In fact, the hardest part might be that Czarniak’s husband, “Today” host Craig Melvin, will be in Tokyo.
“We’ll figure that out,” she said with a laugh.
With all the experience Czarniak has had in the sports media, she has seen how popular and profitable women’s sports have become recently. NBC has too, and seems to have built a broadcast plan for Tokyo to cater to the proven demand for coverage. (Though past controversies over how the network covers women’s sports and caters to women viewers haven’t been entirely forgotten yet.)
“It’s been such a strong message, and just an empowering, free, awesome environment from the start,” Czarniak said “From the moment I got the call to do this show, NBC has just — they are such a standard, I think, for making a decision and doing it the right way and moving forward with it. … They’re not afraid of talking about difficult subjects.”
Away from fields and courts, Czarniak has enjoyed watching how women athletes have fought for the right to be outspoken in public, and be celebrated for their competitive drive — and even their egos — the way men are.
“We’re seeing this reckoning of strong voices, and women who are just able to be themselves,” Czarniak said. “I lived that, everybody lives it … Not only are we paying more attention to these sports, and those athletes are getting their due, but they’re not afraid to say what needs to be said. And to pave the way, I think, for women ahead.”
That would surely be music to the ears of Morgan and her U.S. women’s soccer teammates. America’s most famous tea-drinker hopes to help the U.S. become the first reigning World Cup champion to win gold at the following Olympics. And if they make a few statements along the way, it won’t surprise anyone who has followed the decades of players who’ve led the sport’s great superpower.
“I have this conversation all the time,” Czarniak said. “If I say certain things, you know, if women say certain things, sometimes you just can’t because there’s a stigma about it. You’re damn right, of course they should be allowed to say the same things and to have the same money and then speak up.”