A Path Less Traveled

Kevin Negandhi is the first ESPN SportsCenter anchor of Indian descent.

The award-winning sports journalist anchors multiple ESPN shows in addition to SportsCenter, including Baseball Tonight, College Basketball Final, College Football Live, ESPNews, First Take, and NFL Live.

Negandhi is a native of suburban Philadelphia and a graduate of Temple University with a degree in Communications. At Temple he immersed himself in sports journalism: He worked as College Sports Director in both print and broadcast environments, and was the voice of Temple Women’s Basketball on Temple University Radio for three years. 

Prior to joining ESPN, Negandhi worked as sports director for WWSB-TV in Sarasota, Florida, leading the station to three Associated Press awards—two for Best Sportscast and one for Best Breaking Sports News Coverage.

Tell me about the process of creating an episode of SportsCenter.

I’ll use the 11 p.m. (live) SportsCenter as an example.

We have an ideas meeting at 5 p.m. Present are the producers, the director, the researchers, the production assistants, and the anchors. We brainstorm and share thoughts and suggestions and story ideas for the show. This lasts about 30 minutes, then we break and get something to eat.

During the break, our producer puts together a “rundown,” which is a basic outline of the show. Then we spend the next few hours writing.

Who does the writing?

The anchors. We work with the researchers to make sure we have all of our facts correct. Also during this time, everybody in the newsroom is watching different games on various TVs. When something compelling is going on with a game, we hear it from the people watching and all of us change the channel and tune in. So while you’re writing the show, you’re still taking in all the current information as it’s happening, and of course some of this information will go into the show.

As the show gets closer, we get shot-sheets which are put together by the production assistants with details of every play in the highlight. Sometimes we get the shot-sheets while we are on the air.

Was there any particular moment in your youth when you realized you wanted to be a sportscaster?

Yes. One day, when I was 14, I was watching a college basketball game on TV. The announcer mentioned that one of the players was studying to become a sportscaster. And right then I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to work at ESPN and be an anchor on SportsCenter.

You really went gangbusters with sports journalism once you got to Temple University.

When I interviewed for my first internship while at Temple—it was an internship with the local TV station broadcasting the Philadelphia Phillies games—I started off by showing the guy my resume and telling him that I had a 3.5 GPA.

The guy stopped me right there and said, “Seriously, I don’t care what your GPA is. You could go to Harvard and have a 4.0 but if you’ve don’t have experience, you won’t get hired. If you had a 2.0 from another school but have experience, then you’ll have a much better chance.”

This was terrific advice—I decided right then that I would do as many internships as possible.

Ultimately I did five internships during my time at Temple—three in TV, one in radio, and one at a magazine—and these internships opened the door to so many things. Temple offered me such great opportunities—not only through covering collegiate sports but also through covering pro sports in the fourth largest market in the nation.

Through these internships and my work with the Temple newspaper and radio station, I spoke with many people in sports journalism. They all told me the same thing: If you can write well, then in this business you can do pretty much anything you want. So I devoted myself to sportswriting at Temple, and then to my stringer job for USA Today.

At that time there were basically no other Indian-Americans doing broadcast sports journalism in America.

That’s true. It didn’t affect me much, except in terms of pitching the whole idea to my parents. You’d like to give them examples of, so-and-so is doing this, so I can too. But really there were no such examples. So that made it an even tougher sell than it already was. Fortunately my parents were open-minded and supportive—though they definitely thought it was a phase. Dad wanted me to go into politics and Mom wanted me to become a lawyer.

Are there more Indian-Americans coming up in the field behind you?

Yes, I was very happy to see Anish Shroff make it to ESPN. He was a finalist on Dream Job (ESPN’s American Idol-like show) and eventually got hired. And I hear of other young Indian-American sportscasters who are cropping up around the country.

It’s gratifying to think that perhaps I’m helping open up this possibility to other Indian-Americans who want to enter this field.

I understand you have an interesting story about your first live sports broadcast.

(laughs) Okay, so I’m 23 years old, in Kirksville, Missouri, and I’ve just been hired as a sportscaster for KTVO-ABC3. I’m about to do my sportscast on the live 6 p.m. news, and this will be my first one. All week I’ve been pumping myself up; this was (at that point) the culmination of everything I’d been working for the past few years.

Our prompter is run by a pedal beneath the news-desk, and you’re supposed to run your own prompter. I’ve never used this type of prompter before, so I’ve spent the past few days practicing with it, getting my foot used to it, and I think I have a pretty good handle on it.

There’s also a small button next to the pedal, and you push this button with your foot if you want the text to roll backwards.

Under what circumstance would you want to the text to roll backwards?

Well, the pedal works kind of like an accelerator, so by changing the pressure you apply with your foot, you can control the speed of the text rolling. So if you accidentally make the text roll too quickly and get ahead of yourself, you can hit this other button to take the text backwards to get back to where you want the text to be.

So there’s this big build-up, and the anchors do this nice introduction—something like “We’d like to welcome our new sportscaster, Kevin Negandhi, doing his first newscast with us. Kevin?” and they turn to me.

I’m sweating bullets. I’m nervous as all heck, it’s the middle of June, in Missouri, it’s really hot in this studio, sweat is just rolling down my forehead.

This is during one of the Bulls/Jazz NBA Finals, so I’m going to lead with that. The problem is, I accidentally hit this “reverse” button with my foot right as I’m beginning to speak.

So all of a sudden the words are now running backwards on the prompter. But this is live TV, so we cannot stop to fix the problem—I just have to keep talking. (laughs) So now I’m ad-libbing everything I’m saying about the Bulls and Jazz. Thankfully, I know what I’m talking about.

Then we go to video and one of the anchors tries to help—she goes underneath the desk and is messing with the pedal and the button and trying to get my prompter back into forward mode, but cannot do it.

Meanwhile I’m talking over highlights and have truly no idea what’s going on!

She was never able to fix the problem, so I spent the three minutes ad-libbing my way through a broadcast that had been meticulously scripted.

At the time I was horrified. But in the end it was good for a lot of laughs and I never lived it down.

The funny thing about TV is that there’s always chaos going on behind the scenes. To the viewer at home the product usually looks smooth and polished, but you can’t see all the things going on.

Looking at your work history, there’s about a one-year gap in the early 2000s. What was going on then?

From 1999 to 2002 I worked at WWSB-ABCTV in Sarasota, Florida, as a sports reporter and anchor. In 2002 a family situation arose, and I felt that it was important for me to go back to Phoenixville, PA to be with my family. So I left television altogether. My family actually didn’t want me to do this—they thought I was giving up too much—but to me it was important to go and support my family through a challenging situation, and I will never regret making that decision.

In Phoenixville I worked on starting my own entertainment marketing company with my brother, and I worked in pharmaceutical sales because I needed to make money.

One year later, my old station from Sarasota called me and offered to make me the Sports Director, giving me the opportunity to change some things and make the department better. I took the job and moved back to Sarasota.

In Sarasota I met my now-wife—she was working as a reporter at the same station. I worked there as Sports Director for three years, and it was terrific—I could run things the way I wanted to, and we made an impact in the community. I was proud of the work and had a great time there.

It eventually led me to meet some great people in the business and one of them introduced me to my current agent. Within two months, my agent got me an interview at ESPN and here I am.

My wife has played a large role in helping me get to where I am. She was willing to date long distance for a year while she finished her contract as a reporter in Sarasota. Now she’s a reporter in the Hartford market.

And she puts up with my intense and irregular schedule since I work all types of shows including early morning, evening, and late-night. She also understands the demands of the business.

It’s amazing that you left your television career completely for a year, then jumped back in and still achieved your lifelong dream in the field.

Yes, and the funny thing is that I always used to think that there was only one path to get to ESPN (or, whatever your dream is). But as it turns out, that’s not really so. If you look at me and the other current ESPN anchors, we all have very different ways that we got here. My path, in particular, may appear very unlikely. But it really shows that there is not one specific way that it must be done.

And I think I needed to do what I did in that one year away. Not only because my family needed me, but also because I needed to go through those things to become the person I needed to become.

Gandhiji said—and I’m paraphrasing—that life is more about the journey than the destination. And my own journey is proving that to me every day.

Ranjit Souri lives in Chicago.





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