Behind The Scenes

Kahrl’s busy weekend a welcome challenge

ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer with Bruce Jenner filming the 20/20 special “Bruce Jenner – The Interview.”
ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer with Bruce Jenner filming the 20/20 special “Bruce Jenner – The Interview.”

Editor’s Note: Christina Kahrl is a sportswriter and editor for ESPN.com, and a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America as well as the first trans* woman voted into its ranks. She writes this Front Row post about an historic weekend that saw her balance a heavy workload and several requests to discuss Bruce Jenner.

The news that former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner had come out as a transgender woman, announced on ABC on Friday night in a two-hour interview with Diane Sawyer, captured the attention of nearly 17 million viewers, and resonated broadly with fans on ESPN.com, as well. I’m proud to say that the ESPN Digital editorial team, with deputy editor Joy Russo on point, did a superb job on providing coverage where it was relevant for us to do so.

Conversations begun in February led to our generating a suite of reactions: Jim Caple delivered a great exercise in allyship that captured the importance of why Jenner’s is ultimately a sports story. I provided my own reaction column talking about the power of sports to create a conversation, and we also saw a thoughtful bit of number-crunching by our friends at FiveThirtyEight.

ESPN’s Christina Kahrl. (Photo courtesy Jaimee Rosko)
ESPN’s Christina Kahrl. (Photo courtesy Jaimee Rosko)

But what do you get if you drop that major news event into the middle of one ESPN employee’s commitments to baseball in the middle of the regular season? Scheduling mayhem, because even knowing what I’d be watching and working on Friday night had to be wedged in between baseball.

The night before the Jenner broadcast had me at U.S. Cellular to talk to several Kansas City Royals about Lorenzo Cain’s hot start, something that seems to have carried over from the center fielder’s big performance last October. This is for a feature I’d pitched to my teammates in the baseball group the day before, one scheduled to run on ESPN.com on Wednesday. While I spoke to [manager] Ned Yost, [hitting coach] Dale Sveum and [first baseman] Eric Hosmer, Cain spent a big chunk of time in the batting cages, and he asked if we could put off our interview until first thing Saturday. No problem, I was scheduled to work Saturday.

But on Thursday, thirteen innings and one bench-clearing brawl later, [ESPN Chicago’s] Doug Padilla and I had all sorts of things to write about off that game, and coordinating what we’d get done with fellow editor Joe Breeze and the Baseball Tonight team was fun and productive, but it meant a late night for all of us.

So the Jenner announcement breaks, and predictably enough, I received a number of media requests for Saturday and Sunday. Piece of cake. . .except that with a storm rolling in, a little after 9 a.m. Saturday, I was halfway to the ballpark when I got an email that the Sox-Royals game was being called. No Cain interview on Saturday.

I was scheduled to work on the editorial side Sunday night, which would allow me to still talk to Cain before the game Sunday morning, do a Jenner radio hit on Sirius XM, and still squeeze in brunch with my wife Charley. No problem!

Enter CNN, asking if I’m willing to join Brian Stelter on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” to talk about the Jenner interview and its significance. Well, of course I am, and after I get a green light from my ESPN bosses, I’m good to go. . . except CNN wants me to do it from their Chicago studio. During the window for my Cain interview. So I explain to them that I’m not giving up the key piece to my story to help them with theirs, nothing personal. They say they’ll send a car, but the timing’s too tight. So they say they’ll send a truck to the stadium. I can interview Lorenzo Cain sometime between 9:20 a.m. (when the clubhouse opens) and 10 a.m., then run out to the parking lot for my CNN appearance at 10:15. No problem!

Sunday comes. Problem: The Royals’ doors don’t open until 9:40. And Cain is nowhere to be seen. And the CNN truck hasn’t gotten in touch. And I’m getting worried texts from the CNN producer. And now it’s 10. I tell the PR folks from the Royals that I’ll be back by 10:30, and if Cain shows up, can they hold him for me? They say they will.

I run out to the parking lot, find the truck, mic up and. . . I can barely hear a word Stelter is saying through the earpiece, even with the volume jacked up. Remembering my ESPN training, I smile, say things that need saying concisely, un-mic, race back through stadium security again, back to the Royals clubhouse, and. . . shazam, finally, Lorenzo Cain is right there, finishing breakfast, big as life. We retreat to the dugout and he gives me 10 minutes about hitting and playing the game that captures why he’s a player who hasn’t just relied on his talent, he’s applied his strongest tool of all, his brain, to the mastery of his craft. It’s everything I wanted, needed and just got.

There aren’t many times when there’s overlap between my personal experiences and my career, let alone occasions when I have to try juggling both. I’m a sportswriter, and I won’t sacrifice that. But is it worth fighting for? I suppose it depends what you’re asking about, talking about my fellow transgender Americans when asked or talking about baseball all day every day. Because either way, the answer is ‘yes’.

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