Jody Jackson is blonde and gorgeous and fits right in on a football field — not in a cheerleading outfit, but as one of the most well-respected professional sports reporters for the Arizona Cardinals for Fox Sports Arizona, as well as for the Phoenix Coyotes and Arizona Diamondbacks. The 40-year-old Tempe resident is a veteran reporter, with nearly 20 years of sports reporting experience and covering the Valley’s pros for nearly 15. Jackson shared her thoughts on the recently completed Diamondbacks season, as well as her predictions for the Coyotes and Cardinals, below. Keep reading to also watch a video of Jackson talking about five of her favorite reasons for living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I grew up in South Florida and was born in Hallandale, and I was there until I was 23. I’m a graduate of the University of Miami, and then worked at a sports radio station. Buffalo, N.Y. was my first TV job, and I spent a few years there. Fox Sports was branching out with these regional networks. I was offered a similar position in Atlanta, Denver or Phoenix, and I chose Phoenix.
I wanted to thaw out and be warm again, because Buffalo was not. I had been to Atlanta a number of times, and Phoenix intrigued me. Here I am almost 14 years later.
Do you plan on staying in Arizona?
I think so. My husband went to ASU and played football there. He’s called this home since the age of 18. All of his family is here now, and my parents moved here 2 years ago. We really love Arizona and all that it has to offer with the great weather and outdoor activities. I love the heat, and the sports market has really grown.
What’s your first memory of wanting to be a reporter?
I was young, maybe 7 or 8? I remember there were two female news anchors on local TV in South Florida, and I used to pretend to be them in the car, pretending to tell stories.
I always knew a lot about sports growing up. I used to watch the Atlanta Braves every night in the summer with my dad and mom, and my mom and I would go to the Orange Bowl and watch Miami Hurricane football. It clicked — why wouldn’t I cover sports? When I got my first job in sports radio, I was hooked.
Did you always think you’d cover sports?
I did major in political science because I thought maybe I’d go that route of news. Reporter friends of mine would have to knock on doors in a neighborhood after someone had been murdered. It’s a whole different daily emotional grind covering that type of news.
Not to say I’m not up for that, because sometimes there’s some really heavy stuff in the world of sports, but I just enjoy the realm of sports, from the fans, to the X’s and O’s.
Have you faced any challenges being a female reporter in the male-dominated industry?
Now, it’s so common, I think it’s a pretty even playing field on both sides. When you first get into this business, whether you’re male or female, a lot of it can be intimidating.
I’m definitely not a completely fearless person, but I didn’t get scared of anything, I just focused on the task of doing my job. I never let anything get to me. There are women who have encountered biases, whether it’s in the workplace or locker room, but I have luckily not (at least not in a confrontational manner.) You always have to prove you can do the job, and speak the language of the subjects you cover. I have never shied away from proving I know as much as anyone in the business about the teams I cover.
I think a lot of times it’s best to not overthink it. If you think, “I’m a woman, everyone else is a man,” you’re not going to have much success. You have to channel your energy into what you’re doing, and do the best job you can.
Why are professional sports important?
I think about that a lot. I think it’s obvious it brings people together. I think this year, the Diamondbacks raising money for the families of those firefighters who died in the Yarnell fire was amazing. To raise almost $800,000 over the season is cool to see.
You watch people tailgate, and that’s a science in itself. I think you just have to watch that to observe how important it is.
What’s your opinion of concussions caused by football?
For me, even though my son is only 7, I think about it a lot. I’ve covered every level of sports, but the point that drove it home to me was at a high school game, watching a kid get knocked out. It’s hard to watch.
When Kevin Kolb went down for the Cardinals with a concussion, you could look in his eyes and see he was glazed over. It’s a very hard thing to watch and know it’s a very real possibility.
I think there are good signs they are trying to be safer in the game. The other thing is, you realize it’s part of the deal. Your child could get a concussion from falling off a swing. Soccer, hockey — it really could happen anywhere.
I have to weigh the fact my son loves football, his dad played football, and I have to deal with the likelihood he’s probably going to want to play, and make sure he gets the proper coaching and takes the proper precautions. I think the NFL is doing a lot of things to create awareness.
Is there anything about professional athletes that stands out to you?
I’ve always said, for football, it’s such a physical toll that it takes on you. You’re only out there one night a week, but you’re getting completely pounded on.
Baseball is more of a mental grind. You have to be ready to play every night, and some nights just aren’t going to be as good as others. Not only do you have to be talented, but I think a mental toughness is a big part of it, and confidence. These guys have to have it to succeed, or else you’re not going to last long.
What happened to the Diamondbacks this season (who were once in first place in the division, but didn’t make playoffs)?
Hopes were high this season. They played pretty well in April and May, but they actually could have won more games than they did.
When the (Los Angeles) Dodgers went on their run, it was hard to watch, when you’re trying to climb uphill, and they just keep going. I know it was a lot of things, and after talking to (Diamondbacks manager) Kirk Gibson and (general manager) Kevin Towers a lot over the past couple weeks to get that answer, it was what we saw — blown saves, wild pitches, not as solid starting pitching as they thought they were going to get — but KT and Gibby also feel they need to play with more of an “edge” get back the swagger the team had more of in 2011.
Then the offense tailed off — which is pretty hard to explain, considering Martin Prado got pretty hot after the All-Star break. Paul Goldschmidt was hot all season long, but it really hurt Miguel Montero had a down year.
Missing Aaron Hill for two months was huge, and then Cody Ross being hurt in August hurt, also. With all that being said, could they have matched the Dodgers? It would have been tough. Those guys had incredible pitching, and they got healthy and caught fire.
How do you explain (All-Star pitcher) Patrick Corbin’s decline?
He will tell you he wasn’t tired, but I think after the season was over, he probably didn’t have as much in the tank as he did earlier in the season. It has to take a toll. He played at such a high level for so long. It seemed like his pitches didn’t have quite the finish on them, particularly on the slider, as they did in the beginning of the season.
But I think it was a good learning process for him. Last year, he pitched 107 innings at a Major League level. This year, to pitch around 200 is a big step. I think there’s really high hope for him next year he can be just as good as he was at the beginning of the season, and continue it a little more consistently at the end of the year.
What was your opinion of the Dodgers jumping into the Chase Field pool after they won the division?
I didn’t like it. It doesn’t matter to me if it was the Dodgers or any other team, but I think they were the only team who would have done such a thing.
For me, in 2011, when the Diamondbacks did that after they clinched on home field, it was pretty special and a memory that would last. I think they would have liked to have done that again next — not have another team do it.
The Dodgers went out of their way to do it. You celebrated on the field when the game ended, you went in the clubhouse and celebrated. To come back out and run 300 feet to get there, it just seems like an extra effort to rub it in. We all know what else might have gone on out there (the team may have urinated in the pool.)
What are your predictions for the Coyotes season?
The talent is there. They added Mike Ribeiro, who is a top-line center, a very slick skater and passer.
You have Mike Smith, the goaltender, who’s the most important piece. I’ve covered a couple hockey teams who went to the Stanley Cup Finals, and the goaltender was the piece that mattered the most.
I have hopes for them. Where they will end up, I don’t know. Because they went to the Western Conference Finals a couple years ago, they definitely expect to get there and maybe even reach the Stanley Cup Finals. There are a lot of good teams in their division, so we’ll see.
What are your predictions for the Cardinals season?
The Cardinals are interesting. They’ve had two wins where they had to come back in the fourth quarter to get them, so that shows me something. The defense has a new coordinator (Todd Bowles), and yet they seem to be performing at a high level even switching a lot of players around due to injuries/missed time. I do know their level of competition is going to get tough. I think we’ll learn a lot more about what they’re about.
I think their offense has the potential to break out if they can protect Carson Palmer, and he in turn, makes good decisions.
What do you attribute to teams, like the Diamondbacks this past season, who are known to come from behind and win it?
I don’t know — it’s partly a belief you can actually do it. It’s a good sign, though, if you can play better as the game goes on, particularly in tough situations. For the Cardinals, it was on the road in Tampa on a very hot day.
The D-Backs wanted to improve their clutch hitting this year, and they did that. Last year, they were 15-27 in one-run games, and this year, their record was much better, at least 10 games over .500. It means the right guys are stepping up at the right time.
How do you stay sane being on the road so much?
When I think about being on the road 70 days a year, it’s a lot because it’s hard to be away so much from your family. The good news is, when the season is over, it’s a good six months to reconnect with everyone and be more the mom who is there for homework and all kinds of fun stuff. I even attempt to cook.
As far as the road schedule, it’s very much get up, do the job, get some sleep, and go back to the ballpark. You get in early and get back late. So many people’s jobs today are 24/7 because of social media and how much media is out there. I could read up on everything 24/7 — it’s non-stop.
The one thing I try to do is go running around whatever city I’m in. The NL West is really a beautiful collection of cities. Running to the wharf in SF, through the Cherry Creek path in Denver, around the Rose Bowl in L.A., and down by the water in San Diego. I’m a beach lover being from Florida, so it gives me peace to be near water, then go to the ballpark and get back to information overload.
On the road, you immerse yourself in that. I don’t know if it keeps me sane, but you’re always thinking about the job, the next show and how to make it better. You get used to it.
What are your tips for interviewing people?
Preparation is the key. Here in Arizona, I know so many of the coaches and players because I’ve been here a long time. If you don’t know someone well, you do your research. You try to figure out as much about the person you’re interviewing as you can. That’s your foundation.
Then, the key is to ask questions people want to know, and that most intrigue me, whether it’s after a game or more in-depth about their lives. How do you uncover some things about them people don’t know?
A lot of times, you just try to put yourself in that person’s shoes, and it gives you a better idea of what they’re going through. Try to connect with the human side. I think a lot of people don’t do that, they just treat them like a robot. No matter how quiet some athletes are, everyone has an emotional side.
How do you draw that emotional side out of athletes?
There are some athletes who just don’t want to divulge too much, and that’s understandable in some cases. You just try to have them relax and be conversational.
Don’t have it be so much an interview as a chit-chat. There are going to be some athletes who are very guarded, so you try to ask questions that dig deeper into that emotional side. And, of course, always listen to the answers, and follow up.
What’s your most memorable interview?
My first most memorable interview was with Dan Marino, because it was his last season playing quarterback. I grew up watching the (Miami) Dolphins, and there I was covering the Dolphins. I really was new at interviewing players, and it was really interesting for me to talk to the man whom I had been watching for years and who was an icon in that town.
When (Cardinals player) Kurt Warner retired, I remembered that being pretty memorable because it was surprising, but he was so sure he was ready to leave the game. It impressed upon me what I already knew, which is that Kurt Warner had his priorities in line, which was his family. He was going to have a lot more to do in his life than just play football.
The other big one was (Diamondbacks player) Luis Gonzalez on the field after winning the World Series. It was so chaotic after that game, I was just trying to gather my thoughts. The crux of the interview was, “How did you manage to get a hit off the great Mariano Rivera?” That was way down the line in the questioning, because the first four questions were just about the emotion of the moment, because it was such an incredible evening.
Who’s your all-time favorite Arizona player?
Kurt Warner. Just what he was able to do for the team and going to the Super Bowl that was pretty exciting. He’s very well-balanced and a great guy to deal with as a media member — very down-to-earth for a guy who was a superstar player.
Who’s your all-time favorite athlete?
Growing up, Dale Murphy on the Atlanta Braves was my favorite. He’s a guy who is still involved in the Atlanta Braves broadcasts.
More than an athlete, the passion I had for Miami Hurricanes football, and not just Vinnie Testaverde or Michael Irvin or Jerome Brown, it was the whole team. Jimmy Johnson is my favorite to this day because he was the architect of those teams.
Do you play fantasy football?
I do. I’m struggling right now. I was in the air with the Diamondbacks when the draft was going on, and it was just the part of the flight where I couldn’t get Wi-Fi, so I missed the first six picks.
I’m not saying I’d be much better off if I picked my own players, but I did get second in my fantasy baseball team. I’m proud of that because you can change your players daily. You’re the general manager and the manager, and I like that.
Are you athletic?
I like to think I’m athletic. Am I great at any one sport? No. In high school, I was on the tennis team, and I was known for playing the longest tennis matches in the history of Broward County because I had no killer instinct. I was a defensive player, but I had no shot. It’s not I’m not competitive, but maybe I’m too nice to be ultra-competitive like that.
I was a baton twirler all my life. There was a parade in my hometown when I was 5, and I did it in college and got a scholarship for it. With Miami, I traveled to all the Bowl games. We went to the national championship three out of my four years there.
We played University of Arizona in 1994 at the Fiesta Bowl and lost. That was my first trip to Arizona, and it’s so weird because I think about what it was like then, and I can’t connect it to what I know now. I was on the field all my life, so it just seems natural.
What do you do for fun in the Valley?
I love hiking and running. I try to volunteer at the kids’ school. We have a lot of gatherings on our patio and in our backyard — there’s always something going on and a million kids over.
We have our favorite local spots for dinner and drinks. A few weeks ago, we went out to see a friend’s favorite local country band play, and it turned into quite the dance party. That’s always been my favorite part of going out, dancing, but I definitely don’t do it enough.
Why should people support Arizona sports?
It goes back to that community experience. Some of my favorite memories are going to a game as a fan. Going to a game with my college friends to watch Miami win the Rose Bowl after I had graduated is something I’ll never forget.
You never know what’s going to happen. You might see a no-hitter. You might see a perfect game. You might see one guy hit three home runs in a game.
In football, the Cardinals have one of the most electric players in Patrick Peterson. You never know what he’s going to do.
I think it’s fun to be there united as one. There are dissenting fans, sure, but nothing really beats that experience.
What advice would you have for people who want to become a sports reporter?
It’s a great job. Every day is different. My tips are to always be prepared — the harder you work, the more it pays off. When I was working at sports radio, I was producing a morning show and covering games at night, so I was barely getting any sleep, but that’s how I got from producer/tape gathering to on air.
It’s showing that extra effort. Sometimes it’s not that simple, but the best thing is to get out there, get internships, and get over your fear of being on camera. For me, now, that’s the easy part. I’m thinking about who I’m talking to, what we’re talking about, and what can I bring to the table that is different and more in-depth than everyone else?
Learn more about Arizona Diamondbacks CEO and president Derrick Hall here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Cody Ross here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Fox Sports Arizona reporter Todd Walsh here on Phoenix People.