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Charissa Thompson Brings Her A Game

Charissa Thompson proves exactly why she’s SportsNation’s secret weapon—even while shooting hoops in a pair of killer stilettos on the court with Danny Green, who just signed with the San Antonio Spurs.
Photographs by Miko Lim. Shot on location at Warren 77 in New York City.

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Nearly 40 years ago, not a single woman could be found on an American television sports broadcast. These days, it would seem bombshells and sportscasting go together like Budweiser and frat boys—or, perhaps, even better.

Young, blonde, and 5-foot-9, Charissa Thompson of ESPN’s SportsNation is just one of a well-buzzed-about few on a power play. “It has changed so much,” Thompson says of the business. “I think that there’s still a general stereotype of, 'Oh, do you really like sports? Do you really know sports?' But I’ve always looked at it as, women don’t get as many opportunities as men, so it’s your job once you get that opportunity to make the most of it.”

Only six years into her career, Thompson most certainly lives by her word, having covered sports events and related news from the sidelines of the Super Bowl to the red carpets of World Premieres. Already, she’s accrued a long list of airtime as a correspondent and a co-host on shows for major sports networks including Versus, NFL Network, Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, and most recently, ESPN.

And while being a female sportscaster may have its challenges, Thompson is quick to point out its perks as well. “I remember working for the [Colorado] Rockies—my first on-air job out of college—and we would go to the clubhouse after a baseball game,” she recalls. “If you’re just one woman and there are 15 male beat writers, you are going to get the baseball players’ attention just by being there.”

“My thing was always to not date the athletes because there are so many people that assume you’re in this business just to be involved with players,” she says. But as Thompson’s history confirms, she’s in it for the love of the game.

“I always wanted to cover sports,” she explains of her pre-teen ambition to be an on-air personality. “My dad is a big sports fan and I would sit down with him and watch [games] when I was little. That’s how I spent time with him. He would always explain the rules of football or, say, the difference between offsides and false start.” In high school, Thompson played basketball and ran track, but turned down a scholarship from the University of Washington to attend Santa Barbara instead. “I ended up being more interested in terms of work, and not play,” she explains.

In addition to Thompson’s more obvious camera-ready privileges, it’s her journalistic tactics and down-to-earth attitude on- and off-camera that have helped to accelerate her career. “You have to try to disarm them,” she says of her interview subjects, many of whom are high-powered athletes. “I always try to default to humor whenever I’m feeling a little bit nervous.” She recalls the first time she interviewed Derek Jeter, asking him to introduce himself to the camera in case the audience didn’t know who he was. After he had performed his role, Thompson let him in on the joke (“I’m kidding. We all know who you are,” she had said), successfully breaking the ice. Yet, after seeing Thompson interact so assuredly with Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs during this cover shoot, it's hard to imagine her feeling anything but confident.

“For me it’s all about self-deprecation—being able to call yourself out and not take yourself too seriously,” she says. “SportsNation is predicated on being goofy and not taking yourself too seriously. And that to me is perfect, because that’s how I am in general. I don’t just watch sports because it’s what I do, I do it because it’s what I love to do.” —Sasha Levine

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