Carolyn Manno is the brightest addition to NBC’s biggest stage—Football Night in America. While to its 40 million+ viewers she may not look like your typical NFL field reporter, as our STEPHEN CHRISTOPHER finds, this girl really knows her X’s and O’s.
"This is my first time in LA, can you believe it? Everything’s cooler out here. You don’t understand…I live on New York’s Upper East Side. I’m an old soul. I’m too dorky to live downtown. I am such a loser. People say I look like I’m from Manhattan Beach…I don’t even know what that means.”
With all due respect, Carolyn is by mere appearances, not the person you’d expect to see covering live on-the-field interviews on NBC’s top-rated franchise, Football Night in America. One would, well…I, actually, would peg her covering the Miss America pageant before believing she could school me on the X’s (defense), and O’s (offense) of pro football. But there you’ll find her, mic in hand, firing questions at superstars like Ben Roethlisberger, the winning Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. Carolyn’s a student of the game and keeps up on the coaches, players, rules, and even the history because, as she says, “At the end of the game, you never know who might emerge as the hero.”
To get there, Carolyn’s certainly paid her dues. She rose through the ranks, cutting her teeth in the tiny town of Mishawaka, Indiana, where she covered high-school basketball. “Talk about sports in its purest form. Go to a high school gym in the middle of Amish country. You walk in and the energy is real. It’s very pure at that level. All for love of the game, not a multimillion-dollar operation,” Carolyn says convincingly, until she finishes the thought, trailing into a resigned truth and a shoulder shrug. “As you climb the sports ladder, you see that erode bit by bit by bit, until you get to the top, and then…it’s just a business.”
After three years in Indiana, she landed a gig in Boston where super sports teams like the Boston Celtics and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots play. “For women, it’s easier to get a job in sports than it is to keep it—and to be taken seriously. People see that you’re blonde, younger, they assume you don’t know what you’re talking about. The poorest treatment I’ve received in my career has been from those in the industry who are threatened by women in sports. You not only have to prove you belong to your audience, but to your peers. It’s the jealousy thing. It’s the, ‘Why are you here?’ More often than not, it isn’t the case, but I’ve carried that chip on my shoulder.”
As you might imagine, for someone like Carolyn, being in those testosterone-filled stadiums could present other challenges. “Sure, I’ve been in uncomfortable situations. That’s valuable experience: learning how to deal. For example, one pro athlete happened to be married, and he crossed the line.
Not like a physical pass—more like an inappropriate text message. Once you slap their hands, it’s over. It’s a game for some of them and they’re not used to being told no. Part of what we do as reporters is exchange information. If you’re a guy and you’re in a locker room and you’re trying to work with a story, you could say, ‘Hey man, here’s my cell number.’ I want to try to do the same thing to establish that trust, but as a woman I’ve had to learn how to navigate certain situations that a man wouldn’t have to face.”
Not to be deterred, Carolyn is staying the course. “I’m passionate about sports for the psychological aspect of it. The life of these athletes is similar to a model, who at a young age is scooped up out of nowhere—might come from a bad situation, is thrown in the limelight and is jetsetting around the world. Even my own story of moving out of the Midwest and not knowing where I’m going next—I can relate to that a little bit. It’s a common thread.”
Then Carolyn shares about her inauspicious start in sports broadcasting. “I’m on the plane on the way to Chicago with these two huge bags which I then have to carry on a train. So I’m struggling to get through the turnstile and I finally get there and all I remember is calling my family, crying, telling them I’m in this rundown extended-stay motel with just a bottle of wine and a hot pocket and it’s Thanksgiving…and…I…can’t...do...this. It was difficult, but before I could process it, I was off and running.
And that’s how I’ve approached every single phase of the career. It’s wild, right?”