A Chat With Hannah Storm Of ESPN (And Houston)

ESPN has been charged for years with having an East Coast bias. ESPN's morning SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm somewhat agrees with that charge, though she says the charge doesn't apply to her show and says that to her, "it is a non-issue." And if she does have any bias, it's probably to the Houston Rockets.

"I love my Rockets," she told Hair Balls yesterday. "I'm totally cheering for the Rockets. The Lakers are tough, but I love what the Rockets are doing this season. I love their depth. I really do. They've got so many great role players. I'm psyched."

Hannah Storm didn't call to talk about the Rockets or East Coast bias. She called to talk about being named as a Champion of Literacy  by the Literacy Advance of Houston

To her the award is an honor. Not only because she sees it as an award honoring her journalistic contributions, but also because it's coming from a Houston organization. "It means a lot because it's happening in Houston which I consider to be my hometown," she said. "I sort of adopted Houston as my hometown, so just the fact to be recognized for anything in such a great city where I really got my start as a serious broadcaster means a lot."

Her big break came in Houston back in the 1980s, working at 97 Rock (now 96.5 The Mix).  She was a one-woman sports department covering the Astros, Oilers, and Rockets while working the morning and afternoon drive shifts. "The hardest part for me was I just couldn't figure out when to sleep," she said. "My whole life is about where can I squeeze in an hour's sleep here and there?"

And as a woman working in sports in the 1980s, she became a bit of a pioneer. "It's not an unusual career choice for lots of women now, and I'm very proud of that," she says. But it was difficult.There were people who didn't want to hire her. She couldn't make herself go into the Oilers locker room, and she avoided the Astros locker room when Bob Knepper was pitching because he didn't like women in the locker room.

She considers herself lucky to have started in Houston because of the presence of Anita Martini, the first woman allowed into an MLB locker room, who worked in Houston. "I don't think people should ever forget her. She was just a trailblazer. She was the first one in....A lot of the players respected her, and she was very knowledgeable. So I always really looked up to her."  

The Houston radio work gave her a great preparation for her trip up a broadcasting ladder that has included CNN Sports, NBC Sports, the Olympics, the World Series, college football, hosting the CBS Early Show, and now ESPN's morning SportsCenter. "It's just such a great background because you learn how to ad-lib and speak freely and think on your feet."  

And working sports gave her a leg up when she moved to the CBS Early Show. "I was better prepared to do that than some people who came from a traditional news background who were more prompter-oriented or they hadn't dealt a lot with breaking news," she said. "I felt like in sports you had to react immediately and then so that part of it was terrific"  

The morning SportsCenter is the best of all worlds. She sees sports as real happenings with beginnings, middles, and ends. She deals with the failures and triumphs of human beings.  The preparation for the show, which airs from eight-to-eleven in Houston, begins at five a.m. Houston time for her. She gets in, writes her segments, reviews highlights, and checks out sporting events from across the country. But still she does a lot of the actual show on the fly.  "Even though you prepare a lot, the show's change as the day morph and things unfold. You just have to be really calm about that and take it as it comes."

And yes, she's aware of what the blogs say about her morning clothing choices.  Especially since her co-host Josh Elliot finds the blogs funny. "I know that when I came here I dressed differently than a lot of the anchors they had previous, but I dress like I dress," she said. "I'm a mom, I'm in my forties, and I just figure that I'm really not dressing necessarily to please anyone. I just want to look nice and current and look fun. Because sports is fun and what I do is fun."

She did acknowledge, however, that the ESPN Powers That Be have given her some input regarding her clothing. And she appreciates that, though she believes that she's had a bit of a positive influence on her fellow anchors.

This past year, she started the Hannah Storm Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for children born with facial deformities and disfigurements. This is a cause close to her because she was born with a disfiguring facial birthmark that she still has and which she covers with makeup. Lots of insurance companies won't cover the costs of necessary surgeries because they classify them as cosmetic surgeries, so she's working to raise insurance company awareness as well as helping families pay for treatments.  

And the Champion of Literacy event will raise money for Literacy Advance of Houston, an organization devoted to teaching older illiterate people how to read. The event is May 1st at Minute Maid Park and it will be chaired by Larry Dierker. "So if you don't want to come see the Astros," she said, "then come down there for that event. I think it's going to be really fun."

And here's a P.S. for my editor, a Fighting Irish fan. Notre Dame grad Hannah Storm says the football team this year is "going to be a lot better...Not exponentially better than they were last year, but definitely a bowl team."

(To which the editor replies, "Half the teams in college are bowl teams. She better have meant a BCS bowl."

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