AA: Going back to these NBA playoffs, the #SagerStrong campaign has been a really fun, touching tribute to Craig Sager from the TNT crew. Obviously, you’re supporting a beloved colleague, but how important is this — the campaign and what Craig is going through — especially to you, given your previous public battles with cancer?
EJ: I know this first-hand, how important support is, how important it is knowing that there are people out there who are caring for you, praying for you, and wishing you well. You talked about social media and how it affects the feedback on the show. Sure, that’s true. But in a case like this with Sages, if he’s having a down day, all he has to do is get on his Twitter account and he’ll see thousands of new get-well wishes. It’s awesome.
That’s why we always encourage folks to get out there and hit the send button, and encourage him all you can. I know how good that feels when you have people out there who are pulling for you. We continue to, and we continue to pray for him. That son of a gun is really a fighter.
AA: Also, I’d like to ask you about giving your Sports Emmy to Stuart Scott’s daughters, a very touching moment. Was that something you thought about doing, was there talk about that kind of tribute among the other nominees, Emmy producers or colleagues? Or were you inspired right in the moment to do something like that?
EJ: You know, I think we all thought that at night’s end — and we know that’s the last category of the night — we all knew that when they announced the winner, it was going to be Stuart Scott. We all knew that. We all love Stu. We all appreciated what Stu did as a broadcaster. We’re all touched by his passion. And I think, to a man, we thought when this is announced, it’s going to be Stuart Scott. Hands down, case closed, can’t wait to hear what Taelor and Sydni, his daughters, have to say when they go up to accept this. It’ll be a great moment.
So when they said my name, my wife and I just kind of looked at each other. I even told her — weeks before we went — sure, you can go to the Emmys with me. It’s great. We always enjoy like a 24-hour date, to go to New York. And I said, Stuart Scott is going to win. I said, it’s going to be very cool because Taelor and Sydni will be there, and they’ll accept for their dad, and it’ll be great.
Then they announce my name and my wife and looked at each other like, “Are you kidding me?” The only thing I had planned, if they called my name, was — and this has been in the works for years — the next time, if I get a chance to win that award, I’m bringing my wife up on stage with me because she’s been with me every step of the way and I want her to be up there.
So I had to drag her up, and then I knew walking up — I didn’t know how this was going to happen — there’s no way I’m walking off the stage with that trophy. It’s just going to be a question of how I do this. I really didn’t have a plan. What came to mind was, look, there’s another place this should be and that’s in Stuart Scott’s house. And we brought the girls up.
Look, I think others would’ve done the same thing. I truly do. I consider myself blessed to be in that situation, to be part of that, to watch it happen. I had a great seat to watch it happen, I had a great seat to watch those girls hold that trophy and talk about their dad. And it was awesome.
AA: Finally, I hope we can talk a little bit about the recent E:60 profile of you and your family. Was it a huge surprise to get a call from ESPN, wanting to do a feature on you? Did you and your wife talk quite a bit about putting your life on camera like that?
EJ: Yeah, our PR department came to me. Nate Smeltz came to me one day and said, “Hey, we got a call from ESPN, Jeremy Schaap, they want to do an E:60 on your family.” I was like, yeah right. [laughs] “No, seriously. They want to do it.” And I thought, let me talk to Cheryl first. This ball has to roll really slowly right now. So Cheryl and I talked about it at length, and didn’t make a decision right away.
I think the first time we talked about it — and my wife’s not a huge sports fan, which is probably why we’ve been married for almost 33 years — I kind of explained to her, look, I think you’ve probably seen his work before, without knowing who he is. But Jeremy Schaap is an award-winning, top-notch, great reporter and he wants to do this story on our family. So I said, just think about that and see if you want to have cameras around while we’re getting Michael up in the morning or what we’re doing, what our family life is like.
We talked about it a few different times and then we said, you know what, if this will open somebody’s eyes to adoption, if it’ll open somebody’s eyes to special needs kids, if it’ll open somebody’s eyes to fighting cancer and help anybody along the way in those regards, then sure, let’s do it. And part of it was knowing the E:60 guys are so good at what they do, that Jeremy is a top-notch reporter/storyteller. All of those things kind of went into it, and we said sure, we’ll open it up to them. And we were floored by the results of that — we were floored. I can’t tell you. I mean, nobody in our family has watched that without tearing up. And that’s our story; we know our story already.
But it’s been remarkably humbling to see the response. People still hit me on Twitter because they’ll watch it now online, or they’ll have DVR’ed it and are finally getting around to watching it. So I think it’s a real tribute to Jeremy and to Dan Lindberg, the producer. I can’t say enough about Dan Lindberg. I’ve worked with a lot of producers in TV; this guy’s got the greatest heart of any producer I’ve seen. It’s amazing how he just embraced what we’ve got going on in our family and told that story.
It was a very humbling deal, just surprising that they wanted to do it. You don’t hear about networks wanting to do stories on other people on other networks, but those guys know how I feel about them. It was something to see.
AA: I imagine there’s been a huge reaction and outpouring of support from fans, from peers. But has there been kind of a different reaction, other than what you may have expected? Like you said, from opening people’s eyes to adoption, to special needs, have more people been reaching out or stopping you, sharing their own stories with you?
EJ: Yeah, a lot of people have said, you know, I lost my dad to cancer, I loved hearing about the relationship with your dad. I’m dealing with a special needs child right now, thanks for the look into how you deal with it. It hits different people in different ways. It hits some people as, hey, thanks for the view of fatherhood. Again, we’re floored by it, we’re humbled by it. We’re amazed by the reaction. And that doesn’t happen unless they tell the story the way they did. We just kind of opened it up and said, here’s what our life looks like.
And I told Jeremy Schaap, the first time we sat down for an interview — about a 90-minute interview — I said, Man, you should be doing this on my wife. She’s the one who really gets things done in this family. She’s the one who’s fighting child-sex traffic. She’s the one who’s counseled addicts before. She’s the one whose idea was to go to Romania and adopt a kid in the first place. I said, I’m a sportscaster; I sit around and talk hoops with Shaq and Kenny and Charles. She’s the real story. You’re going to find me remarkably boring. And still, they were able to tell the story.