Last month saw Religion of Sports launch their first one-on-one interview series, In The Moment with David Greene (in partnership with public radio organization PRX). Greene is a familiar voice in political and world news circles, working for NPR from 2005-2020 (including as a host on Morning Edition from 2012-20) and for the Baltimore Sun (including as a White House correspondent) before that. This is the first specifically sports project he’s done, though, and he told AA in a recent interview that he’s thrilled to get to explore that side of the media world with this new series.
“I’ve always been a journalist who happened to be a diehard sports fan,” Greene said. “I’d always grown up dreaming of somehow being involved in sports media…I’ve been a sports fan my entire life, Pittsburgh diehard, bleed black and gold. Literally all I’ve been thinking about today is Kenny Pickett. I live and breathe that to a point of my wife thinking I’m crazy, waving a Terrible Towel at bars Sundays and taking her to games over the years. We met at a Steelers’ bar in Washington, D.C.”
“And my relationship with the Steelers was also very much part of my relationship with my mom growing up, Pittsburgh sports was just our thing. So it’s so funny that the course of my career wasn’t that, writing for The Baltimore Sun then covering the White House, pivoting into radio, and doing all these jobs at NPR.”
Greene retired from NPR in 2020, and said when he was considering what to do next, sports came to mind.
“It was just one of those moments in my career where I was thinking about everything,” he said. “I’d had a great run at NPR, I loved the place. And I was thinking about what drives me most; I’m passionate about deep-dive interviews, with celebrities from all different areas.”
“That’s always been something I loved, truly getting deep and personal and intimate. The intimacy of conversation is always just something I love, and humanizing people who everyone else thinks they know because they’re so famous, and getting at what drives them. It was knowing I wanted to do that and make that a big part of my post-NPR life, and then just my passion for sports, bringing those two things together.”
He said Religion of Sports was the perfect fit for this concept, given their previous shows’ focus on deeper and more personal sides of sports.
“The idea of working with Religion of Sports, their whole mission is so similar to all of that, taking sports to a deeper level and being a place where you can come both as a diehard fan and as someone who is interested in humanity. And I think it was just a total mindmeld; we started developing this show together, and it’s just been a great ride that really checks all these boxes for me in terms of my life and career.”
Greene said he’s loving the move from sports fan to sports journalist so far.
“It’s been great because I feel like I don’t have to separate my career from my hobby on the weekends and evenings. I no longer have to feel like I’m hiding from my fellow journalists and doing this weird thing staring at my MLB app and watching the last-place Pirates in games late at night. It’s not so weird any more because I’m surrounded by people who totally get it.”
He said some of his most memorable interviews before this were athletes as well, so it’s neat to get to do that more regularly.
“In some ways, it’s been part of my journey too. I’ve had to pinch myself over the years, and I think the hardest pinches have often been when I’m interviewing athletes. Wayne Gretzky is someone I’ll never forget talking to, all those ‘Holy sh*t’ moments of ‘Okay, I’m talking to Wayne Gretzky.’ And now I get to do that every week, which has been awesome. Talking to Larry Fitzgerald, as a Pitt fan growing up, and as a Pittsburgher with the Steelers beating him in that Super Bowl, just the idea of sitting there on a Zoom with him and chatting was awesome. I felt like a little kid.”
Greene said it’s been interesting to talk with athletes from different sports as well, including some that he didn’t know much about previously.
“It’s been great. It makes every conversation different, I feel like. I go into a conversation with Cam Heyward, and I feel like I’m talking to a hero in many ways, but the goal is of course to hear his life story and start with reliving a moment with him. But if it’s a sport like the UFC that I’m less familiar with, it’s like my curiosity about the sport and being in the octagon is even more intense. And I feel like I’m learning alongside other sports fans who might not be addicts of that particular sport, but are driven by the same kind of curiosity to understand that at a really human level.”
Greene’s interview with Delle Donne particularly stands out for the remarkable things she says about battling through pain, about her relationship with her sister, about what it was like to come out as gay while playing in the WNBA, and more. He said he got the sense that there was an amazing story there that might have been known by the WNBA world, but not the wider sports world, and that’s one of the things he wants the show to focus on.
“That is one of many missions, I think, of the show that really are important to me. We really want to include a lot of women’s sports, a lot of athletes like Elena, and she was just incredible, and really, I think drove home to me why the structure and concept of this show works so well.”
“You relive a moment with her, a championship run, that people are either vaguely familiar with if you’re not a big fan, or very familiar with if you’re a Mystics fan. But the idea of just hearing about it; at a basic level, a star athlete just fought through pain to win a title, but then to actually relive that moment with her and understand the severity of that pain and what she was hiding from her teammates, what her coaches were advising her, what she decided on her own, the conversations she had with her wife about whether she should play or not, and then ultimately winning.”
“And then going from there and digging even deeper into her relationship with her sister who’s blind and deaf, the influence she’s had on Elena’s life. And then getting into what it was like to come out as a gay woman in the WNBA. And also talking about having to play women’s basketball in Russia because athletes in the WNBA aren’t paid enough. We really go deep, and that’s the kind of stuff I think makes this show distinct and special.”
That episode is available here:
In The Moment starts each episode with a section looking at the specific moment in question, and Greene said that was an important element to set the stage for deeper dives with each athlete.
“We wanted to honor what so many people, I think all of us sports fans, love about sports. It’s the drama. It’s not knowing whether you’re going to win or lose. It’s the power of reliving moments like that. I think about Larry Fitzgerald and what it was like losing the Super Bowl in those final seconds, what a Santonio Holmes toe tap meant for his entire career. Everything rides on moments. And we really wanted the top of the show to feel highly-produced, dramatic, compelling, like you’re literally inside the mind of someone who’s experiencing it with the power of NFL Films, just that kind of drama. ”
“But always know that after those few minutes at the top we’re going to back away and sort of use the moment as a window into someone’s life and go on that journey together to understand what that moment meant, and understand the larger context. And so, taken together, I think what we’re really hoping to do is to draw an audience who are diehard sports fans, who might love listening to sports talk and a lot of other awesome podcasts in the space that really dive into the nitty-gritty of sports in the nerdy sense that sports fans love, but are going to come here to really go deeper and understand each week one athlete’s life. But also the drama of the moment, and getting really, really deep, and the intimacy, we hope that’s going to draw people in who just like powerful interviews. That’s the special sauce we’re looking for.”
While many know Greene for his work in the realm of news and politics, his first book, Midnight In Siberia: A Train Journey Into The Heart Of Russia, was quite different. That 2014 book came out of a trip he took to Russia in 2013 to travel the Trans-Siberia Railway. In a Washington Post review that year, Amanda Erickson wrote that Greene’s book was “fueled by a desire to understand: What is this place? Why does it work the way it does?” Greene said that journey for understanding is applicable to what he’s doing now.
“The curiosity that I brought to that train trip and that book, going on a journey and just discovering, being curious, bringing people along, that’s exactly the approach that I bring to interviews here. And the thing I wanted to do in that book was be really transparent about my own curiosity, and my desire to learn or just go on a journey. And that’s what I’m doing each week as a sports fan on this show. It’s like ‘Come along with me. We know a little bit about Elena Delle Donne, a little bit about Francis Ngannou, a little bit about Larry Fitzgerald, we know, if we’re sports fans, what some of those crazy moments were like viewing them on television, but come on a journey together, let’s go deeper and really understand what drives these athletes.'”
He said there may be more of an international focus with this series down the road, too.
“I think that’s one thing that we’re looking to do, make this bigger than sports in the United States. We’ve already been talking with the team about other athletes abroad, where we could really bring in their stories and capture the fact that sports fandom is global.”
Deep-dive interview shows aren’t new to sports, of course, and Greene cited those from Bob Costas and Roy Firestone as particular inspirations for him. He said he thinks there’s a lot of value to these kinds of shows, and he’s excited to carry that tradition on and provide deeper looks at athletes.
“There have obviously been amazing sports interview shows. But I think that there’s a real need for that in the space. Let’s treat athletes with enormous respect and say ‘You inspire all of us, you deserve the chance to sit back with someone and really tell your full story.'”
In The Moment With David Greene can be found across podcast platforms. More information on it and individual episode links are available on the Religion of Sports site here.