Kelly Backus/ESPNImages
October 04, 2021
In The Mix

Her Transition Game

In one risky play, reporter Mina Kimes moved from print to broadcast and from finance to sports. Now she’s impressing on ESPN’s NFL Live.

Given the world we live in, it was only natural that as Mina Kimes's journalism career took off — first covering finance for Fortune and later moving into sports at ESPN The Magazine — internet trolls would latch on to her.

"There was this joke on the web that Mina Kimes looks like someone who as a kid published her own paper called The Kimes Times. The funny thing is, it's true!" says the writer, who hosts the ESPN podcast The Mina Kimes Show with Lenny (that's her dog) and is an analyst on ESPN's NFL Live. "I made it on my Mac Performa. It was only distributed to my family, and there were hard-hitting pieces about family vacations and things that happened around the house."

Journalism isn't the only childhood pursuit she's carried into adulthood. She still has a passion for sports. Kimes played soccer at high school in Arizona, and at one point, her dad urged her to try out as a placekicker for the football team.

But playing games wasn't as important as watching them. She loved bonding with her dad, a Seattle native, over Mariners baseball games and Seahawks football games. The latter experience meant so much, in fact, that while working for Bloomberg News in 2013, the Yale grad wrote an essay about it. Editors at ESPN The Magazine saw it online and quickly recruited her as a writer and occasional on-air personality.

"Taking that job was a scary decision," Kimes says. "I felt like I was building a lot of equity and knowledge in the financial world as an investigative reporter. Getting the chance to do what you love — following sports — for a living can be attractive but frightening. And being on TV wasn't something I'd planned on doing at all."

Initially, Kimes profiled football players like Aaron Rodgers and Antonio Brown for the magazine while going on the air to discuss those stories with ESPN hosts. She grew more comfortable with the idea that TV appearances weren't "about self-presentation" as much as they were an opportunity "to get more people to read my stories." She loved offering her perspectives on sports, especially football, wielding the same analytical tools she'd perfected as a print journalist.

"The performance side of TV was the hardest part at first, because I had never acted," Kimes says. "I learned being on TV and delivering opinions is as much of a craft as writing a story. Now it's much easier."

That comfort has led to her job at NFL Live, where she talks football every day with host Laura Rutledge and players-turned-analysts like Marcus Spears, Keyshawn Johnson and Dan Orlovsky.

"If you look at the landscape of NFL shows," says Lydelle King, the ESPN coordinating producer who oversees NFL Live, "most have a cerebral quarterback, an outspoken wide receiver and defenders that made a living hitting anything with a pulse. Mina is an anomaly. She is all those wrapped into one. She can diagnose and anticipate with the best quarterbacks, demand attention like the most diva wide receiver, and she'll make you rethink why you showed up to talk football that day."

And while the TV sports landscape hasn't always been welcoming to women, King notes, Kimes "is a champion for diversity and inclusion."

For her part, Kimes — who is of Korean descent on her mother's side — allows that "the demographic of commentators across the industry" suggests a lingering gender gap. "But things are changing for the better. I still get gender-based backlash, but over the years, the backlash has skewed less about gender and more about my opinions. Which is the kind of bashing I like!"

More articles celebrating Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2021

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