From Fighting Knight to ESPN spotlight

Lisa Gangel Kerney behind her desk at ESPN

ESPN studio anchor Lisa Gangel Kerney ’04 knew she wanted to work for the network from an early age—8, to be exact. One of five children in a sports-minded family in Kansas City, she loved playing all kinds of sports with her siblings. One minute she’d be part of a game; the next, she’d “report” from the sidelines.

“I’d stand there with a hairbrush or Popsicle [for a microphone], interviewing my brother and sisters about the sports we played,” Kerney says. “When other kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, a lot of them would say doctors, lawyers, baseball players or whatever. I’d say, ‘I want to be on ESPN.’ From a very young age, I knew what my destiny was.”

So did some other people along the way.

Lynn beginnings

When Kerney transferred to Lynn on a basketball scholarship in 2002, she was equally focused on excelling athletically and academically. The talented point guard rose to team captain and Scholar Athlete of the Year in her senior year. In her broadcast communication studies, she was a standout, too. Early on, College of International Communication Dean David Jaffe and her professors saw Kerney’s potential.

“Dr. Jaffe was one of the first people I met when I decided to transfer to Lynn. Right from the start, he encouraged me to go after what I wanted to do."

Lisa Gangel Kerney

From professor and veteran TV journalist Mark Landsman, Kerney gained industry insights and knowledge—and a good dose of reality. In Landsman’s Writing for Television class, he began the semester by asking, “Who wants to be in TV?” As the hands went up, he said, “Don’t do it. Nobody makes it in TV.”

Kerney laughs at the memory. “That was my introduction to Mark Landsman. He taught from experience, and I appreciated that. He gave us a look inside what broadcasting really was about. It was invaluable.”

She hasn’t forgotten his words after his last class. “He stopped me and said, ‘Lisa, you’re going to make it in this business.’ To hear that from him meant a lot to me.”

Former professor Jim Brosemer, another accomplished TV journalist, was instrumental in helping Kerney start her career. “I sent him one of my first on-air tapes," she says, "and asked for his critique. He said, ‘Why don’t you send it to my agency, N.S. Bienstock in New York?’ The day the tape arrived, my agent to this day called and said, ‘I want to sign you.’ And I thought it was a joke. I was 22 and had no idea what I was doing. I just wanted advice to get better and landed an awesome agent instead. I can't thank Jim enough for his belief in me and role in establishing my relationship with my agent, whom I've now been with for over 10 years .”

A career is born

The same discipline and hard work that led to her athletic and academic success at Lynn propelled Kerney’s broadcasting career. Within 10 years, she worked her way up from Butte, Montana, to Seattle (where she met her husband, former NFL Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney), to the Major League Baseball Network, to WCBS-TV in New York and, finally, ESPN.

Lisa Gangel Kerney with husband, Patrick Kerney.
Lisa Gangel Kerney with husband, Patrick Kerney.

She’ll always be grateful for her early experience in Butte. “The first thing I tell students who are aspiring to be in the broadcasting business is ‘Be willing to go to a small market and have that be your graduate experience and embrace it,’ ” she says. “The behind-the-scenes truth is, you’re not going to make much money. I lived in low-income housing and remember putting back a pound of grapes at the grocery store because they rang up for $6! It's certainly not a glamorous lifestyle, but the grind and sacrifice are invaluable moving forward.”

Kerney’s perspective is a result of being a “one-person band” in Butte. “I did it all,” she says. “I shot the camera. I did the interviews. I wrote the scripts. I edited the video. I went out to the desk and put it on the air.”

As a result, she gained a profound respect for her colleagues today. “To have put yourself in each of the positions of the people you work alongside today, it makes you a better teammate with a great understanding of the stresses and expectations for their work as well.”

And there’s no better word than “team” for the environment Kerney has at ESPN. “Everyone fully supports each other and wants each other to be great,” she says of her colleagues. At the end of a long workday that often entails a three-hour show (see sidebar), Kerney and her team devote time to review each other’s work.

“It’s one of the things I love most about ESPN,” she says. “We hold each other accountable in the most constructive way. I’ll ask how I can do something better: ‘Was there a better way to attack this interview?’ or, ‘Talk to me about this element that I felt didn’t go smoothly.’ Everybody is after a perfect product.

“To have a full team effort moving in the same direction together and everybody wanting to make each other better is the best environment to thrive in,” she says.

Family influence

Kerney has the ultimate team support in her family. She credits her dad and mom for instilling a never-quit attitude and pushing her to always reach for her dreams. But it is her husband and two daughters, ages 3 and 1, who inspire her every day to make them proud and work to be a better wife, mom and professional in every way. "Their love and support is everything. I'm incredibly grateful and couldn't do what I do without my team at home," she says.

“This job requires an unbelievable amount of sacrifice. Every single holiday, you’re likely to be working. You miss a lot—family events, birthday parties, dinners out with friends. … My husband does it all on the weekends so I can work on my shows. His understanding, patience and love are unmatched. I'm so very blessed to have found my best friend and greatest supporter."

Lisa Gangel Kerney with her husband, children and parents.
Lisa Gangel Kerney with her husband, children and parents.

Professionally, Patrick Kerney is quite busy himself, having earned an MBA from Columbia University after retiring from pro competition. He is now the NFL’s vice president of player benefits and legends operations.

Despite the busy pace of their lives, Lisa Kerney still finds time to give back to Lynn, coming back to campus periodically to serve on the President’s Alumni Advisory Council. She even keeps something from Lynn in her car—her practice shoes—along with a basketball to shoot hoops in the ESPN gym when her schedule allows.

“Lynn has given me so much when I was nobody," she says, "just playing basketball and trying to work hard to go after a career that I hoped one day would work out. … I really believe in what Lynn is all about: helping kids learn what their passion is, go after it and reach their dreams.”

Lisa Kerney: Career highlights

  • February 2014–present: ESPN studio anchor
  • January 2012–February 2014: WCBS-TV, New York, sports anchor, CBS 2 News This Morning
  • October 2010–December 2011: MLB Network—Official Network of Major League Baseball, sports contributor/reporter
  • October 2005–2010: KING-TV, Seattle, weekend sports anchor and Northwest Sports Tonight host
  • September 2004–2005: KXLF-TV, Butte Montana, sports producer/reporter/anchor
  • Honors: The Montana Standard 2005 People’s Choice Awards: Top Choice for “Best Sports Reporter” and “Best TV Personality”

Day in the life of an ESPN anchor

While no two days are ever alike for Lisa Kerney at ESPN, a typical workday preparing for a broadcast runs like clockwork. Here’s what happens for a 3 p.m. show:

9 a.m.—arrive at ESPN, sort through emails, read latest sports news

9:30 a.m.—attend show meeting with producer, coordinating producer, editor, researchers and graphic producer

10 a.m.–1:30 p.m.—write scripts for the show with colleagues at the “pod,” their nickname for the cluster of their desks

1:30–2 p.m.—hair and makeup

2–2:30 p.m.—return to the pod to review content and revise for any breaking news

2:30 p.m.—walk over to the studio for hair and makeup touch-up and get “miked”

3–6 p.m.—showtime

6–6:30 p.m.—critique the show with colleagues

8 p.m.—return home

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