Meet the Beadle

Meet the Beadle

ESPN broadcaster Michelle Beadle refuses to stay on the sidelines.

On May 2 of last year, a Filipino politician and the black son of a prizefighter tapped gloves in the center of the ring at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The Fight of the Century in name only, the main event between Manny Pacquiao and world lightweight champion Floyd Mayweather was overshadowed by a news item that broke in the days leading up to the bout.

It wasn’t PEDs—a controversy that led to the cancellation of the original iteration of this meeting in 2008—or Pacquiao’s gloves or a weigh-in discrepancy this time. No, when boxing fans woke up the day before the $99.99 pay-per-view event, they were greeted by the buzzes and dings of their tablets and phones informing them that a couple of names were removed from the press credential list.

Among those: Michelle Beadle, the ESPN broadcaster who had generated some controversy of her own in the months leading up to the fight.

According to Beadle, ’97, she outraged Mayweather by repeatedly questioning him about his history of domestic violence, which caused his publicist to bar the reporter from covering the fight.  A communications rep for Mayweather refutes the notion that they had Beadle’s credentials pulled, saying that this is, “simply untrue. At no point did Floyd Mayweather or any member of the Mayweather camp have any involvement in Michelle Beadle’s credential status.” The credentials were reinstated once the story went viral as #CredentialGate, but Beadle didn’t attend the fight.

“They went from inviting me to host his little breakfast of champions thing [Mayweather] does where he pretends he loves women to telling me I don’t have a credential,” Beadle laughs. “So I’m like, all right, someone got mad.”

Beadle laughed it off—Mayweather gets his way in Las Vegas, she says—and the controversy briefly shined a light on the subject of misogyny in professional sports. But did it coalesce into a larger conversation about domestic violence in America?

“No,” Beadle says, matter-of-factly. “And I think it’s really easy—I do it all the time—to get complacent, get really worked up for five minutes, and then go back. You sort of feel helpless and that you’re not going to make a difference.” To wit, a Mayweather vs. Pacquiao rematch is on the horizon and Mayweather continues to garner support from world-famous celebrities like Justin Bieber and FC Barcelona superstar soccer player Neymar.

Beadle’s experience with public perception has been quite the opposite of Mayweather’s, a man who made almost $230 million on the fight and has barely seen the interior of a jail cell despite numerous convictions and harrowing evidence of his brutality against women. In the same way that Mayweather is the Teflon Don of the ring, Beadle’s past, some of it exaggerated, mythicized, or outright untrue, has stuck to her like cold scrambled eggs to an ungreased pan.

beadleWhen Beadle was 6 years old, she told her parents she was going to Harvard Law School. That became her intended trajectory for the next decade and a half, and was the impetus for her choice of a political science and pre-law focus when she enrolled at UT-Austin in 1994. As you can likely guess, Beadle never made it to Cambridge. Three years after moving to Austin, disenchanted with politics stemming from an internship at the Capitol, she packed up her Geo Storm and blew town.

“My family … ” Beadle pauses to laugh. “I wish I could go back in time and see their faces when I decided I was going to do that.”

Beadle worked odd jobs in Canada after the escape from Austin turned into a full-blown road trip, before finishing her degree at UTSA. Her father, a well-connected executive at Valero, disappointed as he was at the time with her lengthy sabbatical, convinced her to apply for an internship with the San Antonio Spurs—which Beadle says she “begged for”—in 2001.

“I initially saw it as a failure,” Beadle says. “[But] I think there’s some value in walking away for a minute and sort of reevaluating the whole thing.”

Beadle spun that internship into an acronym-laden broadcasting career, at networks like FSN, TNN, and YES, before landing at ESPN in 2009 as the co-host, along with Colin Cowherd, of SportsNation. It was at ESPN that Beadle acquired her reputation as a partier.

“I never really said anything that would give people that idea,” Beadle says. “I just truly believe I was a single girl sitting next to Colin Cowherd just sort of talking about everything and that’s just probably a cooler, sexier idea of someone’s life.”

Beadle was a near-instant success at the Worldwide Leader. Her stints on SportsNation and sister-channel ABC’s Winner’s Bracket, plus her own podcast and appearances across numerous ESPN properties, shone a spotlight on the broadcaster while simultaneously painting a target on her back. While possessing both the requisite shiny blonde hair and blindingly bright-white smile, Beadle refused to acquiesce to bimbo sideline reporter stereotypes—mainly in speaking out against patriarchal norms in the sports world—which invited censuring from trolls, media members, and even her colleagues. A Google search of “Michelle Beadle” reveals a list of results pertaining only to her personal life that, when pieced together chronologically, end with the broadcaster “haunted by a false sex rumor.”

In August 2011, just two weeks after the ESPY Awards show, Beadle was forced to address rumors that she acted inappropriately in front of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tales spun by her colleagues that she was either drunk, on drugs, or both. In an interview with Deadspin, Beadle said, “I’ve never been the type to be sloppy drunk in public. I’m 35!” Now 40, that fateful moment and its ensuing fallout have loomed over Beadle’s career like a poison fog ever since.

But boxing expert Max Kellerman, one of Beadle’s current co-hosts, scoffs at the caricature of Beadle as the real-life avatar of Amy Schumer’s drunken reporter character in Trainwreck.

“Categorically, it’s a lie,” he says, answering before I’m even done asking. “Not only is it not true, it’s hilariously not true. Not a chance.”

Then why is Beadle scrutinized the way she is?

“Because if a woman in a high-profile position has an opinion and is not apologizing for it, there’s a kind of vitriol that comes her way,” Kellerman says. “I didn’t realize until I saw her Twitter feed.”

“I think that that becomes a narrative for most of us, most women in this business,” Beadle says. “It’s just sort of an inherent part of the deal.”

In May 2012, Beadle spurned ESPN for NBC Sports, where she’d host her own sports show, The Crossover, a double entendre referencing both fancy dribbling and the kind of star she’d be  on a new network. But it wasn’t meant to be; The Crossover was quickly canceled, Beadle disappeared from sports programming, and soon after, she was right back at ESPN, her second road trip another painful but necessary learning experience. Beadle admitted that her flirtation with NBC in 2012 was a stumble in her otherwise upward trajectory, calling it a “hot mess” and “the lowest for me,” in a 2014 New York Post interview.

“The curiosity is kind of all-controlling,” she says, of her decision to explore seemingly greener pastures. “[But] not everybody gets to leave ESPN and come back.”

In January, Beadle signed a multi-year contract extension with ESPN according to The Hollywood Reporter. As part of the deal, the network bumped SportsNation up to the flagship ESPN and gave Beadle and ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne their own national radio show. This is likely the last stop for a while for the grateful Beadle, weary from traveling, settled back in at the network that made her both famous and infamous. You can’t go home again, again.

beadle-3

So who is the real Michelle Beadle? She’s an erstwhile Texan who pines for good breakfast tacos and a slower-paced lifestyle than that of her new home in Los Angeles. She’s in a long-term relationship with actor Steve Kazee and spends weekend nights—if she’s not prepping a show or covering a fight—curled up on the couch watching the Spurs or the Astros with her four dogs Leroy, Henry, Violet, and Stella. She’s the same free spirit who curtailed her prescribed path, packed up her old sedan, hit the road, and never looked back. She’s an unabashed feminist for whom objectivity trumps all.

Rachel Nichols, a sports journalist who was also barred from the Mayweather fight, admires Beadle’s “feed the trolls” mentality, one which she acknowledges doesn’t work for everyone. “I think Michelle is smart to take on a lot of the folks who have crappy things to say to her on social media or whatever, just because she is—gasp—a woman,” Nichols told me via email. “It doesn’t make you shrill. It makes you a badass.”

Former NFL player Marcellus Wiley, Beadle’s co-host on two different ESPN shows, marvels at Beadle’s ability to make their work look easy, noting that sometimes it seems like she’s “freestyling,” though, according to both of her co-hosts, she prepares as thoroughly as anyone in the business. “There’s no dead spot, no cul-de-sac moment with her in any conversation,” Wiley says. “That’s a blessing in our industry.”

Wiley, for as much as he disagrees with some of Beadle’s key moral components, commends Beadle for staying “beyond loyal” to her beliefs. “In this fickle world, it’s good to see somebody stick to their guns,” he says.

Kellerman’s first words to me about Beadle are “one of my favorite people,” and he intimates that Beadle is the type of person who makes a point to be kind to everyone down to the parking lot attendant—a stark contrast to and perhaps a subtle dig at their ESPN colleague Britt McHenry, who was suspended last April for dressing down a woman working in a Washington, D.C. tow lot.

And even if you don’t believe her or those who know her best, even if her past continues to cloud the perception of her present, Beadle won’t lose much sleep over it. She knows who Michelle Beadle really is—and she likes that person.

“It’s just much easier,” Beadle says, “to wake up and be you and go to bed and do it over again.”

Photos from top: Michelle Beadle, Max Kellerman, and Marcellus Wiley on the set of SportsNation; Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images

Credit: Blake Little

Beadle, her brother, and their dogs; Blake Little

 

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