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Q&A With NFL Network's Jane Slater On Dak & Romo, Interviewing T.O., Zoom Journalism Class, Golf & More

Jane Slater pregame at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

NFL Network reporter Jane Slater at AT&T Stadium.

If you're a Dallas Cowboys fan or just a frequent watcher of the NFL Network, you've seen Jane Slater reporting on America's Team. A Rowlett, Texas native, she also covers the New Orleans Saints and has recently tacked on the Tennessee Titans to her beat.

When she's not on the job, you're likely to find Jane on the golf course or at a driving range. During this quarantine, she's also added teaching an online journalism class to her repertoire and has found time to catch up on her favorite reality TV.

We spoke with Slater recently about a myriad of topics, and she was so gracious with her time and info, we decided to break our interview up into two parts below. The first part is primarily focused on Cowboy-related topics, with the second part being more biographical and lighthearted.

Let's get started....

The Spun: With all of our interviews recently, we're starting in the same place. How are you handling the new "normal" during COVID-19?

Jane Slater: I've actually enjoyed it. I don't travel as much as some reporters, but there is always an appetite for Cowboys news. So my offseason never really starts until OTAs are over and then I get a month and a half that I'm always so grateful for. But what I've loved about this is, while the steady diet of Cowboys is amazing, it's really nice to cover other teams.

I've gotten to cover more of the Titans and Saints by virtue of doing the Zoom calls. My morning is typically up at 7:15, 7:30, getting camera ready like I would if I were going into the facility. When this all started, I had a pretty good indication this was going to go on for a little bit, so I purchased the soft light, the selfie light. I have the lavalier mic. I have the ISB. So we've been able to produce from home and then after that, I've actually been able to kind of enjoy some down time and breathe. There was a period from about November to January where I was basically living out of my suitcase.

The Spun: It's funny you mentioned November to January being a hectic time. With the stature of the Cowboys, the personalities, Jerry Jones, it seems like everything around the team was magnified. What was the end of the Jason Garrett era like? Watching from afar, it seemed unreal because it looked like a foregone conclusion he was gone but yet the process took a while.

JS: It was 2020 in a nutshell. Jason Garrett showing up to work every single day and people inside the building telling me he had a binder under his arm and knowing that there was absolutely this notion that the Cowboys were moving on. I reported that they'd gone after Sean Payton in the offseason. I reported the meeting with Nick Saban. I just had Lincoln Riley on my podcast and I asked him point-blank 'How interested were the Cowboys?'. He said something to the effect of 'You know that's a lightning rod. I have the greatest job in college football.' That to me is, read between the lines, they talked to him.

Then, on the fact that Friday they told [Garrett] they were bringing in Marvin Lewis and Mike McCarthy, and he said 'Those are great guys.' So it was weird covering it. The whole thing was 100 percent weird.

The Spun: We were enjoying the dating metaphors on Twitter for what was happening. I think you had tweeted about some of them.

JS: Which Emmanuel Acho claims I stole from him (laughing). You can put that on the record. But I love Acho, we worked together at Longhorn Network.

The Spun: Obviously, the Cowboys went with McCarthy and he's their new coach. What have been your first impressions of him so far?

JS: I love Mike McCarthy so far. If you listen to some of our exchanges, the people in Dallas have thought he's gotten a little contentious with me, but I don't look at it that way. I think he's a little bit of a smartass, which I love. Mike Vrabel's a little bit like that too when you listen to him. But if anything, he's made me sharpen my reporting skills. I'd better come with the who, what, when, where, why and how and a possible follow-up.

It's sort of more entertaining than Jason Garrett's press conferences--and I like Jason Garrett. He just wasn't exactly a reporter's coach. He never gave you information. He never volunteered information in press conferences and it was pretty robotic. But Mike has me in stitches sometimes in the press conferences because of his responses.

The Spun: Recently on "The ‘Boys & Girl" podcast, you interviewed Terrell Owens. You posted that he was the one guest you really wanted to get. What was that experience like and did the interview live up to the expectations you had for it? JS: It's so funny, because if I closed my eyes, I felt like I was listening to Dez Bryant at times. I've gotten really close to Dez covering him in Dallas. I think a lot of times people don't take the time to really understand somebody. I feel like our profession sometimes lacks empathy. If you knew where Dez came from, some of the stuff about Dez makes sense. Some of the stuff Terrell Owens said in that interview wasn't stuff we hadn't heard from other players in the past. Jason Hatcher has been very outspoken about what that locker room was like during that era. Jesse Holley is another one. And so, when I listened to T.O. that he said and I agree with is, back in the early 2000s and late-1990s, the media was the only way for guys to get their message across. Now look, T.O. has done all sorts of things over the years. He's highly emotional. He's highly charged. But I think it's fascinating that the people who knocked him for a touchdown celebration, we now embrace that in the league. His self-promotion is now something we see with every player. So I do think he was a little bit ahead of his time, but he did seem genuinely at peace. A lot of people see Dez and they sort of knock Dez and where he's at even right now, but he's at peace. So I think it's just easy for people to look at Twitter and see these guys through a certain lens. I enjoyed the conversation. I found it to be very measured. That's how Dez is when I talk to him a lot of times. But when you chop people's interviews up, I think it's really easy to create a narrative about them. The Spun: So many former Cowboys are in broadcasting. What players on this current team do you think have a future in that side of the business? JS: That's a great question. I think Dak Prescott is remarkable. He's such an interesting guy. Joe Looney is one of the funniest guys I've ever met. I do a show on Monday nights called "Inside the Huddle" and he had the entire audience singing "Mr. Brightside." It was amazing. Leighton Vander Esch is really young, but because he's got Sean Lee tendencies, I don't think people realize how good Leighton is and I don't know if Leighton would want that spotlight either but he's really, really sharp. Jeff Heath is pretty good; of course, he's with the Raiders now. I do an hour-long show with some of these guys so I'm trying to think who would be really dynamic at doing this but we just don't have the personalities like we've had in the past in Dallas which I think is really interesting. The guy that I love who just joined the Cowboys and I'm interested to see what his life will look like in a couple of years is Ben DiNucci, the quarterback. He was great on our podcast. The Romo beehive came for him for a tweet that he put out when he was 17 years old and he handled it like a champ. I'm gonna be really interested to see how he develops personality-wise. He really impressed me in the interview. The Spun: Speaking of Tony Romo, what was it like covering him in Dallas and watching his career develop and also the Romo-Dak fault lines that developed at the end? Even during the 2016 season, there were many who thought it would still be Romo's job. What was all of that like on the ground in the Dallas area? JS: It was fascinating. I've known Tony since his third-string years when it was Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson, Drew Bledsoe and Tony. He was like this gullible young Ben DiNucci who came into town and was sort of flying under the radar. He lived with five guys, sort of like a pre-Entourage. They were all from Eastern Illinois. I think any time you slap the star on the helmet, it's iconic in Dallas. Jerry Jones and the Jones family have done such a good job branding what that is. Obviously, Sean Payton anointed Tony Romo the starting quarterback during the Bill Parcells era. Then, fast forward, Tony's had this career in Dallas where a lot of people felt he fell short. I've always said Tony Romo is sort of this lightning-rod. Good-looking young guy, dated Carrie Underwood and Jessica Simpson and went to Cabo in the playoffs. You do stuff like that in Dallas--if a second or third-string running back breathes in Dallas, we're talking about it--so imagine that being the quarterback. It [2016] was such a weird time because he [Romo] took vacations with the Jones family. He was like a second son to Jerry. So when he got injured and we see this guy who was a fourth-string quarterback become the starting quarterback and you don't even allow Tony Romo the opportunity to compete. And then, he [Dak] had this press conference where he defers the job to Tony. I was told the Cowboys were completely caught off guard by it. It wasn't for him to pass that job on. It was an interesting dynamic in Dallas. One hundred percent. We were all caught off guard. I remember we were all in Green Bay and it was this awkward situation. Dak Prescott goes on the road his rookie year and beats the Green Bay Packers. Tony Romo is there and I'm told Tony Romo flies back on the Cowboys private charter, Jerry's charter. Dak flies back with the team. We had been harassing Jerry and the staff about if Dak was their starter. I remember he lashed out to Ed Werder. He said 'You've been putting words in my mouth for years Ed.' So you could feel the pressure. But I don't think any of us expected, given Tony Romo's relationship with the Cowboys, that they would never let him compete for the job. And then that was it.

The Spun: Wow. Obviously, some of those details have been reported, but some of that background stuff is new and we didn't know about it.

JS: Yeah, and I think the fascinating part about all of this is that even though the rest of the media finds ourselves on the side of 'Why aren't the Cowboys paying Dak?', we get the whole argument that there's only so much of the pie. But you've been overpaying players for years. This is the one guy that does everything right, personally and professionally, on and off the field. This is the guy that you want with the star on his helmet. From his rookie year, he has galvanized that locker room. You will not find one guy that will disparage Dak Prescott in that locker room. Not one.

Tony, on the other hand, I think this just happens in a locker room, you're one of the guys until you get married and have kids. Then you tend to gravitate toward guys who are married and have kids. I think that happened with Tony and I don't think it helped that Jason Garrett would take Jason Witten and Tony Romo to Duke games and other guys were there like 'Where's my invite?'. Why wasn't Dez invited to some of that? We didn't see that with Dak and Jason. I think Jason got hip to that and I think it's important to have a separation of church and state.

The Spun: That's interesting. We knew that Romo and Jason Garrett were extremely close and obviously Romo and Jason Witten were extremely close. So it's interesting to hear about that dynamic where somebody like Dez who was a star contributor feels a little bit left out or shunned to the side.

JS: Well, what was also interesting with Romo and Garrett is I think there was a real sense of betrayal. Romo felt like where was the locker room fighting for him to get his job back. In other words, when Drew Brees was injured, everyone knew that was Drew Brees' job when he comes back, even though this is likely his last two years for the league. Teddy Bridgewater came in and was admirable in his starts, and while that locker room loved Teddy and galvanized around Teddy, Drew was out there on that field ready to rock.

Romo didn't rehab around the team. He says he did that out of respect for Dak and wanting him to feel the need to lead. But Drew, I remember going to cover that Saints game two or three weeks after that hand injury, he's out there throwing and warming up like he's going to get on the football field. He wasn't going to let somebody take his job. I think that there was honestly--and I've had this discussion with people close to Tony so I don't think I'm speaking too out of turn here--but I think like us, he didn't think that was his job to lose.

To continue reading our Q&A with Jane Slater, click here.

The Spun: Moving off the Cowboys for just a bit, we saw you took part in a 32-woman pre-draft show. What was that experience like, to be part of an NFL Draft preview broadcast that was all women? How important is it to see that?

JS: When I started in this league in 2004 working in Tyler, Texas as a producer/sometimes sports reporter and I'd get sent out to cover the Cowboys, there weren't many women in the press conferences. Charean Williams, who is the Godmother here in Dallas, she was working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the time. Jen Engel had a sports talk show at one time in Dallas and it failed. It's funny, because I was the second woman in Dallas with a sports talk show and that didn't work either. When I started, there just weren't a lot of women in sports. In fact, that's kind of why I did the news for eight years, because there weren't a lot of opportunities for women. So now, when I look around the league, it was so easy to find 32 women. In fact, there were more women that we wanted but contractually their networks wouldn't allow them to do it. There were so many more women we could have put in, and we're talking smart women.

I think for a long time women in sports were a novelty. A lot of people even saw Phyllis George as being a novelty. She was the beauty queen from Texas who they put on the broadcast. But there are so many smart women in this business. I look at the Andrea Kremers, I look at the Alex Flanagans, the Kim Jones', Aditi Kinkhabwalas. Go down the list. I sort of had a swell of pride being a part of that show and feeling flattered that I was among those women that got asked to talk...For me, it was a big, big moment. I love that Cynthia Frelund financed it, she put it together, she got the graphics package going. Hopefully, it is what we call a sizzle reel in TV for maybe another network to look at next year and legitimize it a little bit.

The Spun: Segueing from that into our next question on your career. You said you did news for a while before sports. Did you always want to get involved in sports reporting or was it just journalism in general and you kind of gravitated to this later?

JS: I wanted to be Lara Logan or Christiane Amanpour. I was a "60 Minutes" junkie. I loved watching the women on the sidelines doing sports but honestly I was so intimidated because I didn't grow up in a household where anybody played sports or watched it. I didn't even go to a high school where football was a really big deal. I did drill team for a year and then quit for journalism. I always wanted to do news but when I went off to the University of Texas at Austin, that's when the Longhorns made their first push to the College World Series in forever. That's when we had Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young and the program was really robust. My favorite writer at Texas was this guy named Bill Little. He would write these pieces that it felt like you were at the stadium.

I was always a fan of sports. I'd beg my dad to take me to baseball games. I was obsessed with Jose Canseco, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, you name it. But for me, I wanted to be the Lara Logan. Andrea Kremer, I loved her on Real Sports. But there just weren't a lot of opportunities for women in sports. It's kind of funny. Erin Andrews was the sideline reporter covering the Longhorns back then. I just remember looking at her thinking 'God, she's obviously such an attractive girl but she does such a great job. What a cool job.' But for me, I dreamed of interviewing senators and presidents and getting embedded with troops. I ended up pursuing news for eight years. I dabbled in sports a little bit in my first market. But what I did learn as a news reporter was how to tell stories and humanize people, and what made me gravitate back towards sports is I wanted to do that.

The Spun: Speaking of the Longhorns, as an alum, what do you think needs to happen for Texas to truly be back? JS: New head football coach. The Spun: Oof, right to the point. JS: I'm just not a Tom Herman fan. I was there for Mack [Brown] and loved Charlie Strong. Loved him. It's a tough job to have. You have to be equal parts motivator, coach, recruiter, politician. And you don't really have a big window to get it done. Now, I love Chris Del Conte, our athletic director. He did an awesome job at TCU. We'll see if Tom Herman can get it done. I haven't loved the way he's so bullishly come in there and the way he's treated some of the guys who have left and entered the NFL in the draft and the way he's treated the media down there quite frankly. The Spun: Looking at your social media, you're obviously a big golf aficionado. How did you get into that? Also, if you could play a round at Augusta with three members of the sports media, who are you taking with you? JS: I love that question. My grandfather was a big golfer. Unfortunately, he never thought he should put sticks in my hand, which was very frustrating. My senior year of high school, I had a coach come to me and see if I wanted to play golf. I went out there and he was like 'Wow, you have a really good natural swing.' So I really leaned into it my senior year of high school but I was not even competitive. Over the years, I just really enjoyed playing, but the last two years I went and got an actual swing coach. It's such an addicting game. I feel like I've always kind of been a late bloomer anyway. So I feel like where I was not talented athletically as a teenager, for whatever reason in my late 30s, things began to make sense more and I've become more athletic. Kind of like how marathoners peak in their 40s, I'm peaking at golf and tennis, so go figure. As for my three, Peter Burns [from ESPN] is one. Good friend of mine and a huge golfer. I think Clarence Hill Jr. who works at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram would be fun because he and I jaw at each other 24/7. I know he would be terrible at golf and I also know that he wouldn't shut up the whole round so that would be fun. He's literally the best trash talker in all of media. And then Anita Marks, that's easy. She would be my other one. The Spun: Earlier in the interview, you mentioned having more down time now. It seems like everyone does under these current circumstances. What movies or TV have you been watching or catching up on? JS: What's so weird about this quarantine is, I had someone heading into it give me this whole analogy, 'Do you want to be a fountain or a drain?' I ran with that mentality during quarantine. I applied that to people, I applied that to what I did in my daily activities, everything. I am the queen of Netflix and Amazon Prime. Melissa Stark always reaches out to me and asks me what to watch next. I'm a championship-level binger. But I didn't turn on the TV for the first six weeks [of quarantine]. I would wake up at 7:30 in the morning and I had a to-do list. I had so many projects, working out at home and getting our podcast up for YouTube. I started this Zoom room journalism class and I'd turn off my computer at 10 p.m. and I was exhausted. It wasn't until the last two weeks I started picking up TV again and my guilty pleasure is The Real Housewives of New York City. I can't get enough of it. My bosses always laugh at me because they consider me fairly intelligent but say I lose about 20 points when I talk about it. My other show that I'm obsessed with that I just finished--I'm a huge space geek--is For All Mankind on Apple TV. I loved Man in the High Castle. I love multiverse theories and Man in the High Castle is one of the best shows I've ever watched.

The Spun: You mentioned teaching a Zoom journalism class. How did that come about and what was that experience like?

JS: I loved it...I had a lot of these kids reaching out to me via DM or on Twitter and I just decided to get them on Zoom and I didn't realize I had over 150 kids interested. The challenge was I didn't know what Zoom was when I started, so my sister had to teach me the technology. And then getting all of their emails and authenticating them from Twitter and Instagram. Because I wanted to make sure it wasn't just sports fans, because we do speak a different language in journalism and I wanted it to be meaningful for them. I wanted it to be this organic, grassroots bit of a lifeline for them, because I know how hard it is to get a job in this business in a normal economy. My stomach is sick thinking how hard it is going to be for them right now.

My goal was really to get these people that were sitting at home and had some time on their hands at some of these networks [to come on as guests]. I'm glad we did it right now because I think people are finally getting out of their homes a little bit and they're going to start trying to take vacation if they can. I don't know if I would be able to get all the guests that I got at the time. But we got some pretty dynamic ones in these rooms. I tried to do a podcast one, a print one, a broadcast one. It was a bit of an undertaking to do it myself, but recently I got to look at some of their resume tapes and some of them are really, really talented. Far more talented than I ever was coming out of college. But I really, really enjoyed that...They did more for me during this quarantine than I know that I did for them. It goes back to that fountain/drain analogy. I felt so watered early on and I know a lot of people were sort of struggling in isolation. For me, quarantine flew by, and the Zoom classes did have a lot to do with that. I'll be forever grateful to them for that.

The Spun: One last question. You are a Dallas girl, having grown up in the area and now working in it. I've been told about how much pride you have in your city and how it is "different" from other places. What is it about Dallas that is different or unique?

JS: In general I am a hugger, so I'm struggling a little bit with this pandemic. I have a lot of friends and I love to be out and have fun. Dallas has got such a concentrated group of 20-somethings to 40-somethings who are highly social. I feel like there are some places where you live--I've got friends who live in LA and New York--that by virtue of how spread out it is or transportation-wise it is hard to get to one another. We all sort of live in this very small radius in Dallas. You might go out with six friends, and the next thing you know, I'm not kidding, you might end up with 40. We travel together. We take boat trips. People are always in awe that we can get 80 people together for all these trips. Anybody that moves to Dallas, they get easily integrated into our friend groups.

I think what I love so much about living here is no one really cares about what I do for a living because they knew me when I was a traffic reporter. They knew me when I was working in the morning shows.

There's sort of a sense of pride. Jerry Jones once said to me, I had still been anchoring on the NFL Network and he said 'Jane, I gotta tell ya. I looked up at the TV one day and I saw you up there and I thought to myself, she's one of ours.' That's how I feel living in Dallas, having grown up here. Sort of like Colleen Wolfe when she talks about Philly, Dianna Russini when she talks about Jersey. It is really, really cool to cover the team that you grew up around and do it in your city around your friends and your family. I think more than anything, you care about getting the story right, because it is important to so many people.

You can read more of our interviews with current athletes and sports media stars here.