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Q&A With ESPN's Jay Harris On Being A Mentor, The Impact Of Stuart Scott, Guitars, Golf & More

ESPN SportsCenter host Jay Harris on the set in Bristol, Connecticut.

For nearly two full decades, Jay Harris has been a mainstay on ESPN's SportsCenter, particularly the weekend morning editions.

The Norfolk, Va. native came to the Worldwide Leader after a long television and radio stint in Pittsburgh. An avid golfer and guitarist who used to play in band, he's set to celebrate his 20th anniversary with ESPN this February.

We caught up with Harris this week to discuss his recent work with The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), his dream golf foursome and interview subject, what to order at the ESPN cafeteria and much more.

Let's get started:

The Spun: You recently hosted at the NABJ conference in Las Vegas. What was that experience like for you?

Jay Harris: NABJ is always a fantastic experience. This year was extra special because it was the first in-person conference in a few years because of COVID, and because it was a dual conference with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. It’s a huge annual family reunion, and it always goes by too quickly.

The Spun: How important is it for you to be a mentor to young anchors and journalists, particularly young Black anchors and journalists?

JH: It’s tremendously important for me to be a mentor to young journalists. When I was younger I had several mentors who played instrumental roles in my career. No one makes it on their own in this field, or in any field for that matter, so I honestly feel I have no choice but to give back, and pour into someone else what was poured into me. 

Growing up, I didn’t see a whole lot of people on television who looked like me, and representation matters. I know the broadcasting landscape is more diverse now, but representation still matters. I appreciate it when I’m told how much it means to young journalists and others to see me in my role. It’s part of what fuels me to try and be the best I can be every time I’m on.

The Spun: What is your routine for preparing for the Saturday and Sunday AM SportsCenter broadcasts?

JH: My routine is pretty consistent for every SportsCenter. I get in three hours or so before air. I open the rundown the show producer has prepared, and I see which stories I’ve been assigned. Then I start researching and writing. Many people don’t know that we write our own stuff, and we edit into our own words whatever is written for us. Depending on what’s happening in the news, the writing process can continue literally up until we go on the air. It’s constant communication with the producer, coordinating producer, director, researcher; it’s a true team effort. I also allow time for getting dressed, getting food, and getting makeup, then head to the set and do the show.

The Spun: Did you watch SportsCenter growing up and before you got to ESPN? If so, were there any anchors you tried to emulate?

JH: I didn’t watch much SportsCenter when I was really young. I got into music in my early teens and formed a band with my friends (I played bass), and we watched more BET and MTV than ESPN. When I did start watching more SportsCenter, I gravitated toward Stuart Scott. Not so much to emulate him, but to marvel at him because he was really natural. He talked like us. He was himself. That seemed unique to the TV business at the time.

The Spun: I hear you are an avid guitarist. What are your favorite songs to play/songs you play best?

JH: My favorite songs to play is a difficult question. In my band, we played a little bit of everything, and a LOT of Prince. He’s my all time favorite artist.

The Spun: What is your dream golf foursome and course to play?

JH: Oh wow. I actually have several dream foursomes and courses I’d want to play. Hmmmm, for this I’ll say my dream foursome would be Tiger, his son Charlie, my daughter, and me. 2 dads out with their kids playing Pebble Beach on a sunny day. Tiger’s buying dinner after, though lol.

The Spun: What is the best thing to eat in the ESPN cafeteria?

JH: This is a tough question, because the ESPN cafeteria is really good. But since I work mostly mornings, I’ll go with breakfast. There’s a great sandwich on the menu called The Harris, named after yours truly. It’s scrambled eggs, pepper jack cheese, sausage, spinach, tomato, olives, with chipotle mayo and a pancake in a wrap. Yes, the pancake is INSIDE the wrap. It soaks up all the juices and spreads the flavor around. It’s really good. My buddy James at the cafe gets the credit. I call him a culinary visionary!

The Spun: If you could star in an ESPN commercial with any athlete living or dead, who would you pick?

JH: Wow, this is tough. Can I pick two? Muhammad Ali, because….Muhammad Ali. And Julius Erving. Dr. J and I share a birthday. I can picture us having a party in the ESPN cafeteria, wearing hats and eating cake, something silly like that.

The Spun: What's one aspect of today's sports coverage you're not a fan of or wish would be better?

JH: It’s not so much about today’s sports coverage, but it’s more about how all of us consume media. With social media especially, everything is so immediate, so fast, and I see so much reaction to headlines or hot takes without waiting for proper context. There’s nothing wrong with doing a quick Google search, just a little bit of investigating, before diving headfirst into a topic.

The Spun: We've seen a lot of athletes - Tony Romo, Tom Brady, etc. - land big-time television contracts. Which current athlete would you most like to see working in television once they're retired?

JH: I would LOVE to see Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi working in television. We got a sneak peek on the Women’s Final Four MegaCast (with the red solo cups). They would be AMAZING!

The Spun: If you could interview one person that you haven't yet in your career, who would your "dream" interview be with?

JH: David Thompson. I fell in love with basketball watching him play at NC State. Talking about his life on and off the court would be a pretty cool conversation. 

The Spun: Last question: your contract with ESPN expires in 2023. Have you thought about what is coming next, or how much longer you'd like to work there?

JH: Nah, I really haven’t. I’m having too much fun to think that far ahead. I get to do something pretty awesome, with some really great people. I’m just trying to be better tomorrow than I was today. The rest will take care of itself. 

You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here