Growing up in Texas, you have no choice but to love football. Saturdays were dedicated to college football, and Sundays (and the occasionally Monday) were for the Cowboys.
That sentiment rings true for NBC Sports Chicago reporter Leila Rahimi, who was born and raised in Denton, Texas.
Though Rahimi didn’t play sports — the performing arts were more her jam — she was obsessed with the Cowboys and admired players such as Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. So much so that she became a regular caller into the team’s postgame show at age 14.
“I would have a topic, similar to a live shot,” Rahimi recalled. “And I would record them all.”
Practice made perfect for Rahimi. She used those tapes to earn the Mark Holtz Memorial scholarship which went toward a journalism degree at the University of North Texas. She also landed an internship at the Mavericks’ flagship radio station when she was 17.
Rahimi has been involved in sports broadcasting for more than half her life (except for that dreadful 1 1⁄2 year stint as a news reporter in East Texas). Her journey has had plenty of twists and turns along the way.
“I had the dubious distinction of launching two networks in a year at Fox Sports San Diego and CSN Houston, so I’m very familiar with what Marquee is going through,” Rahimi said. “I’ve also killed one, CSN Houston, so there is that.”
Rahimi joined this week’s Chat Room:
So you went from Dallas to Sherman, Texas, back to Dallas, then to Austin, San Diego, Houston and then Philadelphia before landing in Chicago.
Leila Rahimi: “Yes, and in there also is East Texas, but that was a terrible time where . . . I was there for a year and a half. I left Dallas in 2005 for East Texas to be a news reporter for a year and a half, but they didn’t actually have me report, they had me shoot and edit.”
Oh, that’s no fun.
LR: “Yeah, it was a bit of a bait-and-switch.”
But along all these places — I know the answer isn’t going to be East Texas — what has been your favorite spot?
LR: “I would say I really like Chicago actually.”
You think that’s your favorite?
LR: “Well, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I miss being within the same state at least as my mom, and my mom is still in the Dallas area. . . . ”
You said you liked every place for different reasons. But was there one that surprised you?
LR: “I really liked Philly, and I never thought I would because I grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan, and you don’t do that and move to Philly to be a sports reporter. And I got @-ed on a few message boards, but there was no bigger compliment than the ones from the sports fans in Philly when they think you got it right. So I really loved Philly because if you can make it there as a Cowboys fan, you can make it anywhere.”
Who’s the best athlete to interview?
LR: “Oh man, that’s tough. Let me think about this. . . . I’m rewinding through many, many, many, many, many reels of tape right now. . . . I really appreciated interviewing all the athletes at the Olympics because you learn so much from them. [Former University of Minnesota and Finland national team hockey goalie] Noora Raty comes to mind. . . .
“The crazy part to me is I work with some of the athletes and people I would’ve wanted to interview — like Frank Thomas and Ozzie Guillen is school everyday on baseball and Doug Glanville, too. . . . I really took a lot away from talking to Luol Deng, too, this year. I just really appreciated all that he brought when it came to his perspective and his appreciation for retiring as a Chicago Bull and I loved how many languages he spoke and how much of a steward of the world he is. . . .
“The most significant interviews to me have always been somebody who represents not only this country but another as well — or Ozzie and Frank and Doug. . . . You just learn so much.”
OK, quick rapid-fire round. What would be your superpower?
LR: “Read minds.”
Guilty pleasure TV show?
LR: “It used to be ‘Gossip Girl,’ how bad is that?”
I loved ‘‘Gossip Girl.’’ What about go-to pump-up song?
LR: “Oh, that changes by the day. I’m gonna go a little bit old-school here and say, ‘Hustlin’ by Rick Ross.”
Lastly, on a more serious note, what’s it mean to you to be an Iranian-American woman in sports?
LR: “I didn’t realize how much of a rarity I was until very recently when I spoke at Harvard. I can name a couple of Persian-American sportscasters who are women but that’s it.
“One of the saddest moments, for me, was seeing how blatant the hatred can be when they don’t even know you. As if somehow, the nationality that I was born to defines me in a way that’s not a choice that I have made. At the time, when Robert Feder announced my hiring here, the marketing manager for iHeart Media at the time called me a ‘terrorist.’ ”
Are you serious?
LR: “Yeah, I have the screen grab. It was in the comments of one of Feder’s stories about me, along with a bunch of snide comments about how I should take a month-to-month lease in my apartment. I’ve been here for four years now. But unfortunately, that’s something I have to deal with now on social media and given the political background — which I have absolutely no control over — it happens more often than not. I have to see people’s timelines sometimes to see why they’re being so vitriolic with me. And sadly that’s where I usually find my answers in those who they support and those who they are against.
‘‘But they don’t know me, they don’t know the choices that I make in my daily life. They just know my nationality and my last name but in reality I was born in Denton, Texas. I’m an American. I’m a citizen and I’ve been here my entire life. My father has gone through a lot of struggles being born and raised in Iran and before moving here. But they make us better, not worse.”