Written Q&A: Jenny Chiu of CBS Sports
A Fun Conversation with a Rising Star in U.S. Soccer TV
You never know who you might meet in the breakfast room of the random Rio de Janeiro hotel you’re staying at during the 2016 Summer Olympics. Jenny Chiu still had a year left at the University of North Carolina and was covering soccer (which she also played at UNC) as part of the Olympic News Service. She came over and introduced herself one morning, and we’ve been friends ever since. Last month we became colleagues at CBS Sports, and she was the host in the studio who tossed it to me for my first CBS hit, a report from Austin on the USMNT-Jamaica game.
It was about time that I did a podcast interview with Jenny. Here’s the written version of it, which I think you’ll enjoy.
Hey there, welcome to Fútbol with Grant Wahl. Our guest now is a rising star in U.S. soccer television and one of my dear friends. Jenny Chiu is doing terrific work for CBS Sports for which I also happen to work. You can see her in CBS's coverage of the U.S. men's national team World Cup qualifiers, and the men's UEFA Champions League among other things. Jenny, it's great to see you. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Of course, always Grant.
So congratulations on everything you're doing these days. That includes your onsite reporting at U.S. World Cup qualifiers in Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica so far. Could you explain to our listeners what that is like for you being on the field and doing work in environments that are at times hostile to the U.S. team?
Actually, yeah, so I obviously did onsite stuff for Champions League, and the CONCACAF stuff is very different. We actually hire security, so that's different than when we do Champions League, of course, and there's fences and there are things being thrown. I mean, in Panama and in Honduras, both times things were thrown in our direction. Honduras, it was toward the Honduran team, which was crazy to me. But in Panama things were being thrown, people were jumping over and stuff. You don't see that in Champions League as much, so that's definitely one of the differences. But other than that, all these countries are Spanish-speaking, so I feel pretty at home when I'm there and I'm used to it. You know, I grew up in CONCACAF.
I mean, I'm on site at all these games, so I'm able to sort of observe what you're doing leading up to a game, and then I'm in the comfort of the stands during a game while you're doing your thing on the field. And I'm wondering if you could sort of lead our listeners through what are some of the things you'll do to prepare for a U.S. World Cup qualifier on the road, kind of in the couple days leading up to it, and then what are you doing on gameday itself?
“I grew up watching the Mexican national team, and you can win 3-0 and the media is still going to crush you for certain decisions you made, the way that this person played, the way that that person played. It's just never good enough. And so for me, that was totally normal and not a hit on Gregg [Berhalter], a hit on the team, like that was just my analysis of the game.” — Jenny Chiu
I think very similarly to you and the other reporters that are also traveling with the team, going to the press conferences, we get interviews beforehand for our pregame show when we're the rights holders, so I do those. Talking to as many people as I can, listening to everything that I can. That includes you guys, you know, like when I'm with the other journalists, I'm listening to what they saw at training and what everyone else is seeing and talking about. So that part, being on the ground, I get that advantage. We get to talk to the people that we get to see. So if we run into the players, I get to ask them questions.
I talk to the other journalists, like the Panamanian journalists before the game against the U.S., asking them how they're feeling, what the media is saying around that camp, around the Panamanian team, around how they view the U.S. team. So that has been interesting, and you can't really do that in the same way when you're not on-site. So I do that before and then on gameday, but it's knowing the lineups, knowing the changes that are being made, it's having basically a hit for any situation that can arise, the different players I try to prepare as much as possible, almost to an extreme where I typically don't use really anything that I have prepared.
I'm sure that other people have that same problem, but I try to be ready for anything that could happen. I prepare for questions like at halftime, postgame, potential questions, like what if this is a situation? What if this is a scenario? Like where could I go with these questions? So that all happens on game day. On game day. I don't like any distractions. Like anybody talking to me or wanting to have coffee with me or have breakfast with me, I get kind of like, "I need to go."
You saw this when we were in El Salvador, you guys were all having breakfast and I'm like, "I have to go now." And you guys are like, "What?" I'm like, "I need to go prepare." You guys are like, "We have like five hours till we leave." I'm like, "I know, I have to go, I have to go." [laughs] So I'm pretty crazy about that, and I understand the privilege it is to be on the field, to be at these games. Not everybody gets to do them, and I'm lucky that CBS sends me. Nothing better than being on the field.
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I try to get my Jenny Chiu interactions in before gameday.
Yes! [laughs] Anyone who knows me, knows this. Because I get into like a different mindset of I'm such an anxious mess, all I care about is making sure that we have a good broadcast, we get the information that I want to transmit out there. And anything else is a distraction. Like even my parents calling me on game day, I'm like, "Yeah, I have to go." They're like, "What? Why?" Like, "I'm in my room, but I have to study." I just have to look over the last few bits, I don't want to miss anything. So yeah, I need to get better about that balance there, but my gamedays are not the best time to talk to me at all.
So I thought you were tough but fair on Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. coach, in your reporting after the U.S. loss in Panama, and you cited his own quote about the U.S. getting its ass kicked, Gregg's words, if it took Panama lightly, and then you noted that he made seven changes and in doing so took Panama lightly. How did that report come together for you in that moment?
So in all of the other games I hadn't had a post-game analysis because of the connectivity problems, the safety problems, or safety issues potentially. That was the first time that we were staying, so I had a hit. And after my interview they were like, "Okay, we're going to come to you at this time." And I was like, "Okay, I need to have something ready." And as I was sitting during the game, that kept ringing in my head, that Gregg had said this. And so I'm sitting there and that's all that keeps coming up in my head. And so then I was like, "Okay, where did I see this? Like, let me pull it up." Because I have a little bit of time before they come to me.
So I pulled it up and I was like, "I'm right, this did happen. I didn't make this up. Like this definitely happened." So I wrote it out. And when we saw the lineups, I was a bit confused. I think that many people that follow the national team were confused about the lineup when it happened. And I felt that that was a bit odd to put out that lineup. You know, I think that's what everyone felt. So everybody felt the same way, and for me I needed to quote it. I thought that it was important that this was something that came to my head. I have to have an analysis. And what else can I tell you besides that the U.S. didn't play well? The lineups, like that's just what comes to my head. And to be honest, I think it got taken pretty far, farther than I thought it would.
I think it was just like my natural instinct was, this was the quote, and then this is what the actions were, and this is the result. That was just an instinctual thing. But I don't want it to be like a super negative, like I'm obviously rooting for the U.S., rooting for the team to do well. I just, that was what happened.
I mean, I'll say this, you were doing your job, you were doing it well. And there was no personal animus part of it. It was an analysis of what the coach had said, and then the decisions he had made leading into that Panama game with the seven changes. And I also know that in that situation, I don't think you had access to the postgame press conferences or anything like that, so you had to go on air with something, and you came on with stuff that your audience responded to in a supportive, positive way. Obviously, it was after a U.S. loss, the one loss that the U.S. has had in these six qualifiers so far.
I guess the question I would have for you is, the culture of soccer that you have grown up in and developed in and has formed you, that kind of pointed analysis is part of it, right? And can you share with the listeners what that influence is on you over the years?
Right. I think that that's why I was so taken aback by everybody's reaction to it. As much as it was positive towards me and I saw a lot of support, it was not out of the ordinary because of what I grew up watching. You know, I grew up watching the Mexican national team, and you can win 3-0 and the media is still going to crush you for certain decisions you made, the way that this person played, the way that that person played. It's just never good enough. And so for me, that was totally normal and not a hit on Gregg, a hit on the team, like that was just my analysis of the game. So yeah, I don't know, if you put that into context, anybody that has followed the Mexican national team and the media understands that that's just normal for that.