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The Overhead Compartment with Rachel Nichols

The Overhead Compartment with Rachel Nichols

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Shining a spotlight on celebrities and athletes who love to travel. Created and developed by Stacy Steponate Greenberg.

They are the biggest names in sports, the best in the world at what they do. LeBron James, Serena Williams and Tony Stewart are among those in that select group, and if they are, it also means they are sure to have sat for exclusive interviews with CNN’s Rachel Nichols, among the most respected sports journalists in America. Using her style, grace and trademark hard-hitting questions, Rachel always seems to be at the center of the biggest stories in sports. She honed her skills at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, then eventually made her way to ESPN where she spent nine years before landing at CNN as their only sports anchor. Today, she thrives on providing exclusive interviews, access to the biggest names in sports, and a front row seat to all the major sporting events. From the Super Bowl to the NBA Finals, from one end of the country to the other, Rachel Nichols lives up to the location she provides on her Twitter bio: “At an airport….somewhere.” The Overhead Compartment was thrilled to earn more frequent flyer miles and chat with Rachel Nichols.

The Overhead Compartment with Rachel Nichols starts now…..

OC: You’re known as a no-nonsense journalist, what was the most uncomfortable interview you’ve ever done?

RN: I’m usually pretty comfortable in a 1-on-1 setting, but when you have to ask tough questions in a press conference – that’s the wildcard. You know you might only get one shot at the microphone. You don’t know what the context of the whole thing will end up being, since you don’t know what everyone else is going to ask. And it’s all often happening live on national TV.

OC: Is it difficult asking a question you know someone doesn’t want to answer?

RN: If you’re confident the questions you’re asking are fair, it never really feels that difficult. Athletes know I’m not going to manipulate things to protect them, or shy away from the tough stuff – but I’m also never going to come at them with a sucker-punch question or ambush them either. In my experience, that’s really what most people want. There are exceptions of course, but I’ve found that if you’re even-handed, most people are okay talking about their mistakes. Hey, we’ve all made them.

OC: If you weren’t covering sports for a living, what would you be doing?

RN: I like building stuff. Maybe HGTV? Or the Travel Channel. I feel like I could do an excellent show on what makes a great beach cocktail.

OC: Your job takes you all over the country, what was the most interesting city your work has ever taken you to?

RN: I never lose sight of how lucky I am to travel to so many cool spots! I’ve been able to see so much. That being said, with the rise of chain stores/restaurants and the general creep of suburbia, these days a lot of places look like a lot of other places – so I’m a fan of any city that’s really been able to maintain its own distinct flavor. New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Miami and of course New York – you walk out your door in one of those cities and you really couldn’t be anywhere else.

OC: What did you do during your downtime?

RN: I love to just walk around. I’m the geek who will Google “good walking tour” when I get to a new city. And sometimes when we travel in a group, my colleagues and I will do ‘field trips,’ especially if we’re in a place for a few days between games. We’ve done the Alamo, Graceland – even Disneyworld. Although, no, we don’t all wear nametags or special t-shirts like your field trips in gradeschool.

OC: You’re the mom of two young twins, how do you balance being a mom and a job that has you all over the country?

RN: That’s the flip side of traveling; as much as I love it, there’s no question it gets more difficult once you have a family. And I think that’s true for the men I work with who have kids too. The nice part of my job now is that it’s mostly ‘planned travel’ – I really don’t cover breaking news anymore. For example, I already know that the first weekend in February, I’ll be in San Francisco at the Super Bowl, so my family and I can plan for that.

OC: During those work trips, do you work on planes or use that time for yourself and maybe….sleep?

RN: I work if I have work. If not, I’m completely shameless about watching iTunes downloads; airplanes are where I catch up on all the TV shows I’m too busy to watch when they are actually broadcast. This can be awkward at times; I’ve been on a plane catching up on Scandal when some sex scene comes on (and if you watch Scandal, you know that’s about once an episode). All of the sudden I’ll have a seatmate who gets very interested in what’s on my iPad.

OC: Perfect family vacation spot?

RN: Anywhere that has its own kitchen. When little kids are hungry, having to start the process of finding a restaurant or room service – three or four times a day – makes it not feel like a vacation anymore.

OC: What is the key to traveling with kids?

Rachel Nichols
Rachel Nichols

RN: Being realistic that even your absolute favorite place might not feel good at all if it’s not kid-friendly. I love Italy; I’ve spent days just wandering around, gazing at churches, wandering through art museums, stopping for coffee. My toddlers do not share a love of these activities, shockingly. So I’m not planning a family trip there anytime soon, despite how much I’d like to.

OC: You live in New York. What are three things no visitor should miss that won’t be in a guide book?

RN: Anyplace outside of midtown! Broadway and the Empire State building are great and all, but too many visitors get trapped in Midtown’s Bermuda Triangle and never get out. Walk around Greenwich Village. Go to DUMBO in Brooklyn. Also – Manhattan is an island, but I’m amazed at how many people come here and never really spent time by the water. I would definitely recommend taking one of those tourist boats that goes all the way around, especially if the weather is decent. You may think it sounds cheesy, but you and your Instagram account will thank me. Promise.

OC: Top three favorite restaurants in New York?

RN: Gramercy Tavern if you want to spend a little money, Patsy’s Pizza or Lombardi’s for a real-deal authentic pie. And Frankies 457 for a more casual taste of buzzy Brooklyn.

OC: What is the first thing you do when arriving in a hotel room?

RN: Turn on all the lights! Ever since The W Hotels became popular everyone thinks dark = chic. I swear I need to bring a flashlight sometimes just to find my way to brush my teeth.

OC: Complete the following sentence: I never leave home without:

RN: My cell phone. It’s my travel guide, my tether to home, my sightseeing camera, my musical accompaniment. It’s a cliché for a reason.

OC: Go-to snack when on the road?

RN: Starbucks. Another cliché. Damn, I’m so predictable.

OC: Sports Illustrated talked about you being “the country’s most impactful and prominent female sports journalist”. What advice would you give to aspiring sports journalist?

RN: I always tell college students to intern, intern, intern as much as possible. Don’t let yourself graduate without a good amount of work experience; your competition won’t. But even more importantly, trying out lots of jobs lets you figure out what you really like and what you’d be good at. What’s not fun about that?

OC: There are so many more women covering sports than there used to be, how has that landscape changed in the time you’ve been in the business?

RN: It’s gotten so much better, which is legitimately cool to watch and be a part of. And there is still a ways to go. I’m excited to see things continue to improve and unfold.

OC: One thing nobody in the world knew about me until right now is:

RN: On my desk right now there’s a cool wooden gavel someone gave me as a gift, a regulation football and a Bozo the clown mini-punching bag. Pretty much sums up the world of sports today, I think.

Rachel Nichols, please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!