Wednesday, 16 Jan 2019

Lisa Salters on Kareem Hunt interview: 'I was feeling more excited when the camera was off'

(Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

ESPN reporter Lisa Salters was at Dave & Busters outside Philadelphia with her five-year-old her Saturday night when she got a call: She needed to be in Kansas City the next morning to interview Chief Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt was released last week after TMZ published a video of him abusing and kicking a woman; his representatives were reached to ESPN to arrange a sit-down and requested Salters be the interviewer. In the 10-minute segment that aired Sunday morning, Hunt told the audience that the NFL had not reached out to be able to do so. He said that he was sorry, but only few specifics on the night of the incident.

The Washington Post spoke to Salters, who has been ESPN's "Monday Night Football" sideline reporter for the past seven years, how do you feel about it? she covered the OJ Simpson trial for ABC News – guided her approach. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

The Post: How did the interview come together?

Lisa Salters: Kareem and his people reaching out to ESPN, I'm not exactly sure who. I got a call at 5:30 [Saturday night] – I was at a video arcade with my five-and-a-half-year-old sound – saying, "We need you to get to Kansas City because he has asked for this interview with you. "

The Post: Why did he request you?

Salters: I've been doing "Monday Night Football" for seven years now, so when it came into the league I did a couple of interviews for Monday night games. I think we had the Chiefs three times last year. So we're talking to him before, but we're not friends or anything like that. I think he felt that – I do not know, I can not speak for him.

The Post: Where did you film the interview?

Salters: In his apartment.

The Post: Were there any parameters? Anything you agreed to?

Salters: No, they said, "We know you're going to ask a lot of hard questions, and he's prepared to answer all of them."

The Post: How did you prepare? Did you talk to news reporters or domestic-violence experts?

Salters: There's a research department at ESPN, but there is a specific issue for Monday Night Football. He's the backbone of the Monday night family; his name is Jim Carr. He was the person I wanted to reach out. . . . My biggest concern was logistics. I had a lot of balls in the air. Had to get my son to his grandparents, and I had to get to the airport in like three hours. . . . So in the airport lounge in Philadelphia I had 20 minutes before the flight. . . . Then just on the plane, I formulated an outline of where I wanted to go in my head. But me and Jim Carr pulled it together.

The Post: Considering that you are a news reporter – in Baltimore and then for ABC News – how helpful was the background for an interview?

Salters: I think that's what makes me different. This is right in my wheelhouse. The newsier the story, the more exciting it is for me. I hate that it's a story like this, nobody is happy about it. . . . The background and training I had doing was invaluable. I think a lot of people could do hits, runs and errors. I mean covering O.J. Simpson everyday for two years – that was a fantastic learning experience. I covered the Timothy McVeigh Trial and Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers. And I spent. . . seven years in Baltimore [at WBAL TV]. I was on the 11 p.m. news; there's a lot of crime. So you're interviewing people in difficult situations like yesterday. . . people whose relatives were just gunned down in the streets. The feedback I 've gotten some people in the interview. And to me that comes from doing a lot of sensitive interviews with people – that started in local television.

The Post: What was the most important thing for you?

Salters: I could see Kareem Hunt was extremely tirseful, but I think I felt more emotionally when the cameras were off. I did not spend a lot of time with him before; I was at home for a good half-hour before we started, but intentionally just kind of stayed away from him. I just kind of said, "Hello, I'm here." I said, "I'm going to have some tough questions," and he said, "Okay." And I went into another room. But I could see and hear more than I saw during the interview. And when the interview was a couple minutes ago talking. I really could feel his whereabouts.

I do not know how to do it myself, but it was much better when it was done, which is not entirely unexpected. I have interviewed him before, he's a quiet guy. Some guys just light up on camera; he's not one of those guys. He's shy, quiet, reserved. And I noted he was extremely uncomfortable and he was very nervous. That's what people think, really sorrowful individual. And yet it was these things, which I could tell when the cameras were off.

The Post: Were you surprised by how little detail he went into the events of the night of the video?

Salters: I was, because I told him beforehand – I said, "Look, I'm going to be asking you about what happened. Are you prepared to talk about what happened? "He said," Yes, I am. "And then we get to that and he does not. Afterward I asked his representatives and said, "Look, I was a little surprised. I think he could have done it himself. "The concern was he was making excuses or defending himself. Because he said, "I have absolutely no excuse." . . So in his concern about not wanting to put up a defense he may have done himself a little bit of disservice because he did not offer any explanation. He could have said, "This is what happened – X, Y, Z. This is what we are doing to this out of character response. "

The Post: Are there any follow ups that you wish you could have asked?

Salters: I'm satisfied, but I wish I had asked for it.

The Post: ESPN's Adam Schefter interview with Greg Hardy in 2016. [Hardy was a free agent then who had been accused of abusing his girlfriend, but the interview was criticized for lacking teeth.] Did that interview come up as something of a cautionary tale for how to handle this one?

Salters: I can tell you Greg Hardy 's name never came up. Everything happened quickly for me. . . If these discussions were happening internally back in Connecticut, I'm not sure, but that never came up for me.

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