Clay and Buck

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Michele Tafoya on Her Post-Sports Future: I’m Not Afraid Anymore

15 Feb 2022

CLAY: We are joined now by Michele Tafoya, formerly of NBC Sports, who was on the sideline for the game between the Rams and the Bengals. It was a thrilling one. Michele, does it feel strange for me to say for you “formerly of NBC Sports”? Welcome in and just let everybody hear — biggest radio show in the country; we’re excited to have you. Let us know where you’re headed.

TAFOYA: Oh, gosh, well, first of all, it is a little weird — thanks for having me — to be called “former,” ’cause it was such a long stretch of my life that I’ve spent doing this. But you know what? I’m so excited. I am truly eager to get out and on with other parts of my life that are so important to me. You know, part of that is I joined Kendall Qualls‘ gubernatorial campaign in Minnesota. He’s a Republican running for office. We don’t agree on everything. I don’t think I agree with anyone on everything.

CLAY: (chuckles) Amen.

TAFOYA: You know? You can find your differences but find your commonalities and move forward, and that’s who I’m supporting. So I’m gonna help him win. And, you know, doing a lot of other things. I’m speaking at CPAC next week and just a lot of irons in the fire as we speak that are going to result in something fun, meaningful, and help guide my… Something’s been tugging at (chuckles), like, my soul and my gut for several years now that it’s time to give back. Life has given me a lot, and I’ve earned a lot of it, but life has given me great opportunities. I want to spend some time now leaving this place better than I found it.

BUCK: Michele, it’s Buck. I’m not a big pro-sports follower.

TAFOYA: Well, shame!

CLAY: (laughing)

TAFOYA: I’m kidding.

BUCK: So I can’t speak to that much of it, but I do basically live 24/7 in the matrix of the news cycle, and there’s been obviously a lot of sports stories, particularly in the last few years, I’d say, that have just become national-level news — and I mean political sports stories. You know, not who won the Super Bowl but who’s take a knee, who’s putting their hoods up — their hoodies up — on the floor of an NBA game, et cetera.

And, you know, one thing I’ve learned from Clay, ’cause he comes from the sports world, I come from the politics world. But when he said this to me, I kind of looked skyward. I said, “I don’t even know how this is possible,” but that the sports media may have gone further left and more woke than even the national political media. How did that happen? Why did this happen? You’ve been in the game for a while. What caused this to occur?

TAFOYA: I cannot tell you what caused it. I have some theories. Here’s what I think, though. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I think that ESPN has definitely gone leftward and lurched quite a ways, and I think that they paid a price for that, and I think they are trying to take some sort of course correction and try to come back into the middle. But listen. The biggest issues in the last few years have been things like Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, and Black Lives Matter speaks to a lot of people of color.

And you’ve got a lot of people of color playing in professional sports. So they, rightly, want to express themselves. And I think one of the mistakes that the NFL made was that when they first started kneeling, they told ’em to stop. Let them do what they want to do and express themselves. Now, I know you’re a private league and I know you have rules, but I think that organically this thing would have figured itself out in some way because you had best friends on teams that disagreed on the topic.

And you would see one guy kneeling and his best friend standing next to him with a hand on his shoulder — I’m talking about Derek Carr who would stand next to guys that were with Black Lives Matter. And they would kneel, and he would stand with his hand on his shoulder. He still would listen to the anthem, have one hand on his heart; the other hand on the guy’s shoulder. This thing would have handled itself and kind of resolved itself or moved on organically without the league take a hard stance. And I think that that just spurred it on even more.

CLAY: Michele, I was out in L.A. for the week. I left before the game. You were on the sideline. We opened yesterday’s show saying whatever your feelings are on covid, to have in L.A. basically 70,000 people — including virtually every celebrity that they showed on the broadcast — not wearing a mask, to then the next morning have to wake up on Monday and send your kids into school with masks, is that incongruity noticeable to you? Did you think about it at all as you were on the sideline for the game?

TAFOYA: You know not during the game, because my focus was elsewhere. But brother went to the game and his wife, and he had been to a game at Sofi a few weeks back, had to show his vaccination card in order to get in. This time, he did not have to show a vaccination card to get in, no one told him to put a mask on, he wasn’t gonna put one on anyway. I guess if they had, you know, held a gun to his head, maybe.

But, you know, it’s so rich with hypocrisy — and why our kids are the last line of mask wearing is absolutely beyond my comprehension. I don’t know why they won’t let this go. We’ve got science to show us that kids are the least vulnerable — most kids, the vast majority of kids — and if we’re gonna sit around and try to come up with zero-risk policies for danger in schools, we’re gonna be doing stuff and handcuffing, you know, putting on these policies, these strict policies in all kinds of ways.

I can tell you that at my own kids school, they stopped being allowed to climb on certain monkey bars because someone hurt their wrist. They stopped being allowed to play football at halftime, because someone got hurt. You know, they weren’t hurt and sent to the hospital; they were just hurt. So you keep putting up these, you know, ways to bubble wrap our kids. And in this case, yes, I understand it’s a pandemic. But we’ve got the data now — we have the science that everyone’s claims should be directing our decisions — and yet they just won’t let this go with the kids in school. I’m baffled and I’m angry.

BUCK: Michele Tafoya with us right now. Michele, as I understand it, you guest hosted on The View. Wondering how that was an experience, and if you could find out where I am on the short list to maybe guest hosts at some point —

CLAY: (laughing)

BUCK: — ’cause I feel like those ladies and I would have a lot to talk about.

TAFOYA: I think you would. I think you should volunteer yourself. If you’re not on that short list, they ought to get to know you. It was a really interesting experience that taught me a lot about myself and my ability to stand up for the things that I believe in. Look, you’re talking with four women who really don’t share your opinion if you’re a conservative — and not only that, the entire audience is with them.

So you’re on a little island there, and it’s not that they’re… I don’t want to make it sound like they’re bullying or attacking, but your opinions are very much your own. And so you gotta be ready for that. And honestly, that’s what’s been pulling me to make a move in my career is that I have too many friends who are, quote-unquote, “afraid” or scared to talk about their beliefs and their values because of what risk they’re taking. (laughing) This was… This is amazing to me that I’ve got friends who are scared to see things or post things on Facebook for fear of the repercussions. That ain’t America.

CLAY: I think that’s the vast majority of Americans right now, Michele. I think you will find as Buck and I have found, the number one thing that people say to me — irrespective of all the opinions we share — is, “I’m glad I listen to your show because you guys have conversations and say things that I’m afraid to actually attach my name to.” (chuckling)


CLAY: How terrifying is that in America, where many people feel like that, I think, the vast majority. Whether you’re white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Democrat, Republican, independent, there’s a stultifying fear that has taken over, much of it connected to social media.

TAFOYA: That’s where it’s gotta be up to people like us. I don’t mean to sound dramatic about this. But I’m tired of being scared and see people shared. This is not a way to live, and this is not a way to have a civil society and a free society. This ain’t it. Being scared of backlash on social media? This is not it. So I’m kind of like on this crusade to cut through the fear and let people know they have an ally, and I’m just not afraid anymore.

I’ve been through the wringer on Twitter and Instagram and all the rest, and I lived to talk about it — and you know what? (chuckles) There are a lot worse things in life than some stranger hating. So you if some stranger on Twitter wants to put me through a written beatdown, they can do that. I can choose to let that affect me or I can choose to say, “Eh, whatever. I don’t know that person.”

Sometimes when you do know the person it’s a little startling because you find out your values are much different than you thought. So that’s where I understand it gets dicey. But we’ve gotta have these conversations — and if people are afraid to have them, guys like you people like me, we’ve gotta have them for them, like, on their behalf.

BUCK: You know, Michele, it may come as a shock to our listeners but turns out there are some random strangers on the internet who like neither me nor Clay.

CLAY: (chuckling)

BUCK: We wonder, “How is this possible?”

CLAY: My mom is stunned that it could ever happen.

BUCK: “We’re such nice fellows — and what’s with all the all caps and the words I can’t read on the radio?” Anyway, Michele Tafoya where should folks go to follow your work or what you’re up to next?

TAFOYA: Uh, you know what?

BUCK: Follow you on Twitter?

TAFOYA: No, I’m not on social media for that reason.


TAFOYA: I’m off of it for now. I’m on LinkedIn. That’s where you can find me, just because that’s kind of the least-abrasive place I’ve found to post articles.

BUCK: People are polite on LinkedIn. It’s kind of like you feel like the HR department is watching you when you’re writing on LinkedIn.

TAFOYA: Exactly!

BUCK: So it’s a little different.

TAFOYA: (laughing) So, you know, but you know what? That’s okay. And I’ve had some pushback. But for the most part, that’s where you can find me, at least for now. We’ll see if that changes. I don’t know.

BUCK: All right. Michele Tafoya. Michele, thanks so much for joining us on Clay and Buck. We appreciate it.

TAFOYA: Appreciate you guys. Take care.

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