Bethesda Interview: Carol Maloney

Bethesda Interview: Carol Maloney

The NBC4 sports anchor and reporter talks about why she doesn't like the teleprompter, getting Jayson Werth to talk to her on camera, and more

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Carol Maloney, sports reporter and anchor for NBC4

Carol Maloney can’t wait to show off her face-plant. She’s leaning forward in the kitchen of her Kensington home, talking about carpal tunnel syndrome’s toll on her dribbling skills, when she breaks off midstream and snatches her cellphone from her dining table. “Did you see my dunk?” she asks.

She pulls up her Instagram account and hits “play” on a video from a Washington Wizards media day in February. The clip begins as Maloney, a former college basketball player, makes a running start across the court. After her approach, she hits the trampoline and swims toward the basket with arms outstretched and a smooth, midair dolphin kick. For a second, the dunk—a feat the 5-foot-3 athlete has had on her bucket list for years—looks possible. Even probable. Then…gravity. A headfirst dive into a mat. Four days with a stiff neck and the inability to look around without fully rotating her body.

“I almost killed myself,” she says. There’s no evidence that the crash shook her, though—she’s smiling the entire time during the video, including the moment when she’s flat on her back staring up at the Verizon Center ceiling. 

Maloney, 44, says she’s never been a flashy reporter. It’s not uncommon to find her whipping on lipstick just minutes before she goes on the air for NBC4; she’d rather spend every last second on her stories. She was raised in the Midwest in a parochial neighborhood where she knew almost everyone, and Kensington reminds her a little bit of her tight-knit community in Des Moines. Neighbors here are familiar with her makeup-free face, she says, and they offer to look after her poodles, Buddy and Boo, when she’s out of town with her husband, Justin Carmody, and their two kids. 

After graduating from Drake University in Des Moines in 1995, Maloney spent about three years reporting at local TV stations in Iowa, jobs that gave her experience shooting her own video, editing her own packages and chasing a few tornadoes. (Her parents hated the storm-chaser phase of her career, she says, but for her it was an “adrenaline rush.”) In 1998, she left Iowa for a larger station in Denver, and after three years there she moved to the D.C. area to work at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, where she covered the Wizards, Capitals, Orioles and Nationals for the next 11 years. NBC4 hired Maloney in 2015 as a full-time sports anchor and reporter—she’d already freelanced for the station—but so far her jobs haven’t impressed her sons, Donnie, 13, and Jimmy, 11. 

“They’re not starstruck at all, I think because I work in [this field]. They see me sitting with Bryce Harper, so they don’t think it’s as cool,” Maloney says with a smile. “I’ve made them come to my work so much that maybe they’re just sick of it. They like the vending machine.”

Bethesda Magazine spoke with Maloney at her home a couple days after she’d returned from Florida, where she was covering the Washington Nationals’ spring training. 

How did you become interested in sports?

I’m one of seven kids. I’m No. 6, so I grew up playing outside sports. I was just out there trying to get into my older brothers’ and sisters’ games. We’d play softball in the backyard. We played basketball. I played six sports in high school. (I count cheerleading.) I ran track and played basketball in college. I watched a lot of sports with my family.

When did you realize you wanted to be a journalist?

I grew up knowing that I wanted to be a reporter. I used to tell on my brothers and sisters all the time—I was like the ultimate tattletale. I loved to tell people stuff they didn’t know, even if it got other people in trouble. By the time I was 15, I was already a little reporter. Also, my dad used to play racquetball with the sports guy at the NBC station in town. So I guess since I knew somebody who did it, or my dad did, I thought, I could probably do that. 

I knew there weren’t a lot of women sportscasters. I only had a couple of people to look up to. Lesley Visser was doing Monday Night Football at the time, and then eventually Hannah Storm broke into [the] NBA. Other than that, there were no women doing any kind of play-by-play or color or sideline, and so I didn’t really know it was something that I could even do. Once I was in college and playing, I got to meet a lot of women players who were calling women’s games. I did my internships, and even my [journalism] adviser said, ‘You should be a sports reporter because you love sports so much.’ It was a really great time because it was right when women were getting hired. Jobs just kind of fell in my lap, probably jobs that plenty more men were qualified for. But I took it so seriously—I always made sure [to] prove I was worthy of the job. 

What teams did you cheer for growing up?

The Bulls. The Cubs. The Packers. I had some family in Kansas City, [so] the Chiefs. I was totally a bandwagon jumper; I went for the good teams. It was Michael Jordan’s heyday, so [that] was appointment television. My grandmother would come over, or we would go to her house [for] every Bulls game. That was a pretty big moment, when I was able to interview him when he played for the Wizards. I was really nervous for that.

You must have been obsessing over your questions.

My first question to Michael Jordan, my knees were knocking. I didn’t normally get like that with interviews, but it was someone you grew up watching. His skills were kind of declining, and Jerry Stackhouse was his teammate and was kind of leading the way for the Wizards early. So I said, ‘You had Scottie Pippen as a sidekick for so long. How does it feel now for you to be Jerry Stackhouse’s sidekick?’ I swear he looked at me and for a second I thought he was going to be like, ‘Security! Get this 20-something girl out of my face with her tough question.’ He actually gave me a good answer—he gave Jerry a lot of praise for leading the way. But I did say to the photographer, ‘Make sure you pull back so you can see me.’ And I meant to put the picture of me and Michael Jordan on a T-shirt for my dad. I still have the tape.

So with Michael Jordan I was nervous, and then last week I was nervous with Jayson Werth, the Nationals outfielder. He won the World Series with the Phillies, and in baseball terms he’s a veteran. He’s turning 38. He’s all hair. You think he’s all surly and not media-friendly, and it’s actually the opposite. He’s a really good guy once he gets to know you and trust you, but he doesn’t do on-camera interviews. He hasn’t done them for years. We were having this conversation in the dugout and I was giving him grief and he said, ‘Come to spring training and you can interview me there.’ 

On the first day I said, ‘Hey, I’m here! Remember when we talked in June, you said I come to spring training, I get all my questions?’ He said, ‘No, I’m not TV-ready. I don’t want to do TV.’ And the PR lady said, ‘You’re going to make that poor girl cry.’ So the final day, I didn’t know I was going to interview him until I [was] outside waiting, and here he comes. I thought of some questions, and I knew I was going to keep them serious. He wouldn’t want to do fluff. He wouldn’t want to talk about his beard—he would take his mic off. So I thought of four or five really good baseball questions. We talked about how what happens this next year will define his entire career. I’m talking to him about pressure, while I’m feeling pressure. Because I know he’s such a tough cookie that if I ask the wrong question, he’ll leave.

To do your job, do you have to get over wanting to make your idols like you?

Yes. I am a pleaser by nature, so I want everyone to like me. I don’t mind asking a tough question, but I think it’s OK to be liked, too. I’m not out there to make anyone look bad, but if there’s a tough question to be asked—like, Do you feel like your job is on the line?—I can ask that. I think the thing about women that is the advantage is that we’re really sympathetic listeners by nature. Sometimes I’ll even say, ‘Listen, I know this is a difficult question, and you might not want to talk about it right now, but it’s probably what fans are wondering so I feel like I have to ask.’ So that softens it right away.

Did you ever struggle with being camera shy?

I think [being on-air] came naturally [for me], but you have to get comfortable. It does take [repetition] to be the same person on camera that you are when you’re not on camera. I think it took me a good couple years to really be conversational. I had a really good mentor who said, ‘Don’t stick to the script because you won’t even be paying attention.’ So if you put something on a prompter, I would say 99 times out of 100 it does not come out that way. And I am a little dyslexic, so I don’t like to read the prompter word-for-word because then I’ll mess myself up because I’ll switch words. It’s better if I just go with notes and what’s in my head. When you’re on camera, you have to pretend that you just burst into the kitchen, and your friend is sitting there, and you want to tell them all about this thing. ‘You’ll never guess what Bryce Harper said today! He’s practicing his swings with a barbed-wire-covered bat! He said if zombies ever come to D.C., he’s got us covered!’ You want to say it in a way you’d be excited about. 

How did you end up in the D.C. area?

My contract was up in Denver. I was young, getting all the assignments no one else wanted, which I didn’t mind. But then the weekend position opened up and they hired somebody else, and the person they hired to do weekends had once been in Iowa at a smaller station than the one I was at. And I remember being like: He’s going to leapfrog me? I’ll never forget, because it was a woman news director. She goes, ‘This market’s not ready for a female in a main sports role.’ I wasn’t mad. I was like, ‘I’m so glad you were honest.’ I told her, ‘My contract is up this summer. I’ll go to a big market and get big-market experience so that when the market is ready, then I’ll come back.’ Because I love Denver. I have lots of family there, so I never thought I would be gone for long. I left and said, ‘I’ll be back in three years, everybody.’ And then I [got here] and fell in love. 

How did you meet your husband? 

I met him at Houston’s, the restaurant. There was one in Rockville. I had just gotten back from Orioles spring training, and he said, ‘My mother loves your Orioles coverage.’ I hugged him. I was at Comcast SportsNet. I [had gone] from being at the NBC station in Denver, which everybody watched. Not that I need or want or ask for the attention, but I moved here and I was working my heart out and it didn’t seem like we had a lot of people watching us. No one ever said, ‘Oh, you’re the lady from Comcast.’ He was like the first person. So I was like, ‘Yay, somebody’s watching us!’

Can you root openly for local teams or is that against the rules?

I shouldn’t. I’m not supposed to. Do not emotionally invest in your teams was rule No. 1, but I totally am and I don’t know how to hide it. I just want a parade, some parade. Please, it’s our time. I was almost in tears when the Caps lost last year. I was sick to my stomach. I always think the dream of hoisting the championship trophy is possible. I was in Denver when the Broncos won and the Avs [Colorado Avalanche] won the Stanley Cup. I see what it does for the community and how it brings them together, and I just want that for this area. I think it would inspire a whole new generation of sports fans, and what I do would be a lot more relevant. 

Do you feel like it’s your role to keep the hope alive?

A little bit. Another example was Game 5 of the Nats and Dodgers at Nats Park [last year]. They had a five-game series against the Dodgers. I think they won two games—they just needed one more game to win—and then they lost two straight. It was Game 5: You win or you go home. I asked [Nationals manager] Dusty Baker his thoughts and he said, ‘I woke up and packed for Chicago.’ [If they won], they were going to play the Cubs the next day. We’re all believing it’s possible that the Nats are going to win and play the Cubs in the second round—and then they didn’t. So my postgame report was: ‘This stinks. I’m moving to Cleveland. We’ll never win anything. I’m done believing.’ I literally said it like I was saying it. And then I said, ‘I heard those sentiments word-for-word from fans walking out tonight.’ 

The anchors said they were shocked because they thought I was saying it, and I said, ‘No, I’m quoting the fans who were leaving tonight. That’s how distraught they are.’ I said, ‘But we’ll get over it. We’ll lick our wounds and we’ll start believing in next year. Pitchers and catchers report in 160 days and hope will spring eternal again.’ So, you do want to put your finger on the temperature of the moment, but then also give [viewers]: ‘Pitchers and catchers will report in no time, and we’ll still believe again because this team is good. And it will be our time. It’s coming. They’re knocking on the door.’ I do believe that.

I read that George Michael [the longtime NBC4 sportscaster who died in 2009] repeatedly tried to hire you, but the timing was never right. What was the story there?

He’s still a voice in my head. The first time I talked to him, he called me in Denver way before I knew I was going to leave. He called me out of the blue and said, ‘Carol, this is George Michael. I’ve been watching you, and we have a position open. I’m going to give you a four-year deal, no outs, but this much money.’ And he was like, ‘I saw that skirt you wore yesterday. Burn it. And don’t ever say, “They won two-zip.” Don’t ever say zip.’ Of course I knew who he was—I loved his show. But I was so thin-skinned, it hurt my feelings. But I did everything he said. 

I did end that first conversation with George: ‘Sounds like you should buy my ticket, except for I’m under contract for one more year.’ Then a year later he called and said, ‘OK, well, there’s a window where we can get you here.’ And I said, ‘George, I’m sorry, I should have checked with you. I figured you were good.’ I just had signed a contract that week. And he said, ‘Oh, where?’ I said Comcast SportsNet in D.C. And he was like, ‘We’re never going to be friends,’ and hung up. 
Then I would see him on the field and I would give him little things, like I just wanted to tell him how much I appreciated him. So we stayed friends. He would heckle me. I remember one time he was squeegeeing behind me on a live shot when I was on Comcast SportsNet. Then, when I was six months pregnant with Jimmy, freelancing, he called and said, ‘OK, we need a little help. You’re just freelancing.’ And I said, ‘Yes, but I’m six months pregnant.’ And it was the same thing…click. Then I didn’t know that he was sick, so it was really sad. As much as the business has changed, he was so good at telling stories. We still talk about, what would George do? 

Knowing that he thought I was worthy of working with him helped—it boosted my confidence. It’s kind of a running joke with my friends. I think it’s something I’ve said too many times: ‘Hey, you went to ESPN and you have an $8 million contract, but I had George Michael try to hire me three times. So there.’

You’ve said you never want to work on a national network. Why?

I grew up with dreams of being like a big-time Monday Night Football or NBA [sportscaster]. And I [have] friends that have gone national. But as soon as my kids were born, I knew immediately. I think time is more important than money and status. I know friends who have gone on to find that balance—I’m just not one of those people. I wanted to stay home with them. I went part time. I wanted to put my career on the back burner. I didn’t give it up, but I put it on the back burner so I could be home with them on sick days and [for] coaching [their teams], and preschool. 

When did you realize it was time to work full time again?

I remember that moment as clear as day. I was at the pool. I didn’t know anyone there. My kids were totally safe and swimming with their friends, and I was bored to death. I didn’t have a magazine. I didn’t have anything to do or anyone to talk to. [The kids] came over, and they were hungry, and I said, ‘OK, let’s go to the concession stand.’ And they said, ‘No, we just need money.’ It was a moment where, my babies just want money now. They don’t need me to go order for them. They don’t need me to feed them [or] clean up after them, and I remember thinking, OK, it’s time. I can work a little more. I could’ve dropped them off at the pool and not been there.

What is it like to watch your sons get into sports? Are there sports you do or don’t want them to play?

I let them both play flag football one year—my husband really wanted them to try it. And they were one-and-done. Both of them tried it when they were like 9, 10. Peewee. And it was so hard for me. But I thought: If you try it now, and you get hit, and you don’t play later, then that would be good. Or maybe you could learn the right techniques of tackling if you do. But now my son is 13 and he’s going to try and bulk up. He wants to play football next year, so I’m going to let him. I’m going to hold my breath the whole time, but I’m going to let him. I wish I could get them to be golfers. I want them to play a sport they could play their whole life, and I wish I would have golfed when I was little. I love golf, but they play soccer in the fall. They play basketball in the winter. They’re both going to be on baseball teams coming up.

But you know how some families are really into the kids’ sports? We’ve never been that family, surprisingly, since my husband played football and I played basketball. We just do it for fun. I do say I want them to be in some activity, so when Jimmy had some time between sports he started taking this parkour class. He loves it. It’s funny because I just see what the professional life is for an athlete, and it looks so hard and demanding. I’m not sure I would necessarily want that for them as a mother. I would obviously be thrilled for them if that was their dream, but I would probably be just as thrilled if they were a fifth-grade math teacher. 

Bethany Rodgers is a reporter for Bethesda Beat, Bethesda Magazine's daily online news briefing. 

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