How Mina Kimes turned her passion for football into a profession
Mina Kimes thinks. Then she counts.
Two TV show appearances, one Madden special, two podcasts for six episodes as the host, three podcasts as the guest. It’s all in a week’s work for Kimes.
The ESPN analyst seems like the busiest woman in sports media as she films in her impromptu quarantine studio. Kimes shoots pandemic-era TV segments with books behind her, a bright ring light in front of her and a Seahawks helmet perched over her shoulder. The blue dome of plastic represents Kimes’ greatest passion as she talks, laughs and shouts about sports on national television multiple times a week.
“I [expletive] love football,” Kimes said, sitting on a sunny patio in Glendale this summer. “If I didn’t work at ESPN, which I didn’t until 2014, I would still be watching a psychotic amount of football for someone that doesn’t do this for a living. I hope that never changes.”
Kimes turned her love of football into a budding commentary empire in the sport. Along with regular appearances on ESPN’s “Around the Horn” and “Highly Questionable,” the 35-year-old Kimes hosts a weekly football podcast, is a daily analyst on ESPN’s newly cast “NFL Live” and is the Rams color commentator for preseason games.
Kimes, a petite half-Korean woman who unabashedly loves Seattle sports teams and completes the hardest New York Times crossword puzzles in less than nine minutes, seems like an unconventional candidate to be the face of NFL analysis. She knows this. Kimes earns her place in the booth, behind the mic or in front of the camera with passion that bleeds through the screen and fuels a tireless work ethic.
“Mina is not only a very intelligent, creative, enterprising person, she is also somebody who wants to master things,” said Pablo Torre, a longtime friend and fellow ESPN commentator. “What she has done in sports, it’s astonishing, really.”
Before joining ESPN as a senior writer, Kimes was a business reporter at Fortune and Bloomberg News, where she handled investigations. Between winning awards and getting yelled at by CEOs, Kimes retreated to Seahawks message boards to post about her favorite team. She also posted intricate Etch a Sketch portraits of prominent sports figures on her Tumblr page.
Her not-so-secret obsession came forward in a 2014 essay about the Seahawks, the team that connected her with her father. He was a military man who moved his family all over the country when Kimes was growing up but was originally from Seattle. Kimes published the piece on her Tumblr and it was reprinted in Slate.
She joined ESPN several months later, writing cover stories for ESPN the Magazine on Darrelle Revis and Aaron Rodgers as she participated in different podcasts and TV shows.
Less than a year after launching ESPN’s daily podcast, Kimes turned it over to Torre in August as she began her full-time position on “NFL Live.”
It was clear to Torre that his friend wanted to be the one answering questions about football rather than asking the questions.
“Mina Kimes loves football more than I love anything,” Torre said. “Her love of football is genuinely terrifying.”
When Torre attended Kimes’ wedding years ago, she put on a Seahawks helmet during the night. When her beloved team won the Super Bowl in 2014, Kimes had “XLVIII” tattooed on her right biceps. It’s visible during shows when she raises her arm.
Cheering isn’t allowed in the press box, but Kimes shouted in anguish on TV when the Mariners missed out on Shohei Ohtani. Viewers love it when she’s miserable about her teams, she said.
“Fandom is passion,” Kimes said. “Homerism is saying things that aren’t true.”
Kimes lets her fandom show most on Twitter. She always makes it a point to have fun on television and radio shows, but there are certain means of expression that are reserved for the internet, she said. Kimes seems to have mastered those.
With a mix of honest analysis, belly-laugh-inducing GIFs and masterful takedowns of trolls, Kimes treats her more than 461,000 followers to one of the best timelines in sports media while not taking herself too seriously. She meets the social media platform where it lives: There’s a lot of bad, she acknowledges, but there’s also a lot of good.
After all, sports are supposed to be fun.
But mastering Twitter also means knowing when to be thoughtful. When sharing analysis or speaking about the intersection of societal issues and sports such as sexual harassment within teams or athletes speaking for racial justice, Kimes speaks candidly.
“Talking about those things doesn’t take away the joy that I get from talking about sports,” Kimes said. “In fact, it stems from it because I wouldn’t talk about them if I didn’t love sports so much. … I think the people that are best equipped to convey those messages or have those conversations are often the people who love sports the most, and I hope that when people watch me, they feel that way.”
Objectivity is typically held as the ideal in journalism, but times are changing, Torre said, acknowledging that he will horrify journalism professors everywhere. People are not objective, but they can be honest in their work, even if their allegiance to the team they’re analyzing is tattooed in plain view.
“This has to do with all sorts of bigger picture stuff about where we are as a country, which I understand, but when it comes to is it OK for a Seahawks fan to express as much but to also profile Aaron Rogers, I think the proof’s in the pudding,” Torre said.
The first time Dan Orlovsky saw Kimes speak on TV, the former NFL quarterback was the “ignorant” football player who believed that those who didn’t play the game had no authority to speak about it.
Three years after retiring, Orlovsky is now texting his new “NFL Live” co-analyst that she understands the game better than other former players spewing hot takes.
On the new podcast “Asian Enough,” L.A. Times entertainment reporter Jen Yamato and columnist Frank Shyong will interview guests about what being Asian American means to them and that who they are is enough.
“She’s not the ex-athlete who thinks she knows it all,” the 12-year pro said. “She’s the person who never played who kind of talks like she did.”
Kimes acknowledges her unique position as a woman with an authoritative voice in football, but she doesn’t focus on it.
“You have to prove your worth in other ways,” said Kimes, whose fluency in advanced statistical analysis has even made Orlovsky a believer. “I have always found that if I came in excessively prepared, emphasis on excessively, that was sort of the best case I could make for myself.”
For her first radio appearance, Kimes’ excessive preparation meant 70 pages of notes, only three of which she needed. Coming in as a successful feature writer, when working often meant weeks or months of reporting for just one well-thought-out story, the rapid pace of recording radio or live TV seemed daunting.
The thick stack of notes only illustrated the pressure she put on herself to be perfect.
“My fear of making mistakes or my anxiety about being perceived less than serious or perfect was holding me back from being good at my job,” Kimes said. “People don’t want to watch television or listen to the radio or listen to podcasts for perfect. They want personality.”
Kimes’ unique blend of humor, self-deprecation and knowledge makes her a fan favorite. Those fans include her co-workers: Torre said filming “Highly Questionable” with Kimes and Dan LeBatard is the most fun he has on TV these days. During a pandemic that’s persisted for five months, it feels to Torre that it’s as close to hanging out with his friends in real life as he can get.
Sitting in front of a digitized green screen in August without her personalized home background, Kimes brought that same laughter to “NFL Live.” Kimes compared expectations that Ben Roethlisberger could return to his Super Bowl-winning form immediately this year after playing just two games because of an elbow injury to pining for a high school sweetheart. Anybody who has attended a high school reunion knows that’s not a sound choice.
“Mina,” former NFL defensive lineman Marcus Spears said through chuckles, “you’re a breath of fresh air.”
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