As her college days at Rutgers were winding down—four years of excelling at academics and sports (and making friends and having fun)—Kathryn Tappen had settled on the decision that she wanted to be a television sports broadcaster for real. Small problem, though: because her time had been consumed by carrying a full load of journalism classes to fulfill her major and by participating year-round on the track-and-field team, Tappen RC’03, SCILS'03 hadn’t accrued any experience in front of the camera. Not a minute of it. So, she didn’t have the all-important demo reel—the visual equivalent of a résumé—to send out to prospective employers: television stations. But what Tappen did have was gumption.

NBS Sports host and reporter Kathryn Tappen


Kathryn Tappen is serving as a host of NBC’s coverage of the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments during the XXIII Winter Olympics, which are being held in PyeongChang, South Korea, and begin February 9, repeating the role that she had in Sochi, Russia, during the Winter Games four years ago. Earlier in the month, she was in Minneapolis as part of the network’s broadcast of Super Bowl LII; a week before, she hosted the pregame show of the NHL All-Star Game. She is perhaps best known as a host of NHL Live. She is pictured on the set before a recent broadcast.

Cameron Bowman

Looking around her, she enlisted a girlfriend from a journalism class who borrowed a video camera from the School of Communication, Information and Library Sciences (since renamed the School of Communication and Information). Then Tappen corralled some fellow athletes, grabbed three or four of her overcoats, and spent a very cold day hopscotching from location to location in New Brunswick, and changing from coat to coat, to do “stand-ups” and interviews. The intended effect was to convey a variety and depth of broadcasting experience in a host of settings. With her faux demo reel in the can, she now had something to send to small television stations around the nation.

“I don’t even know where that tape is anymore,” Tappen says, laughing at the recollection. “But it has to be the worst tape ever. Needless to say, I got rejection after rejection after rejection from small television stations from around the country.”

But, not long after graduating, she did get an invitation to audition in New York City to be an on-air talent for the College Sports Television Network, a nascent network in the midst of staffing up. Tappen, figuring her chances were close to zero, was one of 100 young women participating in two days of “broadcast boot camp,” as she puts it, with candidates required to do everything from reading a teleprompter to rewriting scripts on deadline. After one day, the field had been slashed to 10 candidates. After two days, the field had been reduced to one, and the last woman standing was Kathryn Tappen. She was on her way.


Today, 15 years later, Tappen is a rising star at NBC Sports, where she arrived in 2014 as a host of NHL Live, the pre- and postgame show that airs during the National Hockey League’s season, and to serve as the sideline reporter for NBC Sports’ Notre Dame Football program. She also was part of the broadcast team for this year’s Super Bowl (and for Super Bowl XLIX, in 2015), and for the next month, the network has sent her to PyeongChang, South Korea, to be part of the NBC Sports' coverage of the XXIII Winter Olympics, which began February 9. She is serving as a host of the network's coverage of the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments, repeating the role that she had in Sochi, Russia, during the Winter Games four years ago. Tappen is really looking forward to it. The Olympics stir the competitive spirit in her.

Tappen interviews coach Brian Kelly


During the fall, Tappen, seen here interviewing Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly, is the sideline reporter for Notre Dame Football. She spends the entire week preparing for NBC’s popular Saturday afternoon broadcast.

courtesy of NBC Sports Group

“The Olympics are unlike anything we cover,” says Tappen, who was an Academic All-American during her four years at Rutgers (and once held the school record for the 3,000-meter steeplechase event). “It’s on the world stage, a global event. You are in a different country, and you are battling being away from home. Time differences. The travel. But the members of the broadcast team are in it together. It makes it a remarkable team effort, which I’m all about. So, I am with the network in a different country, doing what we do. I am covering Team USA! I am incredibly passionate and patriotic about our country.”

Tappen also loves the fact that the athletes whom she will be covering are for the most part young, striving amateurs on the precipice of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, grateful to be competing—and so earnestly accommodating. Case in point: Tappen remembers covering the beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings during another Olympics, the Summer Games held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. “She’s one of the most famous athletes in the world,” she says. “Her brand transcends gender, race, and sport. Members of the U.S. men’s basketball team and celebrities were coming to Copacabana Beach to attend her matches. Yet every single day, for three weeks, she gave me one-on-one time before her match so I could have information for our broadcast.”

As a former athlete, Tappen can certainly appreciate the pressure on them: the discipline required and the ability to balance competing demands while keeping a positive attitude. She vividly remembers juggling academics and athletics while at Rutgers, honing the work habits that she has carried throughout her professional life. It was competing in events such as cross country that taught her how to maintain her composure when doubting thoughts lurked. There would be long stretches on the course when she would be all alone in the woods or on a vast field or a golf course with no end, far from the sounds of cheering crowds at the finish line and unsure of her position in the race as the competition spread out for miles. It could come down to a case of flight or fight. Tappen chose the latter.

“There have been broadcasts when I do get that energy that I remember when I was competing,” she says. “I do so many television shows these days that I know what to expect. But, based on my experience running, I know how to calm myself down when I start to feel the way I used to feel before a race. Preparing for a race and a broadcast are very similar: you have to be over prepared and ready to go when that gun goes off.”

It's four o’clock on a raw January afternoon at the enormous broadcasting headquarters of NBC Sports Group, just off of I-95 in Stamford, Connecticut. With just two hours “to air,” Tappen is huddling with her production team and on-air analysts. They are in a small conference room off a long hallway, one of many in the labyrinthine structure, which once served as a manufacturing facility for Clairol. The one-hour pregame show on NHL Live is heavily scripted, and everyone—director Kelly Atkinson and producers John McGuiness and Mark Bellotti, among them—has gathered around a circular table to map out and coordinate every minute of the broadcast. The show does work in moments of spontaneity to be shared between Tappen and her two analysts for the evening, former NHL players Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones, but no one likes unwanted surprises. So, considerations such as the timing for presenting graphics, identifying cameras that the talent should be looking into, and segueing from topic to topic are nailed down. “It’s like an orchestra,” says Tappen. “Everyone has to be on the same page with where I am going when we are on set.”

The lights in the conference room are surprisingly low, and Tappen, sitting at the head of the table, stands out, illuminated by the glow of the screen of her laptop. She also stands out because she has already dressed for the broadcast, wearing an electric indigo-colored dress. Her make-up, applied a degree heavier for the sake of television, makes her appearance, amid the others dressed in subdued tones, all the more striking. As she gazes into her laptop and types away, Tappen exudes the intensity of an air-traffic controller tracking incoming flights on radar.

Tappen, pictured with Jonathan Toews, the captain of the Chicago Black Hawks


Tappen, pictured with Jonathan Toews, the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, pays homage to the Stanley Cup, the revered trophy awarded to the champions of the National Hockey League. The team won the Cup three times between 2010 and 2015.

courtesy of NBC Sports Group

“My role as the studio host is to be the traffic cop, but I am also responsible many times for getting us to the commercial break,” says Tappen, speaking later in her green room as airtime approaches. “I also have to lead our analysts in the right direction and make sure that we stay on track to get to the things we have to get to. I know them so well at this point and have a camaraderie with them, on and off camera, that I try to bring out their personalities and maybe poke them a little bit so that they will go after each other a little bit.”

And when a broadcast goes off well, Tappen knows it. If, say, she can bring some of the revealing banter that she and the analysts are having during commercial breaks onto the air, it will enhance the broadcast. Good storytelling is key, too. “We all strive to have a great broadcast,” says Tappen, who professes to being hard on herself. “We always leave the show saying we could have done this or we could have done that. In my mind, I have never had a perfect broadcast and I probably never will. And I think that’s a good thing: I will always find a way to be better. I often ask my producer: ‘What should I be doing differently?’”

At this point in her career, the demands of being a host of the NHL Live broadcast would seem to be second nature. She has seen a lot. Previous broadcasting jobs, rewarding and enjoyable as they were, put huge demands on her—and her ability to master and convey information quickly. Just three years after graduating from Rutgers, Tappen took a job at the New England Sports Network (NESN) that combined covering the Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots as a reporter and serving as a studio host for a show featuring the Bruins hockey team. “When I started covering hockey and got the Bruins’ beat, I couldn’t have named five players on the team,” Tappen says, rolling her eyes in amazement.

Her five-year tenure at NESN coincided with the glory days of Boston’s sports as one team after another won a championship. She was so often interviewing delirious athletes in winning dressing rooms that she quickly learned how to survive being doused by Champagne: skip the pantsuit and do battle wearing a baseball cap, rain coat, and rubber boots. Tappen quickly fell in love with Bean Town and was enamored with the city’s fans, who love their teams, know everything about them—and are unsparing with sports columnists, broadcasters, and writers who don’t. “It was the best atmosphere there, so much fun for me covering these guys when they were winning and being part of the Boston sports scene,” she says. By the time she accepted a job in 2011 with the NHL Network, she figured she had seen it all. “I left Boston wondering, ‘What is there to do now? I have covered everything.’”

Her job for three years as a host on the NHL Network was another case of having to learn a lot—and learn it fast. Whereas before she only had to know something about the Bruins’ opponent rolling into town for a game, now she had to be knowledgeable about all 30 teams in the league. It was a good thing that Tappen had been a straight-A student her entire life and has boundless stamina—“I have a ton of energy; that’s the first thing that people notice about me. It takes a lot for me to crash and rest.” Back then, the network put on a “monster show” every night, broadcasts of seven hours that had to be filled with programming created on-the-fly, a nightly challenge for Tappen and the lean staff. As if back at Rutgers boning up for finals, she’d be up early every morning to cram in four or five hours of research and then was off to host the broadcast, which concluded at 2 a.m. And then she’d do it all over again the next day, Wednesday through Sunday. She would fly home from the studios in Toronto to Boston, a commute that was an object lesson in what it meant to really travel. “But I came to understand the league and the power of hosting,” she says. "What we accomplished was a miracle.”

Another role that Tappen has is serving as the sideline reporter for NBC Sports’s broadcast of Notre Dame Football, which consumes her time during the fall. To be ready for a Saturday afternoon game, “Go Time,” as she says, Tappen puts in a mind-numbing amount of preparation. Each day throughout the week, she and her crew meet with the coaches and players of the two teams to get intelligence about the upcoming game. After days of these interviews and even reviewing game films, Tappen, one would think, knows the game plans better than the coaches do. But a primary aim behind all the reconnaissance is so that she can develop story lines, sometimes as many as 20; hopefully, there will be time for her to share two or three of them with viewers during the game. Unlike her role as a host, Tappen is roving the sidelines, looking for nuggets of information to convey to the NBC team in the booth. She is the broadcast team’s eyes and ears.

Tappen poses with Jeremy Roenick


Tappen poses with Jeremy Roenick, the former NHL great who is one of the analysts for NHL Live, during a broadcast of the league’s Winter Classic, a New Year’s Day extravaganza pitting two teams playing in frigid conditions outdoors in a baseball or football stadium.

courtesy of NBC Sports Group

“Each week,” Tappen says, “I feel like such a part of the game, even though I get less air time, because I am constantly giving information and I am listening, and so much preparation goes into that game. So, I love doing both roles because they are totally different. I am challenged by each one in so many ways, and I am the type of person who has to be challenged from the moment I wake up.”

By the time 5:15 rolls around, Tappen has already been at NBC Sports Group headquarters north of four hours, and the big part of her workday hasn’t even begun. She likes to arrive early from Manhattan in the Town Car that the network provides and get settled and make sure that things like her wardrobe are in order. She says she gets endlessly teased for showing up so early, but she never wants to be in a position when she will be caught unprepared. Between hosting the pregame show, two intermission reports, and a postgame recap, Tappen won’t leave the studio until 11:30 or so: almost a 12-hour day. On the occasion when NBC airs two games in succession, departure time for her is in the wee hours of the morning. Right now, she is alone in her office—that is, Studio 2, which contains the set for NHL Live. She stands at the desk from which she hosts the show, typing away on her laptop as she puts the finishing touches on her script that she alone prepares for the evening. In a couple of minutes, she will be joined by analyst Jeremy Roenick and together they will tape an interview with the musician Kid Rock, who is being patched in remotely from Detroit to discuss his part as the featured entertainment during the upcoming NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay. Twenty minutes later, when the control room gives her the green light, the broadcast begins at 6 o’clock sharp. On this night, the broadcast goes off without a hitch; in fact, Tappen says later on, it is one of the better ones.

When Tappen isn’t traveling for NBC Sports or boning up for a broadcast—and that’s a big “when”—she enjoys her life in New York City, where she lives on the Upper West Side. She treasures the time with her parents and older sister, and she gets together with friends—and seems to make new ones with ease. “I have always loved talking to people, and still do,” Tappen says. “My sister has lived here in New York City for 16 years and she is always laughing at me because I talk to anybody—in a Starbucks, even the subway. I am just that kind of person who will make conversation with complete strangers.”

“I am a complete goofball, which is rarely displayed on television because we are all so professional,” she says. “But I like to make jokes and have fun. There is a term my mother applied to me as a kid—‘Kathrynisms.’ All of my coworkers know exactly what this term means: there are these things that come out of my mouth that come from thoughts that only I am capable of thinking.”

New York being New York, Tappen loves to shop, making the best of its reputation for being the world’s fashion mecca. If her striking wardrobe on display during broadcasts is any indication, she’s successful in her forays. Tappen is also interested in interior design and home décor, and she often heads downtown to the Flat Iron district to check out home furnishing stores. But first, she always makes time for exercise. She’ll hop over to Central Park from her home on Broadway and go for a run. Because she is still in top-flight condition, stretching back to her running days at Rutgers, Tappen is a tireless runner. To get the cardiovascular workout that she really craves, she likes to box. It’s become an obsession of hers, ever since first discovering it while living in Boston.

Tappen interviews Julian Edelman, the star wide receiver for the New England Patriots.


Tappen interviews Julian Edelman, the star wide receiver for the New England Patriots. In two previous jobs, first at WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island, and then the New England Sports Network in Boston, Tappen covered the team extensively.

courtesy of NBC Sports Group

“I now go to this gym in New York every single morning when I am home,” says Tappen. “It’s an incredible workout and it’s physical. I release a lot of stress when I am boxing, and it’s a challenge to pick up the combinations that the instructors are giving us.”

More often, of course, Tappen is working—and traveling. It’s fun, intense work, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. But the life of a broadcaster presents its challenges. “When you are young and you want to be a sports broadcaster and you want to be on television, things turn out so different from when you actually live it,” Tappen says. “My biggest surprise was how incredibly demanding and how much works goes into just 20 seconds of television or a 90-second ‘hit’ I do for NBC’s Football Night in America show. The demands are such that you are often away from family, say, on summer weekends because you are covering an event. There are a lot of sacrifices in covering sports. This was eye-opening.”

But Tappen is grateful for Rutgers in preparing her for life outside college. She had a hunch that she would be after making the decision to enroll: her uncle, the late Thomas E. Tappen ED’63, a Rutgers Athletics hall of famer who starred on the undefeated 1960 Scarlet Knights football team, was always plugging Rutgers as she grew up, reminding her that she had a legacy to tend to. Having attended small Catholic schools throughout her upbringing in Morristown, New Jersey, she found the atmosphere in New Brunswick to be a far cry from her relatively sheltered upbringing. Tappen, hardly the bashful type, was having all of it. Soon after settling in at Clothier for her first year, she took delight in all the different students, their varied backgrounds, and the academic gifts they had. Her four years, she says, set her up for success.

In her rise to the upper reaches of sports television broadcasting, a run that seems full of glamour as Tappen encounters sports royalty and celebrities while covering the big events, she doesn’t forget where she has been and the people who have helped her. In the constellation of mentors who have lit the way, her North Star is Tim Pernetti, a former athletic director of the Scarlet Knights who was an early advocate of Tappen’s and remains a confidante. Her mother, father, and older sister still have a large, daily place in her life, her go-to consultants whenever she is confronting a big decision. Their early years together was an idyllic upbringing of sports around the clock in Morristown, when dad would load up the car with sports gear and head off with the girls to the next game (often against boys), and there were summers spent in coastal Maine. It was a nurturing childhood that accounts, Tappen says, for her self-assuredness and optimism: parents, teachers, and coaches alike were always in her corner. And there have been broadcasters such as Jackie MacMullan of ESPN and Michele Tafoya of NBC Sports who have been models for Tappen to emulate, women at the top of their craft, widely respected by their peers and professional athletes, adept at balancing their public and private lives, and generous with their time whenever Tappen wanted to pick their minds.

Tappen has always reciprocated. She is active in charity causes, such as the MARSOC Foundation, which benefits veterans and their families, and she never turns down an invitation to speak to high school and college students, even children from her own elementary school. In 2014, she received the Women of Inspiration award from WISE (Women in Sports and Events) for her mentoring contributions. “It’s humbling for me, as great as it is that I am giving back and helping them out,” says Tappen. “It’s the ultimate compliment—that I somehow influenced them along the way or they want to learn how I got to where I got.”

Tappen remembers when she was an impressionable girl and adored watching Katie Couric on NBC’s Today show, especially conducting one of her amazing interviews. “She is one of the biggest reasons why I, at a young age, wanted to get into television,” she says. “I was a sports nut, but I thought that if I could be the next Katie Couric, that would be awesome.”

To this day, Tappen, despite all the famous people whom she has come across, has never met Couric. But the chance might come during the Olympics because Couric will be part of NBC’s team in South Korea. That occasion would add up to Tappen’s own version of winning a gold medal. “I’m hoping to meet her in PyeongChang. We’ll see!” •