Interview: Fox Sports broadcaster Jen Hale in depth on Saints, Pelicans, Westminster dog show, her health
She is your basic busy-body, traveling the country to handle various duties.
Whether it is the annual Westminster Dog Show, the TBT event, working sidelines for NFL games on Fox Sports or doing sideline reports for New Orleans Pelicans games on Fox Sports Southwest, the calendar of Jennifer Hale is occupied enormously.
The New Orleans native who is a former LSU cheerleader and Homecoming Queen has enjoyed a very successful, prosperous career in broadcasting.
Having an opportunity to catch up with my friend Friday night on All Access on 106.1 FM NASH ICON was a pleasure. She is a blessing.
“I do live out of a suitcase,” Hale said. “I certainly spend more time on the road than I do at home. You either love it or hate it.”
The one sport Hale has not been involved with working is baseball and she is glad, not due to the sport, which she likes, but due to the strain of its travel.
“Baseball is a different animal,” Hale said. “82 regular season NBA games, I’m good with. I don’t know how players and media doing baseball do all those games. That is a tremendous endeavor.”
Hale has been a cross-fit enthusiast for several years. While seemingly in great shape, her life was not in great shape not too long ago. In fact, it was on the endangered list, due to a harrowing experience with the most important organ in the body.
“Prayers have been working for what has been, really, a miracle for me,” Hale said. “Four years ago, I was diagnosed with something called Dilated Cardiomyopathy which basically means the left side of my heart is stretched way out and it was big and sloppy. If you think of your heart beating like a rubber band and it pumps the blood through your body by snapping back and forth, well it had gotten so big and sloppy that it couldn’t snap back to pump the blood.”
Just how serious was the condition?
“I was down to 16 percent heart function when I was finally diagnosed,” Hale said. “Normally, it’s about a 5-year life expectancy. In certain cases, medication will work. In other cases, you hope to get on the transplant list. Then, in other cases, there’s just nothing that can be done so I am so blessed to be in that group where medication is working. I know God has a bigger plan for me and I certainly want to put all of the extra time He’s given me here to good use.”
The experience has drawn Hale closer to the Lord.
“Absolutely, it was obviously an emotional thing,” Hale said. “One of the things that made it so difficult was the medication doesn’t work quickly. It’s a little bit like chemotherapy in that sense. They said it would take a year and a half to two and a half years with the medication to be effective. I did all the paperwork to get on the transplant list in case the medication did not work. It was two years and change before my heart got to the point where they took me off the transplant list because the medication was working well enough.
“I told God I can handle any of the three scenarios, but I need to know. I can’t live with the unknown. That will drive you insane. I had to live with it and it taught me patience. It taught me trust and that definitely strengthened my faith. That was really something in the beginning where I thought ‘I don’t know that I can do this. I don’t know that I can put one foot in front of the other not knowing. Somehow He gave me the mental strength to do it.”
With the NBA season now planning to resume at the end of July, there are questions about players playing, coaches coaching and media being allowed at “The Bubble” in Orlando at the Disney Complex.
“If they let me go, I will absolutely go,” Hale said. “From a medical standpoint, I’m not really at any great risk because my heart is now functioning at a normal level. We’re waiting to find out if the NBA is going to allow media, team reporters. We still don’t know. The last thing we heard is they were leaning against it and that we probably be here at home in New Orleans doing the games from the studio. I certainly think that will be the case for the play-by-play and the analyst.”
While Hale waits for a verdict on the NBA, she is ready to depart to handle another of her annual duties.
“I’m actually doing an event called The Basketball Tournament on ESPN at the beginning of July,” Hale said. “It’s really fun. There is a $1 million prize. A lot of your favorite alums from colleges across the U.S. and it was a question of would I do it from a remote studio or could I go to where the tournament is. They really just decided three days ago to let me go to Columbus, Ohio. I have to go five days early and quarantine, take three different COVID test and stick with being in the hotel and the arena where it will be held.”
Some NBA players have expressed concern about the safety of showing up and playing in Orlando and there is uncertainty of head coach Alvin Gentry, 65, even being allowed to coach the Pelicans when the season resumes as planned at the end of July.
“A lot of decisions need to be made,” Hale said. “Then, of course, if you have to go ahead and quarantine ahead of time, can families come? There are so many question marks and so many potentially life-altering consequences. Personally, I would want that decision if I was Coach Gentry. I would sign whatever waiver or disclosure that I would need to. Each person has to decide what’s best for them, what’s right for them.
“There are some similarities between what is transpiring now and what happened after my heart condition occurred,” Hale said. “There are mutual parallels to the decision. When I decided to go to work, initially they wanted me to take six months off and do bed rest for six months. I just decided that wasn’t best for me. If I had laid around for six months, I would have convinced myself that I was sick and I’m glad I got to make that choice. I hope these coaches get to make these choices for themselves as well.”
Hale is looking forward to seeing the Pelicans resume their current season and looking forward to their bright future.
“They won 21 of their last 34,” Hale said. “They certainly turned the corner before Zion came back. The defense started clicking. They figured out how to make that Jeff Bzedelik system work. I think coaches and players came together on that one. Once Zion came back January 22, boy, that was just like the power boost shot in the arm. The connection was so fast. It was mind boggling. I’ve never seen that type of chemistry able to evolve so quickly. I’m excited to see this Pelicans squad in Orlando.”
Hale feels the Pelicans are eager to prove what they can be and who they are becoming.
“They have a lot of guys with chips on their shoulders and I mean that in the best way possible,” Hale said. “BI (Brandon Ingram), ‘Zo (Lonzo Ball) and Josh (Hart) coming from L.A., they want to prove that they can play with the big boys and that the decision for L.A. to part ways with them was a mistake on L.A.’s part. B.I., especially, just seems to love New Orleans and the staff and he’s just adopted the city. I think they’re going to play with a ton of passion.”
Assigned to many games for Fox Network not involving the New Orleans Saints in her NFL work, Hale does not get to see her hometown team very much.
“I have to think that this lack of an offseason is only going to help veteran teams like the Saints,” Hale said. “Or it will at least hurt them less than it hurts other teams. I think a lot of these new coaches, new quarterbacks, new players, I think that’s going to be a real struggle. With the leadership the Saints have and all of the returning pieces they have, I think that’s going to give them a huge step up over a lot of the other contenders. I cannot wait for that week one game versus Tampa.”
Hale is still reveling in the national championship season of her alma mater.
“It was amazing,” Hale said. “It took me back to the days in ’03, in ’07. All three were such special years. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go any of the LSU games this past season. That is the biggest downfall of my job. There aren’t many. It’s a pretty perfect, amazing job. I get to the city with my NFL game usually the Friday before. The night they won the national championship, we were in Indiana. The crew was so sweet. They set up two monitors for me because the Pelicans were playing. It was just awesome.”
Is there any assignment that she enjoys the most?
“I couldn’t pick one,” Hale said. “That’s like asking someone to pick a favorite child or a favorite restaurant here in New Orleans. I will say the dog show is only once a year. It’s the only one I do with Westminster. I’m not a dog expert, by any means. That is such a unique, fun event. I learn so much. I get to play with puppies for a week. It’s awesome. It’s a great change of pace. It’s so cool to do it every year.”
With a new lease on life, Hale is making the most of it, plying her trade in excellent fashion, treating others with respect and respecting the chance she has to continue living a life well lived in even greater fashion with the heart of a champion.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…