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Women In Sports: Deb Placey – MSG Reporter for New Jersey Devils

Deb Placey

As part of the Women in Sports series Double G has been running all March, I had the privilege of interviewing one of the great female reporters in sports;  the legendary Deb Placey.  Deb has made her way around almost all of the NYC-Metro Area teams, with elongated stops at ESPN, MSG Network as a general host, and the Islanders and Devils.  Deb is a pioneer for all women sports anchors and was a pleasure to speak to.

Introduction to sports

I’m actually from St. Louis.  I had four sisters and all of us grew up Cardinals fans.  St. Louis was always big on the Cardinals.  I remember during family dinners we would have the game on and listen to Jack Buck call the game on the radio.  I actually became good friends with Joe because we had two mutual friends who got married.

I played softball in high school, which was unusual because unlike now thankfully there weren’t many women sports.  Most people, which I did also, were pom pom girls and cheerleaders.  I played tennis and gold in the summer as well.

I remember in the summer when I wasn’t busy I would visit my uncle, who was a sportswriter and managing editor for a local paper.  I always had an interest in news and current events so I would love to visit him.  We would go into the press box from time to time, and I was always interested in sports.  I watched Monday Night Football almost religiously.

Becoming a sports journalist

I remember going to college and hearing someone say “if you know sports, do it”.  There weren’t many women doing it all all back then.  After college I applied to become a PA (production associate) at ESPN.  It was a six month program and it was barely any money, but after six months they got to decide whether to keep you or let you go.  ESPN decided to keep me.

Challenges of pioneering women in sports movement

I remember at almost everywhere I went the first question always asked was “Well do they actually know what they’re doing or did they get the job just because?”.  I knew sports really well so I was always self-assured if anyone challenged me, but it wasn’t easy.  Like any job, you learn a lot more with the more experience you get.

It was funny because I remember calling so many moments.  I remember where I was in Providence when Christian Laettner made that shot, or when Mario Lemieux scored a game winning goal.  

Starting full time at ESPN it was 1988 so Sportscenter wasn’t really around for all that long, believe it or not.  My job was to put together Sportscenter clips every night, whether that be cutting highlights, doing graphics for stats, trends, etc.  I vividly still see Chris Berman typing all his notes on a typewriter because he refused to use a computer.

Switch to on-camera side

Well I always wanted to be a reporter, I just needed to learn the other side of it first.  I remember my first gig I had sent my resume to the news director at WFIL in Illinois.  That’s actually the town where Pete Rose went to jail (laughs).  There was a female production lead and I gave my resume to her and Chris Berman actually told me to put him down as a reference.

I did and sure enough she called him.  I’m sure it was mostly just to get to talk to him but she still called.  I got the interview, packed up my Volkswagen convertible and drove to Illinois.  I stayed at a Holiday Inn until I could find a small little apartment.

It was a tough gig because I had to edit all my own pieces, do all my own work, and it was about $4.50 an hour.  I caught a break when one of the weekend sportscasters was getting married that weekend and I was able to fill in.  I did weekend sports a couple of times.

Career at MSG Networks

I’ve actually been at MSG Networks for 23 years.  My husband has been in the business a very long time as well.  He’s basically the top guy for college football production.  So the story goes we meet at ESPN and eventually get engaged.  We have a long distance relationship for a bit while I’m trying to cut my teeth in the industry.  My agent starts looking for bigger gigs and I wind up getting offers from ESPN again (at ESPN 2) and MSG.

I took the gig at ESPN 2 because it was the same place, same type of position, same people so I was comfortable.  They tried what we called the “Mod Squad”.  It was me, Bill Pidto and Stuart Scott.  We called ourselves that because there was a white guy, a black guy, and a women.  I believe we would do our show in between Keith Olbermann’s Sports Tonight or something along those lines.  

It was like putting three people in a petri dish.  It just didn’t work, no matter how hard we tried.  I loved the people but the sports I was covering at ESPN 2 just weren’t for me.  It was all extreme sports and the X Games and things like that.  Because I had been at ESPN for so long, they let me out of my contract early and MSG still wanted me so I was able to move over.  On top of that, it was a bit of a conflict on interest having my husband on the production side and me on camera so it was just better for everyone involved.

I started out with the Yankees before YES Network, so that shows you how old I am (laughs).  I started off with Al Trautwig and it was great because if he ever had a Knick playoff game to cover or something like that I would be able to do it on my own.  I joked with Derek Jeter that we were rookies together in ’95, and then in ’96 they won the World Series.

I was a little bit all over the place for a few years.  I was covering everything, from the Knicks to the Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Mets, Yankees, you name it.  When the Yankees started the YES Network we lost them and it looked like the Mets wanted to go the same way.  I got a call one day asking if I wanted to cover the Islanders.  I said yes immediately.  It was great to have my own gig and not bounce around from team to team.  I was with the Islanders for ten years and am now with the Devils for seven.  It doesn’t feel that long but time whizzes by.

Being a pioneer for women in NYC-Metro Area

It means the world to me to be looked at as a role model because I had so many role models during my journey.  I looked up to many women.  One of my biggest influences was Karie Ross when I was at ESPN.  She did so much for me and always pumped me up and we’re still friends today.  She would always say “I loved that story that you did” or “that segment you put together”.

Hannah Storm was killing it, but there just weren’t all that many women doing it during that time.  All of the ones that I saw were role models for me.  It was something to shoot for and I’m glad that I can do the same for all young women.

Advice for younger self

That’s a great question.  You’re a good reporter (laughs).  I would have to say not to take everything to heart.  My husband was my biggest critic.  It got me to where I am today because I kept improving, but I should have learned not to sweat it so much.

Favorite moment as a reporter

I used to always say when I get asked this “I’m still waiting for it”, but that’s too much of a canned answer.  I think the best opportunity I had was at the NHL Network.  I got to cover and host the Winter Classic, some Stanley Cup Finals.  NHL Network was really the first sports network to do all that stuff.

I also enjoyed doing the postgames at MSG.  MSG was the first to do that too, because everyone wanted to talk to Pat Riley after the games.  He was a star so everyone wanted to ask him questions.  So yeah I’d have to say those two were my best opportunities.


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