What is it like to sit between Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman on First Take for two hours everyday? Molly Qerim is just trying to find peace amidst the daily circus.
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If anyone needs 20 minutes of quiet, it’s this woman—the one on TV, there, stuck between Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman on First Take. If anyone deserves 15 minutes to herself, joined only by Oprah’s voice or the sound of ocean waves, it’s her, Molly Qerim Rose, the host of ESPN’s loudest show.
“Right now,” she says moments after getting off set, “It's like a big sigh of relief. I love what I do, so that sounds negative, but it's more like, Okay, we made it through.”
After spending two hours between the debaters from 10 until noon every weekday, Qerim Rose handles her meeting responsibilities and then escapes the noise of New York for lunch, a workout and—ideally—meditation. “Sometimes it's challenging and it's very hard to sit there,” she says. “Sometimes I'll repeat a mantra to kind of get myself more centered.”
Om Svayam Agurutva. Lightness is my true self.
Om Supra Niti Swaha. I am guided by my own light.
Om Shanti Om. Peace.
Following one episode, Qerim Rose stayed at the desk to cut a promo for the show’s upcoming Debate Super Week crossover event, when faces from other ESPN programs will join the crew. She starts each take by sharing how the daily circus feels to her. “I’m trying to protect my ears and make it out alive,” she says. “I have to try to keep the peace and bring some levity.”
“Let me be honest,” she finally says on the fourth cut, “I probably have the hardest job in sports.” That’s the last read; she’s nailed First Take’s boastfulness. The gig has been described that way before, too. But while her responsibilities are unique, they also feel painfully relatable. Debate is everywhere now. Aren’t we all going about our days navigating the noise, deciding when to get directly involved, working towards our next dose of relief?
Just like the rest of us, Qerim Rose didn’t spend her life preparing for this.
A former ESPN intern, Qerim Rose returned to the company in 2015 to provide a new voice on Mike & Mike with the show bound for Manhattan. She was excited for the opportunity, and ready to take two months off for the first time in her life as she relocated. But that was scuttled within weeks, leaving her in limbo. “In this industry nothing shocks me anymore,” she says. “That’s probably why I’ve never bought a house, and I don’t know if I will.”
That same year, Cari Champion was campaigning to move on from First Take. “I knew that it was their show, and no matter how much I was a part of it and no matter how much fun I had, it was limiting,” she said after a promotion to SportsCenter. “It was a wonderfully watched show, but the ceiling was really low. I had the skill set to do more.” Qerim Rose agreed to take Champion’s spot, first on a temporary basis, and then permanently. The daughter of a social worker and sister of an elementary school principal was ready to handle the show’s personalities.
For Mike & Mike, Qerim Rose was asked to sound off during a segment called Molly’s Take. After moving to the debate show, she sometimes wrote and delivered a Final Take on topics ranging from Tom Brady to Larry Nassar. “I have very strong opinions,” she says.
Now though, she’s often asked to stay quiet. She says she has to work on her self-control and limit her impassioned interjections. “She’s not there to debate,” says David Roberts, who oversees the show as VP for ESPN network content. “She’s there to moderate. She’s there to referee.” As Qerim Rose puts it: “If you’re yelling at the TV, that’s me. Like, I can’t yell at them.”
Instead, she’s found shanti.
“I honestly believe that's what that moderator role is: two years max and you move on,” Champion said after her departure. Qerim Rose has now been on the job for over three. “Do I think she has more to offer?” says Alicia Bowman, Qerim Rose’s sister. “Absolutely…. It’s based on opportunity.” But Qerim Rose, who also now hosts Fantasy Football Now, is not seeking the next thing.
For a long time, she dedicated herself to climbing. “It was, You need to be on a bigger show, or You need to be making more money…. That kind of drove me always,” she says. “I was just so conditioned on this hamster wheel like, Okay, well, what am I going to be doing next? And how much?”
Maybe meditation changed her perspective. Maybe she truly internalized her sister’s advice to focus on each day. Opening up about her health struggles probably helped. “I'm not dating anyone until I get my career where I want it to be,” she used to say. Now she’s married to Jalen Rose. More than any of that, however, Qerim Rose says she simply got older.
“Life is flying by and I want to enjoy it,” she says. “Like, this is amazing. I’m in New York City, talking to Sports Illustrated, looking at the Brooklyn Bridge…. I have a pretty good life.”
The hardest job in sports, after all, is still a job in sports. This is what she worked for. Why not be happy? “What is it all worth,” she says, “if you don’t have peace of mind?”
So next time you see Screamin A. Smith or Max Yellerman on air, you can look for Molly. She’s keeping her mouth shut, to use the language of online haters. She has something to say, a perspective to represent, but she’ll let other people do the shouting for now. In the middle of the madness, she can stay centered. And you can think, What’s my excuse?
THE GAME OF THRONES PARODY THAT’LL OUTLIVE ITS INSPIRATION
Jon Snow and the White Walkers return Sunday. Game of Zones, a basketball-based takeoff from Bleacher Report—which happens to be owned by AT&T, just like HBO—comes back sooner. The first episode hits the B/R app Thursday at 5 p.m. eastern.
The first spoof in 2014 showed how the NBA is just like GoT (The Spurs are like White Walkers! Derrick Rose is as immobile as Bran!). Since then, the show has morphed to using Thrones scenes to celebrate basketball’s pettiness. “It was a viral video meant to glaze over the fact that nothing makes sense,” says Adam Malamut, who co-created the show with his brother Craig. “When we went to eight episode seasons, we realized you can’t just map this to Game of Thrones—it doesn’t make sense at all. So we’ll take the drama of the NBA and give it a medieval, Game of Thrones feel.”
Over time, the production value has ramped up. Now, videos are the result of a monthslong process, meaning the storyline can’t easily incorporate late-season moments. If only Magic Johnson had retired-without-notice earlier...
One downside of the show’s long-running success is that the Malamuts won’t be able to completely focus on Game of Thrones’ final season. “It does make it slightly less enjoyable to watch,” Adam says, “because it’s in the back of my mind, the stresses of things that have to get done. There’s always that one gear turning.”
As for how they’re preparing to keep the series afloat after the song of ice and fire has been sung, the brothers say they’ve been keeping “a giant brainstorm document” of past scenes they still haven’t riffed on. Meanwhile, they know the NBA isn’t going to stop giving them golden material.
• A new agreement will bring three additional Big 12 football championship games to ABC/ESPN, while a number of regular season contests head to ESPN+.
• The Big3 basketball league will air on CBS and CBS Sports Network after signing a new rights deal. Still, the league remains in the running for Fox’s regional sports network.
• As FOX prepares to become WWE’s broadcast home, Fox Sports 1 will launch a weekly studio show covering the events.
• In The Washington Post, Chuck Culpepper profiled women’s Final Four broadcaster Adam Amin.
• An interesting note on March Madness streaming: While general digital consumption was up 30%, the proportion of viewers on mobile/tablet fell, according to streaming measurement firm Conviva.
• ESPN Radio fans will want to check out Charlotte Wilder’s most recent episode, featuring Mike Golic Jr.
• MLB play-by-play man Jason Benetti joined Richard Deitsch’s podcast this week.
THANK YOU, INTERNET…
...for this lede: “He was slammed facedown to the ground, handcuffed like the worst kind of felon and thrown onto the back of a golf cart.”