LG Electronics USA recently announced the return of sports journalist Taylor Rooks as host of its traveling podcast, Transparent Conversations. In partnership with the NCAA, the second season is back with even more depth and focus on mental health and wellness, regarding college-level student-athletes.
The topics featured this time around will include: Black Excellence in Sports, Building Towards Balance and Sustaining Mental Health; Mind and Body: The Connection between Mental and Physical Health; and A New Decade in Optimism – Women in Sports.
Season two kicked off earlier this month with a live recording at Vanderbilt University, where Rooks spoke with former NBA All-Star Kenny Anderson, Fisk University athlete Michael Ashley, and former two-time NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse. Rooks navigated an intergenerational discussion around their experiences of being Black collegiate athletes, the intersection of identity and athletics, and the positive power that community has on mental health.
The University of Illinois alum — who currently appears on Thursday Night Football, Bleacher Report and Turner Sports — spoke with VIBE exclusively about the series’ new season, and her method to making college-level athletes, professionals and more feel comfortable opening up to her on topics that can be sensitive.
VIBE: I know you come from a family of athletes, did you ever play sports in school?
Taylor Rooks: I played soccer a bit. I played tennis, and then I ran track. In high school I dabbled in volleyball … I was sort of bouncing around from sport to sport — mainly because I knew I wasn’t gonna be super good in any of them. It was more so fun to do. I have always understood the scope of what athletes go through because of, like you said, my family and my friends.
Do you think that mental health awareness for college students is more prevalent now than it’s ever been?
I absolutely think that it’s become more important now, and it’s so visible to me when I’m doing the LG Transparent Conversations. When we have student athletes on the podcast, they are so incredibly vulnerable and open and willing to share the struggles that they have internally, but also the struggles that they have had understanding what mental health is and how it affects their life.
I think when I was in school you didn’t know that you could talk so freely about these issues, and I don’t see that with the ones that we’ve had on the show. And that’s really beautiful, because that means that there has been an evolution in how we think about these things.
You’ve been given the title, “Your favorite athletes’ favorite journalist.” What are some of the methods you use to make athletes feel comfortable being transparent with you?
Well, first, thank you so much. It really starts with making sure people understand that you care about them on a real level — that it isn’t just about, ‘Did they win or lose?’ Or ‘how many points did they score in a game?’ All of that is just what they do. It’s not who they are. In a lot of my interviews, I want to focus on the ‘who are you?’ aspect of individuals. That has always been much more interesting to me, and I think that’s what resonates with athletes. The more that you can create space where there is trust that exists, that’s the secret recipe.
Aside from athletes, your warmth makes rappers take a liking to you, as well.
I do agree that Hip-Hop and Sports go hand-in-hand. You know, Jack Harlow is one of my best friends in the world. He is somebody that I trust and we speak every day and he’s just a very big part of my life. I’ve been able to have so many really fun opportunities because of him like being a part of the “Churchill Downs” video with him and Drake.
Even with Drake for example, he is somebody who has always supported me, always been incredibly encouraging to me; he’s just a genuinely good person. But, I think even with those relationships, it goes back to being a genuine person. A lot of people aren’t solid or genuine, but I know that I show up in my friendships as both of those things.
Can you speak to being a pillar for Black women in sports journalism?
Something that I always say is, ‘there is nothing else that I would rather be outside of a Black woman. I think that I draw so much of my strength from my blackness — my sense of humor, the way that I relate to the world, the way that I relate to others is all rooted in the fact that I have a lived experience as a Black woman.
And of course there are so many struggles that come with that, but what I have learned about life is all of those struggles are external, and it is the world trying to tell you what being a Black woman means, or what being a Black woman doesn’t mean. We are such a creative people. We are such a funny, resilient and resourceful people. And that is something that just gives me so much pride.
Take a look at the most recent episode below.