ESPN reporter Lisa Salters was at a Dave & Busters outside Philadelphia with her five-year-old son Saturday night when she got a call: She needed to be in Kansas City the next morning to interview former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt was released last week after TMZ published a video of him abusing and kicking a woman; his representatives had reached out to ESPN to arrange a sit-down and requested Salters be the interviewer. In the 10-minute segment that aired Sunday morning, Hunt told Salters that the NFL had not reached out to him as part of its investigation of the incident and that he is planning on seeking counseling for his behavior. He said over and over that he was sorry, but offered few specifics on the night of the incident.
The Washington Post talked to Salters, who has been ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” sideline reporter for the past seven years, about how she prepped for the interview on short notice, her impressions of what Hunt said and how her background as a news reporter — she covered the O.J. Simpson trial for ABC News — guided her approach. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
The Post: How did the interview come together?
Lisa Salters: Kareem and his people reached out to ESPN, I’m not exactly sure who. I got a call at 5:30 [Saturday night] — I was at a video arcade with my five-and-a-half-year-old son — saying, “We need you to get on a flight to Kansas City because he has requested he only wants to do this interview with you.”
The Post: Why did he request you?
Salters: I’ve been doing “Monday Night Football” for seven years now, so when he came into the league I did a couple of interviews with him for Monday night games. I think we had the Chiefs three times last year. So I’ve spoken to him before, but we’re not friends or anything like that. I think he felt that — I don’t know, I can’t speak for him.
The Post: Where did you film the interview?
Salters: In his apartment.
The Post: Were there any parameters? Anything you agreed not to ask?
Salters: No, they said, “We know you’re going to ask a lot of hard questions, and he’s prepared to answer all of them.”
The Post: How did you prepare? Did you talk to news reporters or domestic-violence experts?
Salters: There’s a research department at ESPN, but there is specifically a news editor that works with us every week for “Monday Night Football.” He’s the backbone of the Monday night family; his name is Jim Carr. He was the person I wanted to reach out. . . . My biggest concern was logistics. I had a lot of balls in the air. Had to get my son to his grandparents, and I had to get to the airport in like three hours. . . . So in the airport lounge in Philadelphia I had 20 minutes before the flight took off and we touched base. . . . Then just on the plane, I formulated an outline of where I wanted to go in my head. But me and Jim Carr pulled it together.
The Post: Considering that you were a news reporter — in Baltimore and then for ABC News — how helpful was the background for an interview like this?
Salters: I think that’s what makes me different. This is right in my wheelhouse. The newsier the story, the more exciting it is for me. I hate that it’s a story like this, nobody is happy about it. . . . The background and training I had doing network news was invaluable. I think a lot of people could do hits, runs and errors. I mean covering O.J. Simpson everyday for two years — that trial was a fantastic learning experience. I covered the Timothy McVeigh trial and Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers. And I spent . . . seven years I as the late night reporter in Baltimore [at WBAL TV]. I was on the 11 p.m. news; there’s a lot of crime. So you’re interviewing people in difficult situations like yesterday . . . people whose relatives were just gunned down in the streets. The feedback I’ve gotten is that some people appreciated my tone in the interview. And to me that comes from doing a lot of sensitive interviews with people — that started in local television.
The Post: What was the most important take away from the interview for you?
Salters: I could see Kareem Hunt was extremely remorseful, but I think I felt more emotion from him when the cameras were off. I didn’t spend a lot of time with him before; I was at his home for maybe a good half-hour before we started, but intentionally just kind of stayed away from him because I wanted our conversation to be authentic. I just kind of said, “Hello, I’m here.” I said, “I’m going to have to ask you some tough questions,” and he said, “Okay.” And I went into another room. But I could see and hear more emotion from him in those two minutes than I saw during the interview. And when the interview was over we spent a couple minutes talking. I really could feel his remorse more then than I think it translated on camera.
I don’t know how much he helped himself or hurt himself yesterday, but I felt he was much more thoughtful when the cameras were off, which isn’t entirely unexpected. I have interviewed him before, he’s a quiet guy. Some guys just light up on camera; he’s not one of those guys. He’s shy, quiet, reserved. And I noted he was extremely uncomfortable and he was very nervous. That’s what people saw more of than a thoughtful, really sorrowful individual. And yet he was those things, which I could tell when the cameras were off.
The Post: Were you surprised by how little detail he went into about the events of the night of the video?
Salters: I was, because I told him beforehand — I said, “Look, I’m going to be asking you about what happened. Are you prepared to talk about what happened?” He said, “Yes, I am.” And then we get to that and he doesn’t. Afterward I asked his representatives and said, “Look, I was a little surprised. I think he could have helped himself if he had given us a little more information.” The concern was he didn’t want to look like he was making excuses or defending himself. Because he said, “I have absolutely no excuse.’ . . . So in his concern about not wanting to put up a defense he may have done himself a little bit of a disservice because he didn’t offer any explanation. He could have said, “This is what happened — X,Y,Z. This is what led to this out of character response.”
The Post: Are there any follow ups that you wish you could have asked?
Salters: I’m satisfied, but I wish I had asked if perhaps he had been drinking and if alcohol played a role.
The Post: It’s hard not to see this interview without considering ESPN’s Adam Schefter interview of Greg Hardy in 2016. [Hardy was a free agent then who had been accused of abusing his girlfriend, but the interview was criticized for lacking teeth.] Did that interview come up as something of a cautionary tale for how to handle this one?
Salters: I can tell you Greg Hardy’s name never came up. Everything happened quickly for me . . . If those discussions were happening internally back in Connecticut, I’m not sure, but that never came up for me.