As the confetti rained down on SoFi Stadium moments after the hometown Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl, legendary play-by-play broadcaster Al Michaels noted how the end of the NFL season also meant it was Michele Tafoya’s final broadcast as the longtime sideline reporter for NBC.
In the days since the big game, Tafoya has wasted no time in being heard from on the next chapter in her career: Republican politics. She announced she’s co-chairing the Minnesota gubernatorial campaign for Republican candidate Kendall Qualls and is scheduled to speak at this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando. The moves come after two contentious appearances on “The View” last year, during which Tafoya clashed with hosts on coronavirus vaccination mandates, Colin Kaepernick and racial progress in the country.
In the process, Tafoya has swiftly shifted from covering the NFL — where she was interviewing players and coaches in the midst of a racial reckoning within the league — to emerging as the latest conservative voice to lash out against critical race theory and diversity initiatives in schools nationwide.
“It breaks my heart that my kids are being taught that skin color matters,” Tafoya, 57, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on his Wednesday show.
The career change was applauded by Carlson, who welcomed his guest with a chyron that read, “Michele Tafoya Wants To Defend The American Ideal.”
“I just love it so much,” he said. “I think personal bravery like the kind that you have displayed and are displaying now is deeply inspiring to people and comforting.”
But her interviews in recent days about her jump to GOP politics have been met with backlash from critics decrying her for fueling an already contentious culture war surrounding critical race theory, an academic framework for examining the way laws and policies perpetuate systemic racism. Though critical race theory is not taught in any K-12 systems, the intellectual movement has been a talking point for conservatives nationwide who’ve pushed back against racial equity initiatives by schools, including teaching about racism in American history, that have come in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
“Imagine leaving a high-profile job over a made-up issue,” tweeted Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for the Atlantic and incoming CNN Plus host. “Does Michele Tafoya even know what CRT is? Does she have kids in school being taught CRT? Can she provide any examples?”
Tafoya, a four-time Sports Emmy winner, was the sideline reporter for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” for 11 seasons. The San Francisco Chronicle noted that Tafoya was “widely recognized as the best sideline reporter in sports.” Sunday’s Super Bowl was the fifth time she had worked the big game.
It wasn’t until Tafoya, a self-described “pro-choice conservative with libertarian leanings,” was a guest host on “The View” for two shows last November that her perspectives on issues outside football came to light before a national audience.
Tafoya on Nov. 2, 2021, argued against vaccination mandates and compared covid-19 to the flu, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said is inaccurate. Tafoya clarified that she is vaccinated. When the subject of critical race theory came up on the show, Tafoya pointed to how the academic framework was among the reasons as to why there was “a big, big focus on the color of your skin” at her children’s school.
“Why are we even teaching that the color of the skin matters?” she asked on “The View.” “To me, what matters is your character and your values.”
Co-host Whoopi Goldberg responded to Tafoya by saying she should know that skin color has mattered for a long time in the United States.
“Can’t we change it [so] that it doesn’t?” Tafoya answered.
After Goldberg told her that the country needed White people to step up to make that change, Tafoya argued that White people “have been doing that since the Civil War.” Goldberg interjected, “No! No! No, they haven’t!”
CRITICAL RACE THEORY ANIMATING VOTERS IN LOCAL RACES? Poll watchers are saying that some state races could forecast which way the country is headed politically, especially the Virginia race between Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin–the co-hosts and #MicheleTafoya weigh in. pic.twitter.com/FPr2CEMlEt— The View (@TheView) November 2, 2021
On the next episode on Nov. 3, 2021, one of the subjects brought up on the show involved Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality during the 2016 season. After other players followed suit, Kaepernick would soon be out of the league, but not before raising awareness on the issue.
Tafoya disputed the idea that Kaepernick had been blackballed from the NFL, arguing that the quarterback turned activist didn’t lose everything and actually “gained a whole lot, a leader of the movement, a Netflix series, he’s got Nike endorsements.”
“I just want to give the benefit of the doubt to some people that there are two sides to this story,” she said. “I think all of us can agree there’s probably a lot to this story we still don’t know.”
Her response was met by groans in the audience.
“Oh, you’re all going to groan at me,” she said, waving her arms in the air. “Bring it on! Bring it on!”
As some media observers speculated about her future, NBC formally announced last month that Tafoya would retire from sports broadcasting at the conclusion of the NFL season. Tafoya told the New York Post that she had been planning a career change for several years “to pursue some other opportunities that are really meaningful to me.”
A day after the Super Bowl, she formally announced she would join Qualls, an Army veteran and former health-care executive, in his bid to win the Republican nomination and unseat Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D).
“I got to a point in my life where I wanted to try other things, and there are some things that are really important to me,” Tafoya told the Athletic. “This is not to say that sports isn’t an important field, that my job isn’t an important job.”
She’s made the rounds on conservative and right-leaning media this week. In an interview with Megyn Kelly, Tafoya claimed how Kaepernick “made some business decisions” that played a role in him no longer suiting up on Sundays.
“I think he knew what he was risking, and I think that there are legitimate complaints about race in the NFL and everywhere else in America,” she said. “But that’s not why Colin Kaepernick is not in the NFL.”
On Fox, Tafoya told Carlson that her shift from sports to Republican politics came after she had “been waking up every day with a palpable pull at my gut, that my side, my view, my middle ground, kind of moderate viewpoint is not being represented to the rest of the world.”
“And so, rather than just banging it out on Twitter or Instagram every day, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something. I have benefited greatly from the American Dream, and I feel like for the sake of my kids, and because I so love this country, I’ve got to start giving back,’” she said.
Critics, however, have accused Tafoya of arguing against critical race theory in an effort to raise her profile in conservative politics. Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent wrote that “Tafoya plans to devote more time to criticizing critical race theory and airing other views about race, and Carlson is trying to turn her into a new right-wing hero.”
“This is someone who’s made a mint off of Black labor and the destruction of Black bodies,” tweeted Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation. “Maybe this is in Tafoya’s mind the logical next step.”
Toward the end of her interview with Carlson, Tafoya said that she wasn’t afraid about blowback from her transition into politics.
“I’m going to choose to say what I believe and what I feel very strongly about,” Tafoya said. “I’m going to continue this. This is the direction I’m headed.”