Off the Cuff with Claiborne: Michelle Smallmon
For more than a decade, Michelle Smallmon has been a prominent voice in sports broadcasting. After starting out at KSDK, the Belleville native switched to 101 ESPN before moving to Bristol, Connecticut, to work at ESPN’s national headquarters. In 2018, she came back to St. Louis (101 ESPN) and currently is one half of Karraker & Smallmon with Randy Karraker.
What is it like as a woman behind the microphone?
I often hear from young women who listen to the show and want to do what I do. Growing up, I never thought about the job I have now. It wasn’t on my radar because I didn’t see any women occupying that seat. The fact that someone can see me and think, “yeah, I want to do that one day,” is pretty impactful.
What’s your best advice for women who want to enter the field?
Women in the media have to deal with a lot online. I think for many women, the hate and perversion they regularly get isn’t worth it. Right now on the show, Randy loves talking about the Alex Rodriguez-Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck love triangle. When he does, people think it’s funny. But if I do, I get a lot of, “Shut up. Why aren’t you talking about sports?” We can be talking about it at the exact same time but still get totally different responses. I’ve learned that it’s really important not to listen to the opinions of people you don’t care about. If the people you respect think you’re doing a good job, those are the only voices you need to listen to.
Are other women in the industry supportive?
Absolutely. I feel so lucky that I have the mentors I do in this industry. I didn’t really have that until I went to ESPN headquarters. It was an interesting path for me when I was first coming up because I was the only female producer at 101 ESPN for a long time. With a lot of the things I was experiencing specifically as a woman in that role, I didn’t have anyone I could go to for guidance. When I went to Connecticut, two of my direct bosses were women, Amanda Gifford and Louise Cornetta, and they have been amazing mentors. I also have so many friends in the industry that I not only admire but lean on for support. One thing that I really value is that I have a little network of women that constantly cheer one another on and really try to lift each other up. There is an idea that women are competitive and think that someone else coming in might take a seat at the table, but in my experience, it’s better to pull out a chair next to you. The more women that we have at the table, the better off we’ll be.
Other than your current gig, what’s the most fun job you’ve had?
I worked on Russillo & Kanell when I was at the ESPN headquarters. It’s the type of show I always wanted to work on. Part of the reason that you get into this business is that you want to be at all of the big games, and we got to travel a lot. We went on football and basketball tours where we visited some of the best college sports environments in the country. Just being at some of those venues is the stuff you always dream about.
When people meet you, do you get sports questions?
Most of the time, they don’t necessarily grill me on the Cardinals or ask about the Blues. They want to know about my coworkers. I think that says something about St. Louis. There’s a really intimate relationship between the media and the fans.
What’s your favorite sport?
We’re in St. Louis; I have to say baseball, right? When I was in Connecticut, I missed going to Cardinals games more than I can possibly tell you. We appreciate baseball here, but until it’s taken away, you don’t realize what an important thread it is in the fabric of your life.
Some members of the media are fashion disasters. How do you avoid that category?
They say when you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you play good. That’s the way I approach everything. If I’m wearing a great outfit, I feel confident that I can attack whatever scenario I’m walking into. I also think fashion is fun. With the pandemic, I’ve really missed dressing up. I’m done with sweatpants!
Who is the best-dressed in local media now?
You’d definitely take the top spot on the podium. I also am constantly complimenting Erica Weston on her outfits, and Brad Thompson at 101 ESPN has stepped up his style. Finally, I’m going to say Rick Hummel. I love a signature item, and what is more iconic in St. Louis media than Rick Hummel and his hat?
You wouldn’t be caught dead wearing what?
Crocs. I know a lot of people like them because they’re comfortable, but no one has ever said, “Those Crocs look amazing!”
What fashion item do you hope comes in style?
I love a heeled, slide-on shoe like a clog. In college, I got an amazing pair in Italy, and I would love the chance to bring them out.
Your drink for destress and social drink if there is one?
For de-stressing, it’s a beautiful glass of red wine. My social drink of choice, especially if it’s warm out, is an Aperol spritz.
What do you always order when dining out, and what meal are you most famous for making at home?
If I’m going out and I see any sort of seafood pasta, I’m going for it. And I’m never gonna turn away from a Caprese salad. At home, it’s my grandma’s lasagna recipe. She was from Cremona, Italy, and boy, could she cook. She never wrote anything down. It was always the eye test and the taste test. People had been asking her for her lasagna recipe for years. When I was around 19, she taught me and my cousins how to make the recipe, and we wrote it down. She has since passed away, and it’s one of the most coveted things that we have in my family. We make it for Christmas every year. I know that if I needed to impress someone, I’d pull out that recipe, and they’d have the best lasagna they’ve ever had.
Your go-to restaurants in St. Louis?
Louie, Olive + Oak, Pizzeria da Gloria, Balkan Treat Box
Beach or mountains?
Beach all the time. We’re landlocked here in St. Louis so any chance I get to go to the beach, I’m there.
The one place you want to go back to, and the one place you want to go to?
I would go back to Italy any time. I love every part of it–the food, the wine, the culture, the art, the people. If I could pick up everything I love in St. Louis and move it to Italy, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I really want to go to Argentina.