Jody Jackson, the Swiss Army knife of Arizona sports news, is on the road back to normal

Bill Goodykoontz
Arizona Republic

If you’re a sports fan in Arizona, chances are you’ve seen Jody Jackson at work.

Jackson is a kind of Swiss Army knife of sports broadcasting, an anchor and reporter for Fox Sports Arizona (soon to be Bally Sports Arizona) since 2000. She’s covered all sorts of things; right now she is a part of broadcast teams for Arizona Diamondbacks and Arizona Coyotes games. She also does a weekly digital show for the Arizona Cardinals.

Jackson is without question the most prominent woman in sports broadcasting in the Valley, and has been for years. That’s earned her a lot of experience and a lot of hard-earned respect among peers and the players and coaches she covers.

Yet like everyone else she found the last year challenging.

COVID-19 stopped sports for a while, and Jody Jackson's busy schedule

Jackson covers sports that, in normal years, have punishing schedules, lots of games spread out over months. She stays busy, in other words.

Jody Jackson

But 2020 wasn’t a normal year. Jackson’s mother died on March 2. Then came COVID-19.

“I had been off from work for about two weeks,” Jackson said. “Also, the Coyotes were on a road trip. I was about to come back to work and ready to dive in and just sort of resume life after grieving — I’m still grieving a little bit.

“But next thing you know … it’s off. All of a sudden everything was shutting down.”

Things came to a screeching halt for Jackson, and everyone else.

“It was a bit surreal, because all of a sudden now I’m just at home with nothing to do,” she said. “My life for the last 20 years, it’s been non-stop. I cover numerous sports, it goes year-’round, I travel with baseball where I’m gone 50, 60 nights a year. And all of a sudden there’s no sports, so what do I do?”

What everyone else did: adjusted.

How fans make the Arizona Coyotes experience closer to normal

Now that things are inching back toward something approaching normal, Jackson is adjusting again, albeit in a better direction.

“Luckily, we’re sort of back,” she said. “We do shows and we’re on our set, so that’s cool.”

Cool, yes, but still not the same as before. Whether it’s a limited number of fans at games or conducting interviews with players and coaches either over Zoom or from the stands, it’s still different.

But better.

Fox Sports Arizona anchor Jody Jackson sits for a portrait in her home studio in Tempe on Mar. 18, 2021.

“When we started up hockey in January we did have some of the fans back, and so it’s this process of getting a little bit more normal,” Jackson said. “The next step hopefully is being able to be back interviewing people in person. I don’t know when that will happen, obviously, but I look forward to it. … To have fans back in the building was great.”

Before the pandemic started, Jackson and her husband had bought a new house in Tempe, and moved in with their two children. Now it also had to serve as a makeshift studio.

“I was able to use the kitchen, because the kitchen was the one place in the house that was done,” she said. “And then I carved out this little nook where we had to use like a fake bookcase. That’s what I’m using right now. I put some bobbleheads up and I put some different sports memorabilia and a few items to make it look like a sports set.”

She’s still using it at times, especially for pre-game prerecorded segments. With children, it requires a little extra prep work.

“When I go live I kind of make an announcement to the house: ‘OK everybody, I’m going live,’” she said. “We can’t have anybody in the refrigerator or cooking something. It’s definitely a strange dynamic.”

'I haven't had the horror stories'

Sports journalism was a natural path for Jackson.

“I grew up loving sports,” she said, “being critical, watching the games — critical in the way that I tried to understand the game at a young age. So I naturally had this love for and understanding of sports. So for me it wasn’t strange that I was a woman loving sports. It just seemed natural. My parents loved it. My mom and I would go to Miami Hurricanes (Jackson’s alma mater) games and events and things like that.”

Unlike many women who work in sports journalism, Jackson says she has not faced the same kind of adversity so many have. That doesn’t mean she’s blind to it.

“I haven’t had the horror stories,” she said. “But I know that they exist. I have friends and colleagues who have dealt with them. The one thing that you can’t do if you love this job and you want to do this job is not be deterred from it. For some people that takes more strength than others. I’ve been lucky in my career that I’ve had people give me opportunities.”

The key is to make the most of them.

“I think you have to trust yourself and have confidence in yourself first,” she said. “But you also have to earn it. You can’t expect anything to be handed to you. For me, I even moved at a slower pace. … I wanted to make sure that I knew what my process was, that I had a handle on everything before I took on a new challenge. And luckily people had said to me here, try this. You’re going to host this, you’re going to cover this.

"And they were right. I was completely capable of doing it. You believe in yourself and then you have others that give you that chance.”

Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk.