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The Hardest-Working Girl in Sports

Lisa Guerrero, of Fox Sports Net, will debate all comers on zone defense versus man-to-man, while puffing on her favorite cigar.
Joel Drucker
From the Print Edition:
Cuban Models, May/June 03

When you're sleeping, Lisa Guerrero is working. When you're relaxing, Lisa Guerrero is working. When you're vacationing, Lisa Guerrero is working. When she's vacationing, Lisa Guerrero is working. Then again, when your office space includes places like Dodger Stadium, how bad can that be? Guerrero occupies an intersection that has only blossomed in the last 10 years -- the merger of sports and entertainment. A former model, she's employed mind and body to find work that previously never existed. Guerrero is a sports anchor and reporter for Fox Sports Net, the network that's constantly looking for new ways to inject sports coverage with the hippest of cultural references and innuendo.

The bulk of Guerrero's job is a solo act. At precisely 7:09 Pacific time each weeknight, she delivers a live two-and-a-half-minute sports update from Fox Sports Net's Los Angeles newsroom. One update might seem easy enough. After all, the TelePrompTer operator loads up the copy that's been written for her, the producer has prepared the highlights, there's time to rehearse and off you go.

Try doing this every 12 minutes for five hours.

Hour by hour, minute by minute, Guerrero is a racehorse, sitting upright in a chair, revising copy, clarifying names and places, sprinkling the reports with jokes while a producer talks in her ear -- then delivering with breakneck speed and unflagging enthusiasm. By the time she's through, she's delivered at least 25 updates.

Sitting in her dressing room on the lot of 20th Century Fox, the 38-year-old Guerrero reflects on her career. "I consider myself a TV personality who talks about sports," she says. "I think of each report as a performance. It's not just a reading, but a chance to connect with the audience."

On a round glass table sit several publications -- Street & Smith's Pro Football 2002, Sports Illustrated, TV Guide and the Los Angeles Times sports section. Guerrero admits she feels a bit guilty that she's got no time to read any other parts of the paper. "I've always loved sports, I've always loved acting," she says. "If it wasn't for Fox, I wouldn't have this job, so it's great to see this marriage of sports and entertainment."

When aspiring broadcasters ask her how to break into the field, Guerrero asks, "What's your ideal Monday night?" Most say nothing. Guerrero counters, imploring them to watch "Monday Night Football" with the volume off (the better to study offense and defense). Throw in a pizza with extra cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms and onions, and Guerrero is in heaven.

But the six-plus hours Guerrero spends prepping and delivering her nightly updates are only part of her job. Prior to the evening's work, she's a panelist on Fox's raucous "Best Damn Sports Show Period." Guerrero is the show's lone female, mixing it up with such ex-jocks as Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers forward John Salley, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman John Kruk and Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin. Added to this is the yammering of host Tom Arnold and the whooping from the 50 to 60 fans on hand for every taping. If you had a dollar for every time you heard someone say "dude" or "what up?" around the Fox studios, you'd be richer than Bill Gates.

Guerrero sees herself less as a journalist and more as a well-informed, thoughtful fan. According to Salley, "She's the only woman next to Hannah Storm that knows what she's talking about when she talks about sports. She has an opinion, we hit heads, but she knows the game. She's not just reading up on it on Google, she's watching the game."

As the show opens, there's talk about the value of a team bringing in an old veteran for a playoff run. Irvin and Kruk question this specific veteran's talents. Guerrero counters, noting that his post-season experience could help his teammates. She and Irvin tap each other on the shoulder over this friendly interchange. When the segment is over, Guerrero dashes out to start reading and watching highlights for her evening stint.

Two hours later, shooting wraps up on the "Best Damn Sports Show Period." Tom Arnold wanders outside. He's relaxing with a Montecristo No. 2, high-fiving and backslapping his co-panelists and taking in the last moments of a Los Angeles afternoon. "Lisa knows what she's talking about and she's paid her dues," says Arnold. "She understands that when we're bagging on each other, it means we like each other. So she gives as good as she gets. I tried to fix her up with a friend of mine, and she said, ëI only go out with hot guys, Tom.'"

Guerrero concedes that she usually has no time for hot guys, either. Today's typical. In between her taped and live broadcasts, she's squeezing in a 90-minute pitch meeting at one of Hollywood's preeminent talent agencies. She's conceived a TV show, based on her life as a female sports reporter. "Think of it as 'The Mary Tyler Moore' show come to sports," says Guerrero. "It's a sitcom. That's my life. You can't go into locker rooms with naked men and think that this is a typical day of work for most people."

Unlike most sitcoms, this one would have its roots in drama. When Guerrero was eight, her mother, Lucy, died of cancer. (As an homage, Lisa took her mother's maiden name, Guerrero.) Her father, Walter Coles, a social worker with the Salvation Army, subsequently enrolled young Lisa in acting therapy classes. Coles also decided it would be best to connect with her through sports. As they were living in San Diego at the time, this meant plenty of Padres and Chargers games. By her teens, having moved north to Huntington Beach in the Los AngelesñOrange County area, Lisa was debating Walter on such topics as whether the Rams should play Pat Haden or Vince Ferragamo at quarterback.

"I was always arguing, getting into it with my friends and my father about sports and anything else, but mostly sports," says Guerrero. Her goal as a child had been to play pro football but as girls weren't encouraged to pursue the sport, she played softball, marched on her high school drill team, and pursued acting, playing the lead roles in teen productions of Rebel Without A Cause and Grease. By 17, Guerrero was modeling professionally, earning membership in the Screen Actors Guild and posing for advertisements while taking acting courses.

"It didn't occur to me there'd be a role for me in sports," says Guerrero. Geography proved helpful. In 1980, the Los Angeles Rams began playing their games in Anaheim, a short drive from Guerrero's home. In 1983, she auditioned to be a cheerleader, and was one of seven of 1,100 applicants to earn a position on the squad, all for a whopping $25 per game and two free tickets. Four years with the Rams led to a job with the Falcons in Atlanta, where Guerrero ditched her modeling career and took a 50 percent pay cut to become the team's entertainment director, orchestrating halftime shows and other events. Soon she was recruited by the New England Patriots. "All along," says Guerrero, "I'd watch those reporters covering the game for TV and I'd think, ëHey, I can do this, I'm studying defenses, I understand what's going on out there.' "

Then came one of those career-making moments. Eddie Andelman was a long-standing Boston sports expert who hosted a call-in show on radio station WEEI-AM. On a whim, he had Guerrero on for a cameo. "Immediately all these callers begin challenging my knowledge," says Guerrero. "They all thought I was being scripted."

Andelman knew better. Fifteen minutes extended into an hour, at which point Andelman told Guerrero she should be on TV and that he would produce a show for her.

Beginning in 1993, SportsChannel New England aired "Sports Gals," starring Guerrero and two female reporters, former TV sports anchor Barbara Borin-Franzoso and ex-radio sports call-in host Janet Prensky. When L.A. agent Ken Lindner saw Guerrero on the air, he summoned her to California.

By 1997, Guerrero was splitting her time between sports interviews for local L.A. stations, acting lessons and auditions. It was around this time that a boyfriend, an agent at high-powered talent firm CAA (not the one who'd discovered her in Boston), exposed Guerrero to the pleasures of cigar smoking. "It was during the holiday season, and he'd started smoking them, and the smell was wonderful," she says. Attending CAA's 1997 Christmas party at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard, Guerrero tried a cigar and "it felt natural. I like the taste and the strength of cigars. They're rich, heavy and feel terrific. There's a very appealing aftertaste."

Guerrero also feels there's a unique connection between her career and cigars. "A woman with a cigar is very empowering. There aren't a lot of women in sports, and certainly not many who smoke cigars. There's something substantial about a cigar. It requires a lot
of confidence."

Guerrero typically smokes cigars at parties and holidays and on other occasions when she can, as she puts it, "go out, cut loose," such as after a dessert of chocolate soufflé. Recently, she enjoyed a cigar while barhopping with some friends during a bachelorette party in Las Vegas.

Looking back, Guerrero believes that her initiation into the world of cigars during the '97 holiday season augured good things to come. Soon thereafter, on the same day as the Christmas party, she was offered jobs as the first female sports reporter on local TV station KCBS and a lead role on Aaron Spelling's daytime soap opera, "Sunset Beach." Weekdays, Guerrero was taping a daily one-hour show, playing the evil vixen Francesca Vargas. At night, she would memorize 40 pages of the script, all the while mixing in reading and following sports so she could be ready for weekend interviews and, once a week, a late evening report.

"There I was, being made up at 7 a.m. and reading the sports page," says Guerrero. "It was great, but ridiculous. It was a happy time professionally, but hard for my life."

Her national breakthrough came in February 1999. Naturally, it was a wacky blurring of sports and entertainment. Dennis Rodman -- himself an odd mélange of athletic substance and pop-culture panache -- had called a news conference to update the world on his thinking about joining the Los Angeles Lakers. Time was when these events were held at subdued venues such as Manhattan's P.J. Clarke's or a nondescript hotel. That was then. This was Planet Hollywood, which, like Rodman, was an effort at opportunistically yoking disparate elements, in this case food and fame. Naturally the news conference was nationally televised on ESPN.

Arriving 45 minutes late, Rodman mumbled a statement about how he didn't want to be selfish or a distraction. From the back row, Guerrero, wearing an all-pink outfit, declared, "You're already a distraction. You're rude. You're the most selfish person I've ever seen."

For 10 seconds, dead silence.

Rodman then glared down at Guerrero, telling her all about his success as a rebounder, flaunting championship rings. Then he started crying -- and stormed out.

All eyes turned towards Guerrero.

"People are wondering who I am," says Guerrero. "They figure I'm with ëEntertainment Tonight.'" Over the next two days, Guerrero was interviewed 15 times.

"Did it help to look like I do?" she asks. "Of course. I'm no hypocrite. But I had to prove I wasn't just eye candy. You could put a model out there, but could she argue man-to-man versus zone with Michael Irvin?"

So add it all up. Guerrero once thought she could be an athlete, while also studying acting. She became a model and a cheerleader, and now blends everything into a nonstop stew of sports and show biz. If all goes to plan, Guerrero hopes to turn her TV show concept into a pilot and a series. The star? Who else? The one character Lisa Guerrero has always played best is herself.

Joel Drucker is a freelance writer living in California.

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