Alyssa Lang strides into ESPN’s Ballantyne office with a bag from Cava in one hand and an iced latte from Starbucks in the other. It’s a few minutes before 1 p.m. on a Monday. She isn’t late, but as usual, she’s in a hurry. She removes her sunglasses and shifts her drink to her left hand so she can introduce herself with a sturdy handshake. The security guard smiles at her and buzzes us in.
Lang is well known inside and outside the hallways of ESPN as an energetic young host, anchor, and sideline reporter for the ESPN-owned SEC Network. Her friend and frequent co-host Andraya Carter is a game analyst and reporter best known for her shrewd coverage of women’s basketball; their rapport on the weekly show Out of Pocket has quickly made them favorites among viewers and colleagues.
I follow Lang down a hallway lined with canvas prints of SEC games. The colorful team banners and football helmets contrast with the building’s beige exterior, which blends into the south Charlotte office park where the SEC Network has operated since 1998. The studio hums with chatter from producers, directors, and sound engineers.
We hang a left and enter the greenroom. Lang clears a space at the makeup station, sits in one of the two stylist chairs, and opens her grain bowl. “You’re always going to catch me eating,” she tells me between bites. “I take lunch seriously.”
We’ve spent approximately three minutes together, but she talks to me like someone she’s known for decades.
“Does my hair look like I haven’t washed it in four days?” she asks. It does not. I demand to know what brand of dry shampoo she uses. Moments later, Carter breezes into the room with a stack of garment bags flung over her shoulder. “I’m on brand for being late,” she says. “I had to get my shorts at the dry cleaners.”
The women hug, then take their seats at a counter littered with straightening irons, makeup brushes, hair spray, eyeliner, and lip gloss. They have a makeup artist and hairstylist for most studio shows, but today they’ll do their own. If you want to really get to know a woman, watch her get herself ready.
“When I do my own, it’s as basic as it can be,” Carter says. “If my eyeshadow’s on, you know we had a makeup artist.”
Two of the six TV screens in the room are on. One plays college football highlights, the other a Friends rerun. Neither woman pays attention. They’ve got a lot to discuss before they’re due on the set for a photo shoot. They style their hair and apply makeup with such ease, I think they could do it under anesthetic.
Lang just got back from a weekend at Vanderbilt to kick off college football season. Her schedule, which already includes co-hosting two studio shows and anchoring ESPN’s coverage of SEC Media Days, will soon get even busier with weekly travel for sideline reporting. In a few hours, Carter will fly to New York to catch some of the U.S. Open (for fun, not work), but first, she’ll host an event for the Grant Williams Charity Foundation (work, but still fun). They trade rapid-fire updates on work and travel. You’d think it had been six months since they last saw each other, not six days.
Lang pauses when she spots a producer walk by the greenroom door. She asks him if they’ll be swapping in new chairs on the set today.
“Look at you, diva, demanding chairs!” Carter says. She continues to apply her lashes, never once diverting her gaze from the mirror. “Aren’t you a Leo?”
“I could never date you.”
“Gawd, you’re so annoying,” Lang says, throwing her head back. She turns her swivel chair to face me. “She wanted me to download a $5 astrology app.”
“She’ll spend $8 on a coffee, though,” Carter tells me, then pivots to face Lang with her full set of lashes applied. “You won’t spend $5 to understand yourself better?”
“My therapist told me if coffee makes me happy, ‘Keep doing it, girl,’” Lang explains. Then, to justify her caffeine consumption, she turns back to me. “I have coffee in the morning, and at lunchtime, I usually switch to Celsius so I’m not chugging coffee all day.”
Carter grabs the orange blazer she’ll wear on set later and walks toward the closet to hang it up. “Just wait till I put this ponytail on,” she says over her shoulder. “I’m gonna be super spicy.”
Lang first met Carter on a Thursday night in 2018 at the SEC Network studio desk, a few minutes before they went on the air. Carter, a basketball star for the University of Tennessee’s renowned Lady Volunteers, had been invited to discuss that night’s basketball games. She was 24, and it was her first show.
“About 15 seconds before the show started, Draya sent a large cup of sweet tea flying,” Lang says, laughing at the memory. “So we did the first 10 minutes with a puddle of tea under the desk.” Carter shakes her head and smiles. “I was so nervous, and I’m a naturally angsty person anyway. I have an existential crisis almost daily. But with Alyssa, I felt no judgment. She was so willing to ask me what I was comfortable talking about. Not just so she looked good—it felt like she wanted me to look good.”
Lang, then 24, was already a sideline reporter for SEC Network college football and basketball and one of the hosts of SEC Now, where she rotated anchor duties with Peter Burns and Dari Nowkhah. Despite the sweet tea mishap, Carter began working as a game analyst for the network and quickly established herself as an authority on women’s college basketball and the WNBA. In 2021, she became a college football sideline reporter, too.
One year later, the pair was co-hosting Out of Pocket, a 30-minute TV show centered on their love of football, food, and stories from their work as sideline reporters. Viewers tuned in for their SEC hot takes and hilarious trash talk. (“Draya could never punch me,” Lang quips. “She thinks I’m too pretty.”) It was a familiar formula: A former athlete and a journalist go head-to-head. But this wasn’t just a sports show for chicks. Out of Pocket was a sports show that happened to be hosted by two women. Their gender was incidental—and that, in itself, was remarkable.
They balanced the fun with serious X’s and O’s analysis. It was impossible to watch every game they covered in real time, but they reviewed each one throughout the week, studied replays, and made notes about the teams they’d discuss. “I keep a master document for every league I’m covering and put my thoughts down for each game,” Carter says. “Like if Atlanta looks slow, I’ll put that in the doc.” When they taped the show on Wednesdays, the co-hosts broke down why the Wildcats couldn’t play to the strengths of the Bulldogs. They’d discuss the pressure the Tigers needed to put on the Vols to assert dominance in the SEC. They’d debate who would rank as the SEC’s biggest midseason surprise.
Carter and Lang connected with viewers, but they still got the occasional hostile tweet or Instagram comment. “It blows my mind what people can say about someone they’ve never met before,” Carter says. “People would post stuff like, ‘We want men to talk about men’s sports,’ or ‘You only got this job because you’re Black.’ But the spaces I’m in, like the NBA Draft, where there’s men on set … they’ve never questioned whether or not we belong.”
Sports broadcasting was strictly a boys club until 1975, when CBS hired Phyllis George to co-host The NFL Today. It was a milestone—George was one of the first women in national sports broadcasting. But the show’s producers frequently put the former Miss America in embarrassing “comic” sketches—one had her don a Los Angeles Rams uniform and get mock-tackled by a linebacker—and she gained more attention for her looks than her sports acumen.
A few female sideline reporters followed for college and professional football games, and by the 1980s, newspaper journalists like Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post and Christine Brennan of the Post, Miami Herald, and USA Today earned respect for their incisive coverage of sports at all levels. In broadcasting, Lesley Visser was the first female NFL analyst on TV. Over the next two decades, women like Hannah Storm and Erin Andrews showed up on television as more than eye candy, and Suzy Kolber hosted the Monday Night Football pregame show. But it was still rare to see a woman at the anchor desk, and men still dominated sports media.
Laura Rutledge is host of ESPN’s NFL Live and SEC Network’s SEC Nation. She joined the company in 2014 and has witnessed a shift in the way women are treated and perceived in sports broadcasting. “There’s still progress to be made, but it makes me so happy to see women like Alyssa and Andraya having success together,” she tells me via email. “I’m a firm believer that there is plenty of room for all of us in sports media, and we need to continue to create space for more women.”
When I first meet Lang and Carter in late July, I plan to get their perspective on working in an industry that’s historically been reserved for men. I expect stories about being marginalized or disrespected, of mansplaining and pay gaps. But it soon becomes clear that isn’t how they see the business or their positions in it. Instead of unloading their grievances and identifying their obstacles, they point to NBA games with all-female broadcast teams and a recent episode of SportsCenter anchored entirely by women.
Despite the media’s tendency to pit women against each other, these two never saw each other as competition. They might disagree on the best wide receiver in the SEC, but underneath the smack talk, Carter and Lang are each other’s biggest fans.
“We won’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take the information seriously,” Carter says. “How we talk to each other off-camera is how we talk to each other on-camera.”
Carter never planned for a career in broadcasting. A slew of injuries forced her off the court after the 2015-16 season, her redshirt junior year at Tennessee, and to abandon her dream of playing in the WNBA. After graduation, she worked part time as an Uber driver and as a coach at Orangetheory. But ESPN alumna Maria Taylor saw something special in Carter and encouraged her to try broadcasting.
Taylor knew Carter from highlights during her college career. The two struck up a conversation one night at an Auburn game as Carter sat on the sideline with her arm in a sling after shoulder surgery. Taylor was there as an online analyst. “I just started picking her brain,” Carter says. “She kind of became my mentor.”
Taylor eventually took Carter to Charlotte to tour SEC Network’s studios, where she got to try on a headset. It was a good fit. Carter went on to call Tennessee games for SEC Network+ and quickly found her groove on camera. By 2018, she and Lang were two of the network’s most-watched sideline reporters, often referred to inside ESPN as “rising media stars.”
George Richards III was SEC Network’s lead studio producer for women’s coverage when he started working with Lang and Carter. “A big part of this, for me, is women in sports need to own the things they’re doing,” he says. “They have to have as much time on the air as anybody else.”
When COVID brought professional and college sports to a halt, Lang went from covering football games each week to very little studio time. The network put her on ESPN Radio, where she had to fill airtime with few games to discuss. Richards was impressed with her football IQ and ability to connect with her audience. “There’s a reporter voice, an anchor voice, and a personality voice,” he says. “I knew she could do all three.”
He pitched Out of Pocket, a 30-minute show that he would produce and Lang would host. It premiered in September 2020. “The name is a play on doing things outside the norm,” Lang says. “It’s also playing off the fact that it’s 2020, and we’re all doing this on our Zoom screen.”
But as COVID restrictions lifted and live sports returned to television, Lang wanted a partner—and she knew exactly who it should be.
Carter had been a seasonal analyst and reporter, but now the network wanted to hire her full time. Richards remembers how impressed he was with her work ethic. “I think of this part in the ESPN film Bad Boys,” he says. “The only thing Dennis Rodman knows is hard work, and that’s how I view Andraya. You’re not outworking Andraya Carter, period. It makes it easy as a producer when you get people who want to work that hard.”
Out of Pocket featured interviews with SEC players and coaches, but they covered more than just sports. In a video that went viral, then-Mississippi State head football coach Mike Leach shared his Halloween candy favorites. Lang made good on a bet that she’d drink coffee with mayonnaise alongside quarterback Will Levis if Kentucky beat News. Carter did her best impression of Marcus Spears with a fake beard. The two hosts hurled insults at each other without laughing during “hate week” when their alma maters, Tennessee and South Carolina, faced off.
“They are both exceptionally talented and smart, but the hard work is what really becomes a difference-maker in this business,” Rutledge says. “It’s paramount that we continue to give women a platform … I can’t wait for the next generation to come up and take all our jobs.”
Both Lang and Carter turned 30 this year. “Rising media star” no longer seems like the right term for either of them. In 2023, Lang was the opening keynote speaker for the annual Association for Women in Sports Media convention, while Carter received the Dawn Staley Excellence in Broadcasting Award.
The accolades and promotions will continue. But their accomplishments go beyond invitations and awards. It’s no longer considered “cute” for women to discuss football, and it’s not that remarkable to see two young women host a sports show. Just a couple of generations after Phyllis George became the first female sportscaster at a major TV network, Carter and Lang do the job like it’s no big deal.
This summer, however, Carter decided to leave the show due to her increasing role on ESPN and in ABC’s WNBA and NBA coverage. “I’ve cried about it already,” she tells me in July. “I want to be a guest on Out of Pocket, and I’ll stop in and hang out during tapings. Moving on to anything is a hard transition.”
In August, ahead of the 2023 college football season, the network announced that former Auburn and NFL linebacker Takeo Spikes would join Lang as a co-host for Out of Pocket. In the greenroom, a few days before the Aug. 30 season premiere, I ask Carter and Lang how they feel about a man stepping into the show they made famous.
“An NFL star can slide into this show, and it can stay the same,” Lang says. “Celebrating our wins as women is important. At the same time, when we first launched in 2020 with this female-led show, I didn’t want that to be the reason this was cool. I wanted it to be a sports show everyone wants to watch. We’re just sports fans like y’all! We still sprinkle it with Taylor Swift. Guys like Taylor Swift, too, right?”
Carter and I nod.
“At a point,” Lang says, “sexism just becomes old.”
Three weeks later, I return to the studio for a taping of Out of Pocket. The building buzzes with production meetings and chatter about the Missouri-Kansas State game, which ended with a 61-yard field goal to win it for the Tigers. But the set is quiet and dark, save for the overhead lights above the two yellow suede chairs where Lang and Spikes sit.
Out of Pocket is one of SEC Network’s only studio shows where hosts don’t have to dress up; Spikes wears jeans and a red hoodie, Lang green cargo pants and a T-shirt. (Green, her PR director informs me, is SEC-neutral.) A producer in the control room tells them through their earpieces that they’re back on in 10 seconds. Kentucky running back Ray Davis is calling in.
Lang and Spikes have an easy banter, but I wonder if she’s a bit more polite with him than with Carter, who’s been on the road covering the 2023 WNBA Playoffs. After their interview with Davis, the co-hosts chat with Alabama safety Malachi Moore and Georgia wide receiver Mekhi Mews. Spikes asks Mews about his nickname, “Waffle House,” which Georgia’s offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo, gave him because he’s “always open.”
They each share their go-to WaHo order. Then Lang shoots her shot.
“There’s something wrong with my co-host here who goes to Waffle House and orders a sandwich!” she says. They erupt in laughter.
During a commercial break, Lang asks Spikes if he’s heard the latest rumor.
“Taylor Swift is dating Travis Kelce!” she says. “Can you imagine the songs we’ll get if they break up?”
“Like, breakup songs about football?” he says with a laugh.
Lang nods enthusiastically. “I can’t wait.”
TAYLOR BOWLER is the lifestyle editor.