Last May, Suzanne Smith, KLN '80, director and producer for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network, was awarded the Mary Garber Award—named for the trailblazing sports editor who took over at the Winston-Salem Journal (then the Twin Cities Sentinel) in 1944, when the previous editor had to fight in World War II. The award recognizes Smith's own trailblazing career. Smith, also serving as a director of the NFL on CBS, where she is a six-time Emmy award winner, is currently the only woman producing or directing NFL games on any network. She has directed college basketball, including the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, since 1994, and she is a part of the CBS' golf production team for the Masters. As if that weren't enough, Smith is also the coordinating producer and director of "We Need to Talk," the first-ever nationally televised all-female sports show, which airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on the CBS Sports Network.
But she wasn't always involved in sports broadcasting. Before that, she was a successful athlete. She received the first-ever volleyball scholarship at Temple University and also played for its softball team. While there, she earned a bachelor's degree in Radio, Television and Film. Smith said her coaches and professors were incredibly strict about punctuality. She recalled that being late more than twice would have resulted in failure in one of her courses. Today, she's grateful for the experience, which she says prepared her for the high-pressure world of live television.
"While I was at Temple, thanks to my coaches and my professors, I was also really able to focus on my development," she said.
While in school, she worked at a company that edited 30-second commercials, which she attributes to developing her love of storytelling. Shortly after, she began an internship at WPHL. She eventually accepted an offer extending the internship, even though it came without pay.
"Somehow, I was wise enough to know that if you get an opportunity like that, you figure it out," Smith said.
When Smith joined CBS Sports as a production assistant in 1983, she worked her way up quickly. One of her highlights was working on a game in 1984, now known as the "Doug Flutie Hail Mary" game, where Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw a touchdown pass, giving them the win over Miami University. Twenty-one years later, Smith directed Flutie's last NFL game. She began directing in 1988, covering the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championships, where she changed how the game was broadcast by using end zone camera angles and moving the referee to a more suitable location for television coverage.
"I've been fortunate to be a part of some amazing games," Smith said.
For instance, she had the opportunity cover the "The Fog Bowl," a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears in 1988 where there was so much fog on the field, it was nearly impossible to see. She covered Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning breaking both the NFL's touchdown and yardage records. In 2007, she went to Baghdad for a Super Bowl pregame show where she and former San Francisco 49er Randy Cross arranged a football game with U.S. soldiers. It turned out to be an effective way to call attention to the needs of the troops and help give them a much needed distraction.
"I didn't realize how appreciative the men and women of service were of us going over there," Smith said. "One soldier came over and said, 'Ma'am can I give you a hug?'"
But, as Smith puts it, "Some of the most interesting sports stories have almost nothing to do with sports." In 1997, when the U.S. Open was in New York City, she was doing a human interest story with her crew on professional tennis player Leslie Allen's daughter, who needed a bone marrow transplant. Many of the fellow players donated blood and, in that spirit, Smith's crew did as well. Three months later, she found out she was a match—although not with Allen's daughter (who did find one)—and saved someone else's life.
Smith's television experience expands beyond sports. She has also directed "Pavarotti in the Park," a live concert in Central Park and documentary, the "Live Academy Awards Special" for WE Entertainment and a "Holiday Special" for Martha Stewart.
In November 2008, Smith was inducted into the Klein College of Media and Communication Hall of Fame, where she was honored with a Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award. Today, she lives in Southport, Connecticut with her wife, Cristina Bottegaro. She is also deeply involved in volunteer work, having served a term on the Board of the Empire State Pride Agenda and currently sitting on the board of the Plancher Orthopaedic Foundation. Smith spends much of her time as a mentor with the Connecticut School Mentor Program and is a volunteer for Partnership for After School Education.
When teaching students, she draws on her own experience, telling them: "If you find something you love doing and you're pretty good at it, stick with it!"