Curt Menefee is entering his 15th season as host of Fox NFL Sunday. As if keeping the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Strahan and Howie Long on point every Sunday wasn’t enough of a challenge, Menefee recently opted to go back to school – pursuing a graduate degree in public policy and public administration at Northwestern University.
We caught up with Menefee for this week’s Friday Five…
Who is your biggest mentor?
It’s a guy that people nationally have never heard of, a guy by the name of John Campbell. He was a local sportscaster in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when I was going to school there. I grew up in Atlanta, interned at CNN the summer after my freshman year – when CNN had sports. I went back that fall and called all the local stations, but nobody needed anything. But John wrote my name and number down and called me in April of my sophomore year, said he needed me to carry gear at Iowa’s spring game. The next week, he asked me to work Iowa State’s spring game.
And then he said, “Well what do you want to do in this business?” At that point, I wanted to be a producer and do something behind the scenes. So he took me under his wing. He taught me how to shoot a camera. He helped me learn how to write for television. And after doing that for a while, he said why don’t you look at the highights we do each night, the voice-overs from the sports segment, and put your voice down on tape and just see how that feels. I had never thought about being on camera before that. So I did that. And unbeknownst to me, he took it to the news director. And I went from April of that year having not even carried gear for a guy, to the summer of that year filling in as a sports anchor and then became a full-time sports reporter at the station. So when I graduated, I had been on the air for two-plus years. Had it not been for John, I don’t know what I’d be doing right now, but it certainly wouldn’t be on camera, I guarantee you that.
What was behind your decision to go back to school for a Master’s degree?
I’ve always been interested to a certain degree in public policy. When I graduated from Coe as an undergrad in 1987, I had gotten accepted to two schools – the University of Missouri for a journalism Master’s, and the University of Iowa for a Master’s in public planning. Midway through that summer, I decided, I’m not ready to continue school. I want to work — I want to see where TV takes me. So I started my TV career in earnest, and obviously just didn’t get back around to it, but I’ve always been interested in public policy and politics to a certain degree – about what it could do for people and the way you could help people, particularly at the local and state level.
And I’ve always had a keen interest in that and really just the world of the last year-plus … It started with the pandemic last year and watching the way, in my opinion, some governments handled it well and others didn’t. And then the summer of George Floyd and realizing after a while … I put a statement out on Twitter and Instagram a couple of days later, like everybody else did. I gave it some time, because I really wanted to get my thoughts together. And it got a lot of positive reaction. It was how I felt at the time and what I wanted to say, but it made me realize: I put that out and got positive feedback, but all you’re doing when you’re on Twitter or Instagram or even marching in the streets is asking someone else to make a difference. So what can I do to try to make a difference? And I decided I felt that needed just a little more background in the policy aspect of it – whether it involves corporations in the future, whether it involves government in the future or whatever – so that I can go to these people, whether it’s politicians or CEOs, and be able to say something other than, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did this?” I need to know the steps that they need to take in order to make change happen.
I’m fortunate enough in what I do that I do know people in the political realm, and I do know people in the corporate realm, people that actually are looking to make change and can. I need to be able to give them the right road to help them facilitate that. And so that was the plan. How do I do this? For me, it was a matter of going back to school and learning the ropes a little bit.
How do you see yourself making use of your Master’s degree?
I’ve got some things that are kind of bubbling in the background. Look, I don’t want to give up Fox NFL Sunday or America’s Top Dog or any of the stuff I’m doing on camera. I have no desire to give any of that up and move to a different realm of my life right now. I’m trying to find the right thing that I can do in conjunction with it. And so it’s allowed me to have some ideas and it’s allowed me to meet s some people. I’ve had some interesting conversations, because people have asked, “Why are you doing this?” — and once you start explaining it to people, you find out there are a lot of people that, in my opinion, are looking for a place to be united in our country right now.
And again this is not just about politics. People feel that we’re so divided over so many issues, and there are places that you can go and be divided. You can call the other side whatever you want. But there are very few places where people can be united. I’ve had some talks with some people about some different non-governmental functions like that, and I think that’s kind of the path that I would go in, at least as of now. Places where you can not only unify people but make a difference in people’s lives in tangible ways. Some of that involves finances, some of that involves housing, those kinds of things. I think there are places there, it’s just a matter of trying to figure it out. It’s not easy, or it would have been done already.
I think that’s where I’m leaning, certainly more toward the immediate future, and probably long term. People say, “You’re getting a degree in public policy. Do you ever plan to run for office?” I don’t think so, because I’d have a hard time putting a “D” or an “R” in front of my name right now, in all honesty. I’ve been a registered Independent my whole life – it’s called “no party affiliation” in California – but I’ve never been part of a political party. And I’d have a hard time joining one the way both sides are now. In this country, unfortunately, you can’t really win a race – not a significant one – unless you have one of those (parties) in front of your name, because you need it for fundraising, commercials, that sort of thing. So I don’t think that’s an avenue I want to go in. I want to do something where I can genuinely make a difference and help. And to me that stands outside of government. At least the way I see things right now.
Heading into the 2021 NFL season, what storyline most intrigues you?
Everybody’s talking about Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in the NFC North, and obviously they’re the class of that division, but I’m intrigued with what’s going on in Chicago. I believe in Justin Fields. I don’t know if he’s going to be ready day one, and I think it’s okay to not be ready day one. Justin Herbert didn’t start in Week 1 last season and look how he wound up.
Justin Fields was drafted to save jobs. He’s got to be the quarterback that Chicago’s been looking for for three decades. So I’m really intrigued by what happens there this year, because he’s got to show enough signs to allow people to keep their jobs there, and then allows him to develop long term. So a lot’s going to happen there, and it’s not necessarily only about wins and losses. It’s about how that offense performs. So to me, that’s as intriguing a situation as anywhere.
If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would they be?
From a personal standpoint, it’s my mother, my grandmother and my favorite aunt Carlene, who are all no longer here. That would be the dream dinner. But if you want to go from a historical standpoint…
I would go with Ulysses Grant, because I think he’s severely underrated as a president – won the Civil War for the North, helped unify the country as president, fought for African-American, Native-American and Jewish rights at a time when it wasn’t really popular. He didn’t have a lot of money and he sacrificed some things – including freeing a slave that was donated to him as an adult. So he’s a guy that I think doesn’t get enough credit.
After that would be Muhammad Ali, who’s my favorite athlete of all time, no question. And the third would be Nelson Mandela. I’ve traveled around the world, been to more than 90 countries. And the stop in South Africa was one that always stands out to me. My wife and I visited Robben Island and saw the jail cell where he spent 27 years of his life. Then he got out and became president, and he struck up a reconciliatory tone. It kind of goes back to some of those things I was talking about. He was a guy who helped bring a country together that easily could have been divided even more once he was released, and gone the other way. And I think he saved a nation. I’m intrigued by that, and just what was in his heart and his mind and how he was able to motivate people to do that kind of thing.
Check out all of our Friday Five features — including Troy Aikman, Adam Schefter, Andrea Kremer and more — in the Friday Five archive.