Sometimes Katie Nolan wonders if she should be watching football at all.
The 28-year-old host and creator of Fox Sports 1’s television show Garbage Time, is drinking a beer at a high table by the window at Deep Ellum, a bar in Allston.
“I originally felt like, ‘Katie, you can’t hate Ray Rice and the institutions that enable him and then watch them on Sundays,’’’ she says. “But I’m in a bit of a different position because I have a voice in that industry. If I stop watching, it’s like if a cop’s like, ‘I hate rapists so I’m going to stop being a cop.’ Someone’s gotta keep it in check, and be like, ‘Hello, everyone? What you’re doing is not okay.’’’
Nolan is irreverent, morally driven, self-deprecating, and incredibly quick, both on camera and off. Talking to her is like playing verbal ping pong, a game the bartender seems to be losing as she teases him for forgetting the pretzel she ordered. He lingers for a little bit too long, adjusting stools that don’t need adjusting, lured in by Nolan’s charm like so many others, including her 170,000 followers on Twitter.
As one of the few women in the male-dominated world of sports media, Nolan, who grew up in Framingham, understands that having a voice also means having a responsibility.
“I have to recognize that I’ve gotten opportunities because of my uniqueness that I wouldn’t get if there were millions of us,’’ she says. “But what I know is that there are millions of us, just no one’s given any of us an opportunity yet. It’s like, let’s just break through the door, and once the door is open, hold it open, and all the women just like me that definitely exist in the world can come through that door and it’ll be easier.’’
Despite what Nolan says, her gender isn’t the main reason she got on the air: She makes compelling television. On her show, Nolan scores one-on-one interviews with athletes like Alex Rodriguez and media celebrities like Bill Simmons, and broadcasts live events where she trades jokes with established stand-up comics. She knows how to command an audience.
But talent alone hasn’t gotten Nolan where she is, either. In the past five years, she’s worked harder than most people do in 20.
After majoring in public relations at Hofstra University in 2009, Nolan moved to New York City in the midst of the recession. She couldn’t get a job for four months and eventually ended up selling gym memberships. She hated it. When her lease was up in 2010, she moved back home and tended bar at the White Horse Tavern in Allston, which is down the street from where she currently sits.
Bartending paid the bills. But Nolan, an avid Patriots fan who grew up loving football and sports in general, wanted more.
“I was like, ‘I want to start a blog to get my ideas out and keep my brain working so in five years I’m not an idiot,’’’ she says, tearing into the pretzel the attentive bartender finally brings over.
So Nolan began posting about sports and pop culture five to six times a day on her blog Bitches Can’t Hang, (a name she says she regrets) eventually attracting the attention of the now-defunct men’s website Guyism. They wanted her to star in a series of daily news web videos, so she taught herself video production and built a makeshift studio in the spare bedroom of the Allston apartment she shared with a friend.
Nolan basically didn’t sleep or see friends for two years—she’d bartend from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., take a nap, then get up early in the morning to write, shoot, and edit the videos before posting them. She’d then take another nap in the afternoon before heading back to the bar to do it all over again.
Nolan loves Boston. It was only reluctantly that she moved to New York City to work in the Guyism studios after they offered her a full-time job based on the success of her video series. Not long after, Fox Sports 1 came knocking and put her on the sports show Crowd Goes Wild, hosted by Regis Philbin.
The network soon decided to give Nolan her own show. It was dubbed Garbage Time, a name she says leads people to express sympathy (“They’ll say, ‘Oh, you got a show and they named it Garbage Time? I’m sorry’’’) but was actually her idea.
“Garbage time is that time at the end of the game when the points don’t really matter, and nothing you do can really affect the overall outcome, but the rookies usually get a chance to play on the big stage,’’ she says. “As a Sunday night show airing at the end of a week-long news cycle, hosted by a relative newcomer, it summed us up pretty perfectly.’’
Her show—which has since been moved to air on Wednesdays at midnight—premiered in March of this year, and she’s been going viral ever since.
One of her most widely shared moments came this fall when she demolished Cowboys’ defensive end Greg Hardy in a segment. Hardy was found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend—which included throwing her onto a futon full of semi-automatic weapons. The NFL suspended him for 10 games, but when Hardy appealed the North Carolina court’s decision and requested a trial by jury, the victim didn’t show up in court to testify, so the charges got dropped. His suspension was eventually reduced to four games.
In October, before the Cowboys played the Patriots, Hardy gave an interview saying he was going to come out “guns blazing,’’ and that he hoped Tom Brady’s wife Gisele Bündchen and her sister would be at the game. He expressed no remorse for beating his girlfriend, photo evidence of which Deadspin published in November.
When Nolan saw Hardy’s interview, she got so angry that her producers decided to scrap the show they were about to film so she could write a new one and address Hardy’s comments. Nolan usually practices a segment once before filming it, but this time, her producer shot the rehearsal. That’s the take that ended up on the air.
“I was doing it in an honest way for my crew, I wasn’t going to put that on TV,’’ she says. “At the end I’m choking up, I have tears in my eyes. That making TV and being on the air is a testament to how amazing my producers are. What we had scheduled for the show was stuff they’d all been working on, stuff that we just punted for this.’’
Nolan says the most infuriating question she has to field these days is whether she thinks Ray Rice, who knocked out his then-girlfriend, now-wife, in an elevator in 2014 and was caught on video, should have a job. She thinks he should. Nolan says he’s the only player who hasn’t been able to continue to deny his actions and has had to go to programs and express regret.
And yet, he’s the only one who can’t get back on a team.
“Greg Hardy can just keep denying it and have a job,’’ she says. “All it’s teaching other athletes is, ‘Rape a girl? Just don’t ever admit it and don’t let there be a video camera.’’’
But Nolan believes it’s not just the players who are to blame for crimes like these. She thinks it’s also the fault of team management for not getting players help when they need it. Nolan says that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who takes a lot of heat for the NFL’s problems, is really just a front to divert attention away from the owners who don’t want to fix things.
“Really, the bad guys are the billionaire owners who shove Goodell out there and are like, ‘Go dance, rodeo clown, distract them and we’re going to do all this shady sh*t,’’’ Nolan says. “And what’s really scary is, when you speak out against it, how angry football fans get.’’
The NFL did not respond to a request for comment.
But for all the vitriol coming at her on Twitter from Texas right now (“When I get a nasty one like, ‘Fuck you c*nt, what do you know about football?’ I know it’s from a Cowboys fan’’), Nolan is beloved here in Boston. When she tore Hardy down and Boston.com wrote about it, the comments on the article—normally not the kindest forum—were filled with people who admired her bravery and honesty.
“I miss it so much,’’ she says, looking out the window. “I want to come back here.’’
Nolan’s boyfriend walks in as she finishes her sentence. She lights up, explaining that they’re going to make beer at a brew-your-own place in Watertown. They’re planning to call it Garbage, so that when Nolan and her crew are finished shooting for the day, they can say, “it’s Garbage time!’’ and crack bottles open. She puts her coat on and says goodbye to the bartender, whose face falls as he realizes the man she’s with is her boyfriend.
As Nolan leaves the bar, she looks back and sees a woman behind her. She waits and holds the door open.