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Monday, February 26, 2007
Updated: February 28, 12:29 PM ET
Roker knows which way sports wind blows

By George J. Tanber
Special to ESPN.com

Al Roker knows weather.

Sports? Well, let's just say he'd probably rather cover a hurricane than the Super Bowl. How about the Iditarod, a sports-weather event?

No chance.

"There aren't a lot of black people up there," he says. "And it's too cold."

Roker, 52, who has handled weather and feature reporting duties for the "Today" show since 1996 and operates Al Roker Productions, enjoys the occasional ballgame, especially minor league ball.

"There's something civil and peaceful about the game," he says.

On the occasion of Black History Month, Roker talked with ESPN.com about race and sports -- and about one of the more frightening moments in "Today" show history.

Some African-American athletes are among the country's most admired people. You could say the same about entertainers and other high-profile African-Americans, such as yourself. What role, if any, has this had in altering racist attitudes among non-blacks?

In one of my first jobs, in Syracuse, this guy told me, "You're not like other black people. You seem like a nice guy." I asked him, "How many blacks do you know?" He said, "Well, none, just what I see on TV." I told him, "Don't believe everything you see." Once people are exposed to different people and diversity, the more people's attitudes change.

You considered being a cartoonist but ended up in broadcasting. Some young and talented African-American athletes are fixated on one career only -- the pros. Many don't make it and have no alternative. What needs to happen for that to change?

I think our education system has to be improved. I grew up in New York City and went to a public school that had after-school art, music, and dance classes and had in-school culture and physical education classes. We don't have that anymore. As a result, students -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic -- don't have the potential to be everything they can be. Some see only one avenue of escape: athletics.

Even the best athletes have choked in big-time games. Tell us about a moment when you choked on camera?

I had a guy who held up a sign on the show that said, "Jill, will you marry me?" I asked him if he really wanted to marry Jill. He told me he did but that he loved Jeff more, and he turned and gave Jeff a big kiss. I said, "They don't even do that on Will & Grace!" They ended up recreating the scene for a "Will & Grace" episode.

Al Roker
Al Roker's favorite sports moment? Think 1986 World Series and Bill Buckner's legs.
In your view, what's the biggest issue today's African-American athletes have to deal with?

The same problem facing a lot of white athletes -- getting pushed through the system because of their athletic prowess at the expense of their education.

An African-American coach finally has won a Super Bowl. Still, blacks lag behind in many sports leadership areas and certainly in the business world. How can they do better?

I think success brings success. I think the more people see it, it's not that big a deal. More and more African-Americans are taking on these roles.

Name an African-American athlete, past or present, you admire and why.

Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson. They had to go where people hadn't gone before and still perform. It's one thing for a Michael Jordan or Reggie Jackson or any present-day black athlete to have to perform. But, back then, knowing there were death threats against you and that when you hit a home run they would cheer for you but also hate you. I can't imagine that.

What's the craziest thing you've seen on the "Today" show set?

When I rode the luge with Matt Lauer. We wore spandex. We had our own "Brokeback Mountain" moment.

What's one sporting event you've never been to that you would like to see?

I've never been to an NBA championship. That might be kind of fun.

What's your favorite sports moment as a fan?

Mookie Wilson hitting that ground ball through Bill Buckner's legs in the 1986 World Series.

George Tanber contributes to ESPN.com. He can be reached at george.tanber@iscg.net.