Sport5, or Sport Hamesh as it is known in Israel, is in many ways like ESPN in the United States. It is a combination of five cable and satellite sports networks that cover both amateur and professional sports from around the globe; but instead of English, it offers its content in Hebrew.
At the age of 29, Tal Heinrich has become one of Sport5’s most popular sportscasters. She has covered the top events in the world of sports, including the Summer Olympics in London and Beijing, the European Basketball Championships and the Euro 2012 Soccer Championships. And despite her young age, she has served as both anchor and host of the network, in addition to being a field reporter. Heinrich has earned critical acclaim in Israel, as well as throughout Europe, for her work as a sports broadcaster. But it is the job of role model to thousands of Jewish girls that brings her the most personal satisfaction.
“To meet in person the young women who stop me on the street or approach me at an event and talk to them about becoming a sports broadcaster means that I am really connecting with them,” said Heinrich. “I do not for one moment take for granted that my job as a broadcaster inspires girls who want to follow me into the profession. [This is] the biggest compliment to my work and much more important than any award that I might win.
“I should also point out that we have a very talented staff of women both in front of and behind the camera at Sport5 that all work to inspire young women to enter the sports broadcasting business,” she added.
So how did Heinrich become part of Israel’s top sports network?
“I started watching basketball when I was in high school. A good friend and a neighbor of mine was a professional player, so I was following his career and cheering along with my high school friends. After I was done with my mandatory military service with the Israel Defense Forces as an Arabic translator, I knew I wanted to work in the sports TV industry,” she explained. “So at the age of 20, I started freelancing for national Channel 1 as a sideline reporter on Eurocup basketball games. When the season ended, I moved to the premier sports channel in Israel, Sport5. The network has been great to me, and I have the chance to work with some of the most talented and passionate sports broadcasters in the business. It is a true honor to be part of such wonderful network.”
Basketball provided Heinrich with a role model for becoming a broadcaster.
“ESPN/ABC college and NBA analyst Doris Burke has had the biggest influence on my career. She is extremely professional, always asks the best questions, has a rich repertoire of knowledge and is simply a very nice person,” said Heinrich. “I should add that during last year’s NBA Finals, a colleague of mine had met her and told her how much I appreciate the work she does. Doris took the time to record a video message to me, which was fed back to our studio here in Tel Aviv. I must say that I still keep it on my computer and play it whenever I need a little extra inspiration.”
It is in many ways still tough for a woman to break into sports broadcasting in the United States. According to Heinrich, the situation is reversed in the Jewish state.
“In my opinion, it is easier for a woman to start a career within the sports TV industry of Israel than it is for a man,” she said. “However, once you are already working in Israel, it is much more difficult for a woman to gain legitimacy and prestige in the eyes of the viewers, fans, athletes and coaches than it is for a man. The ‘rookie’ stage lasts longer for women. Therefore, I find my work very challenging. That said, I always love a challenge.”
While it has been sports that has made Heinrich a household name in Israel, she sees her future possibly including another area of interest. She loves politics, and so it seems natural that viewers of CNN International have had the opportunity to see her work on that network as well.
“I have been working at Sport5 for over eight years, and as of late, I have also been contributing content relating to current events and politics in the Middle East to CNN International via their Jerusalem Bureau,” she said. “I enjoy both lines of work, and I believe the experience I have been accumulating is instrumental in achieving my dream job, which is working at the highest level of reporting, covering either news or sports.”
Heinrich admits that her dream job might take her out of Israel.
“Being an NBA fan and appreciating its extensive international audience, I would love to cover live NBA broadcasts, discussing the athletes and their strategy in the pregame and the postgame shows, channeling my experience at Sport5, where I did similar work, but for a broader audience on a bigger stage,” said Heinrich. “But my passion for sports is matched by my interest in international politics. … I would love to put my language and reporting skills to use and be a part of a broadcast that will discuss pressing matters in a balanced way. So while that might mean a job in the United States or perhaps in Europe, I feel that the outstanding experience that I have gained at Sport5 has prepared me to be ready when the time comes for that dream job.”
Be sure to follow Heinrich on Sport5 at sport5.co.il and on YouTube.
Jim Williams is an area freelance writer.