When it comes to sports, Britt Roper knows her stuff. Before she became the wife of South Carolina co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, Britt was a television sportscaster. Her life has somewhat come full-circle as the former pioneer in the local broadcast industry found her way back to Columbia when Kurt signed on as a member of head coach Will Muschamp’s staff with the Gamecock football team.
“I was the first female sports reporter in Columbia,” Roper said. “I came here in January of 1999. Actually, I think I may have been the first female sports reporter in almost every market I went to in my career. I believe I was the first one in Knoxville and the first in Memphis when I left here to go there in 2000.”
After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1995, Britt Roper started out in High Point, N.C., with her first on-air job coming later in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1997. Working with the ABC affiliate there is where she first met Kurt, who was a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee. She was hired in Columbia a couple of years later, initially as a weekend sports anchor.
“Times have changed now,” Roper said. “You turn on the TV now, and they’re (female sportscasters) everywhere. Back then, it was a different time.”
As a former reporter and wife of a college coach, she understands the stress and feelings associated with two sides of a story.
“I don’t get mad when reporters criticize coaches,” Roper said. “They get paid to do a job. The toughest part for me when I first became a coach’s wife was the criticism of the players because they’re like your kids. They’re doing the best they can. There were times early on that I needed to check myself and keep my mouth shut.”
“Her understanding of sports, the time commitment and the ups and downs of it helps her understand the pressure that goes along with it,” Kurt Roper added. “She can talk about different situations and have a real idea of what we’re going through because she has been through it.”
As an aspiring journalist, Roper was not one keep quiet about what she wanted to do. Having an athletics background, Roper knew she wanted to work in sports by the time she entered college.
“In high school, I played volleyball, basketball and softball.” Roper said. “When I went to college, I knew I wanted to do broadcasting, but I only wanted to do sports. I wasn’t good enough to play sports in college, so I wanted to do something where I could be around sports. I told my professors that I’m not going to do it if all I’m going to do is news stories. My professors were great.”
While at North Carolina she had the opportunity to cover great sports stories with the Tar Heel student-athletes, including Marion Jones in track and field and basketball. She also served as the p.a. announcer for home volleyball and softball games.
“I grew up in North Carolina, where basketball is the sport,” Roper said. “So I was really big into basketball. That was what I was looking forward to reporting on. Then I got the job in Tennessee, and I started really falling in love with football.”
It was never a job to me. You get to go to a ballpark for four hours of your work day. You get to see some great things.Britt Roper
Roper understands the significance of breaking down barriers, but she thought she was treated fairly, for the most part. She also understood that she had a responsibility to do her job well.
“I was proud of myself because I was doing what I wanted to do, and that I was doing something that hadn’t been done before,” Roper said. “It was significant to be the first female sportscaster in different places, but I also felt like there was a burden because you have to prove that you know what you are talking about. Nowadays, it drives me a crazy if I hear a guy saying things that are inaccurate. I know if it were me, and I was saying something that was inaccurate, it would be viewed differently than if a guy said it.
“The people I worked with were super supportive. The people I was around never made me feel any different than any of the other guys.”
As female sportscasters have become more common now, Roper is glad to see more opportunities for women in the industry.
“I’m sure they always feel like they have to prove themselves, but it’s not such an odd thing anymore,” Roper said. “You have so many former athletes who are doing it now, and they obviously know their stuff. Now you have a woman in professional baseball with Jessica Mendoza. She’s really a pioneer for baseball. But it’s great that now you have women doing play by play for sports like football, too.”
While she loves being a wife and mother to her two children, Reese and Luke, Roper has many fond memories of her days on camera.
“It was never a job to me,” Roper said. “You get to go to a ballpark for four hours of your work day. You get to see some great things. I had a chance to cover national championship games (football) with Tennessee. I am not a NASCAR fan, but to go to the Daytona 500 was pretty special. I thought covering the Master’s was pretty special, too.”
Britt and Kurt were married in February of 2002, and she decided to leave sportscasting to prevent a conflict of interest.
“I don’t miss it too much anymore,” Roper said. “It’s hard to have a family and be a mom in that role because you do work a lot of nights and weekends.”
Roper does admit that there are times when the sports journalist inside her comes back out.
“Absolutely,” Roper laughed. “I think I’ve gotten better. I try to be the supportive wife. There are always things that will stick in my head, so I have to wait for the right moment where I might say ‘that play on third and four in the fourth quarter.’ I can tell him (Kurt) every single thing about it, and he’ll know what I’m talking about. He usually has a good answer.”
“It’s still quite often,” Kurt Roper chuckled. “When I ask her, she gives me her complete opinion. She doesn’t try to soften the blow or anything like that. So what I’ve learned over the years is to be careful of what I ask, because I’m going to get what she really believes.”
But when it comes down to it, Kurt knows that Britt has his back.
“One of the funny things about this profession is all the rumors that go along with it,” Kurt said. “Part of those rumors are started with criticism of coaching. We always have a good time talking about different things because she always has an understanding of sports. At this point, she is more of a coach-supporter as opposed to a media person, if that makes sense. She understands the difficult things about the job (coaching) that aren’t always seen. She’s very supportive.”
Britt Roper said that moving for new jobs is the toughest part of being the wife of a coach, and she’s hoping her family’s current life in Columbia will keep them in one place for a while.
“That’s our prayer,” Roper said. “We moved three years straight now. Even my daughter started praying for that.”