ESPN Radio host Ian Fitzsimmons was interviewing Charles Barkley when he heard his daughters yelling, “Dad! Dad! Dad!” They’d seen a creepy, crawling creature downstairs. “Mom was gone, and I’m waving my hands and screaming,” Fitzsimmons says. “It completely hijacked the conversation. Chuck was like, ‘Put them on the air.’ We’re friends, but if it had been a formal interview, we would have had problems.” The incident occurred pre-pandemic, before interrupted work calls became an accepted part of life. By the time the coronavirus hit, the Fitzsimmons household had already established a method to keep the kids from crashing any more interviews — an “On Air” sign outside his studio. “It was a game-changer,” Fitzsimmons says. “If it’s not on, all hell breaks loose. If the light is on, you could hear a mouse fart.” Since 2014, Fitzsimmons has worked out of his Lakewood home, where he records his weeknight show, “Freddie & Fitzsimmons.” ESPN has tried convincing the University of Alabama graduate to move to headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, but his family has roots in Dallas and is involved with several charitable organizations, such as the Exchange Club of East Dallas. “Family is here,” Fitzsimmons says, “and you can’t put a price tag on family.”
You’ve worked from home for years. How was it different during the pandemic?
Everyone was home with me. That was the biggest change. My youngest daughter had a great line. Two months into quarantine she said, “Twenty years from now when history teachers teach about COVID, the adults are going to say it was a hard time, but us kids are going to say we kind of dug it. I’ve never spent so much time with my family or did so much with my parents.”
Do you have any other positive takeaways from this year?
The only good thing that’s come from 2020 is the social justice movement. It’s been beneficial and enlightening knowing that I have a forum where a lot of people are listening, and I have to be responsible with my words.
Tell me about growing up in New Orleans.
My mom raised thoroughbred horses. Growing up on that farm was the greatest life lesson. We were mucking stables by the time we were 4. We mowed every blade of grass. Living in Lakewood, it’s comical that I’m out there edging and cutting grass. A guy pulled up and asked, “Do you have a card?” I’m like, “I live here. I’m cutting my grass.” He looked at me bewildered like, “You cut your own grass?” Why would you pay someone to do something you can do yourself?
Have you always loved sports?
When [my brothers and I] came out of the womb, we were throwing a football or baseball. As a kid going to Saints games, [my brother and I] put bags on our heads when they were the Aints. My mom knocked the shit out of me. She said, “We are never embarrassed to pull for our team.” I’m trying to hold back tears while my brother is laughing. My mom loves the Saints and wherever my brother coaches. He coached for the Lions, and one year, they played the Saints. My mom was like, “We know what’s happening in November. This is the one time we can root against the Saints.” My older brother was like, “To hell with that.” He pulled against his own brother.
Why are sports important right now?
After Katrina, the New Orleans Saints brought us back. They went to the NFC Championship and lost, but it gave us something we didn’t have before. It’s a word called “hope.” That’s what sports does. It gives you an escape.
What’s college football going to look like this year?
It’s going to be different. You’re seeing it already. One guy is owed a big apology, and that’s Kirk Herbstreit. He was on my show on what was supposed to be the Opening Day of baseball. He comes on the air and throws a curveball. He says, “I don’t think we’re having football this year.” This is back in late March, and you had people coast to coast just bashing him. Nineteen times he said, “I pray I’m wrong.” He was the first one to say it and damn if he wasn’t right.
What is your favorite sports memory?
Watching my daughters play. I’ve never been more nervous in my entire life. Also broadcasting my first national championship.
How did you get involved in the Exchange Club?
I got involved through Mike Looney. To put a smile on a kid’s face is one of the most gratifying things you can do. I was the emcee at the fundraiser a few years ago. I had an emergency appendectomy just days before, but Eric Nadel was the guest speaker. I was like, “I ain’t missing it.” I had a momentary lapse when I was emcee for Laura Bush. I said, “This event can’t start until every butt is in a seat.” I was like, “Ian, this is the first lady, not Dabo Swinney.” I look over, and she’s laughing. I mouthed, “I’m sorry.”
The Exchange Club’s mission is to help public school children. Why is that important to you?
If people send their kids to neighborhood schools, they will continue to get even better. My kids will go to J.L. Long and Woodrow. By the time my youngest daughter has graduated from Woodrow, my goal is to have a stadium. The Saints donate the turf from the Superdome to a local high school every year. Hey, Jerry [Jones], instead of throwing the field away, rip it up and give it to a local high school. At the top of the list should be one where there have been two Heisman Trophy winners.
Any final thoughts?
This is an unbelievable job. I pinch myself sometimes. Calling the national championship. Watching a friend coach. Watching my daughter make a diving save or a game-winning hit. It’s the beauty and power of sports from a little house in Lakewood.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.