Play with AJ adds a new dimension to the sports talk show genre

Blending elements of popular culture, fashion, social media and of course sports, Play with AJ is one of the freshest and entertaining sports talk shows on the air. Hosted by Aliya Jasmine, who cut her teeth on other MTV programs such as 1 Girl, 5 Gays, she brings a strong sporting background. The 30-year old native of Ottawa was also named to Hello magazine’s list of the 50 Most Beautiful Canadians in 2013.

On the 2013 ESPY Awards red carpet discussing Colin Kaepenick’s appearance in the ESPN Body Issue (Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/AliyaJasmine)

On the 2013 ESPY Awards red carpet discussing Colin Kaepenick’s appearance in the ESPN Body Issue (Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/AliyaJasmine)

Jasmine has co-hosted the Juno Cup, a hockey event featuring professionals against musicians, reported on the Vancouver Winter Games and is a self-professed sports junkie. In July 2013, she joined Cabral “Cabbie” Richards in Los Angeles as part of TSN’s red carpet coverage for the ESPY Awards. She would speak to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick about his appearances in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue. Her love of the game clearly comes across as the program provides another strong venue for women to stake their claim in the ultra-competitive world of sports journalism.

Promotional shot for Play with AJ (Image obtained from: http://news.mtv.ca/photos/)

Promotional shot for Play with AJ (Image obtained from: http://news.mtv.ca/photos/)

The most endearing aspect of the program is that it does not take itself too seriously. While some sports programs believe they can solve all of sports problems and prognosticate with self-proclaimed expertise, Play with AJ approaches sport from a perspective of humour and nonchalance.

Opening the program with a monologue, AJ covers the intersection where pop culture and sport collide. She also pays homage to social media by acknowledging the unique sporting tweets of the week. One recent episode featured a tweet from Justin Bieber where he is photographed shirtless among the likes of Tyson Chandler and Kevin Durant.

One subject from her monologue is always segued one of her subjects into the TSN Talkback. With an on-air personality from The Sports Network, her subjects range along the lines of discussing Justin Bieber with Darren Dutchyshen to the Fame Game of NFL Quarterbacks (like Colin Kaepernick making the GQ cover) to A-Rod’s douchebag status with Jennifer Byrne.

Interviewing reality star and diehard New York Mets fan Snooki (Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/AliyaJasmine)

Interviewing reality star and diehard New York Mets fan Snooki (Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/AliyaJasmine)

Channeling the energy of skits from Pardon the Interruption, 30 Seconds of Fame is a segment filled with self-effacing humor that steals the show. Featuring a panel consisting of three bloggers and sports writers, they have to think fast on their feet as they are presented with numerous scenarios.

The segment goes through two rounds of hilarious elimination as each eliminated panelist is exiled to the infamous Shame Zone where they are booed by a group of hecklers and sprinkled with popcorn. The eventual winner earns 30 seconds of face time and is able to speak whatever is on their mind.

An added bonus of the segment is that viewers can participate as well. Viewers can tweet their own view on the scenarios discussed in 30 Seconds of Fame.

Perhaps its greatest asset is the fact that the segment tends to feature at least one female on the panel. Ranging from the likes of Missy Deyo, who covers Major League Baseball for the Kingston Whig-Standard, Nadine Liverpool, broadcast associate at Rogers Sportsnet and Miranda Furtado, these women all have something unique to offer.

Babes Dig Balls founder Miranda Furtado on 30 Seconds of Fame (Image obtained from: http://babesdigballs.com/the-babely-boss-makes-an-appearance-on-mtvs-play-with-aj/)

Babes Dig Balls founder Miranda Furtado on 30 Seconds of Fame (Image obtained from: http://babesdigballs.com/the-babely-boss-makes-an-appearance-on-mtvs-play-with-aj/)

Furtado, the founder of Babes Dig Balls, a sports site organized by women for a target audience of women was one of the winners. Megan Ann Wilson, a stylist and columnist with a love of basketball, is a two-time champion at 30 Seconds of Fame. Had she won her third appearance at 30 Seconds of Fame, she would have been the first recipient of the Play with AJ Bobblehead.

Liverpool was another fantastic female who prevailed on her respective panel and shared a powerful and moving 30 seconds in which she states why women need to believe in themselves and that they can succeed in sports.

Former hockey enforcer turned fashion guru Steve Avery in a one-on-one interview with AJ (Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/AliyaJasmine)

Former hockey enforcer turned fashion guru Steve Avery in a one-on-one interview with AJ (Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/AliyaJasmine)

From interviewing the likes of pop culture icon Snooki and country star Tim McGraw, the final segment of her program is a one-on-one interview which is a hybrid of topics ranging from sports, fashion, popular culture and music. Serving as the portal in which sporting personalities and celebrity figures can discuss non-traditional topics (such as Snooki’s devotion to the New York Mets and her newfound boxing promotion), the interviews come across as fresh and interesting.

While a hockey flavor is sprinkled into the feature, it is not the typical hockey interview. Although Jasmine once worked for the NHL Network, her Play with AJ interview with Sean Avery focused on his love of fashion and his reluctance to talk trash about Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Perhaps the best aspect of the Avery interview was the discovery that one of the cameramen on set was his cousin.

Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Joffrey Lupul spoke on the show about how he likes to play guitar. With his love of music, he discusses the difference between rock-star fame and hockey fame. When pressed by Jasmine, he stated that the various bands Jack White played with are the only type of music he would listen to.

Only on Play with AJ could Lupul declare that the Arcade Fire are one of Canada’s best bands while talking about being booed by the hockey patrons in the domiciles of divisional rivals such as Ottawa, Montreal and Buffalo.

More than just an on-air personality, she also helped to write and produce a video on breast cancer awareness which went viral and made news world-wide. With hundreds of thousands of hits, the video was meant to be a public service announcement.

Packaged to look like a typical beer commercial in which a buxom beauty walks in slow motion, admired by various voyeurs, the tone of the PSA is geared towards increasing cancer awareness for a younger demographic. A close-up of a chest states with tongue in cheek, it is time to save the boobs.

Still from AJ's viral video

Still from AJ’s viral video

In the effort to help promote Boobyball, a cause started by two remarkable women, Amanda Blakely and Ashleigh Dempster, Jasmine’s PSA helped to educate by sending the message that breast cancer is a leading cause of illness among women in their twenties.

Executed with the help of volunteers, the PSA also hit home for Jasmine, as her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer. By donating her time to the Boobyball event, funds have been raised for the Rethink Breast Cancer cause.

Through her wit, compassion and love of sport, to call Jasmine the total package would be an understatement. Her star only rises with this new program on MTV Canada. In an era when women in sport, whether it be in athletic competition or in journalism, are still struggling for their opportunity to be considered equal, Play with AJ motivates a young generation of female sports fans to believe that they can shatter the glass ceiling.

Babes Dig Balls offers the total package in sports coverage for women by women

While the amount of sports websites and blogs can result in a tangled web of failed searches and information overload, a remarkable site for sports coverage is helping to give women a long overdue voice. Mixing sports, popular culture and style, Babes Dig Balls is clean and concise, while looking to capture the zeitgeist of women in sports.

Starting on Tumblr, BDB’s humble beginnings have evolved into a full-blown website. Quickly becoming a popular refuge for female sports fans, it is a unique package of current sports news, featured blogs, style and a roster of over 30 female writers. Complemented by a program on Sirius/XM Radio (Channel 167), it is the first sign that BDB is not only becoming a brand, but progressing into a pop culture phenomenon.

Miranda Furtado

Miranda Furtado

Created by women for women, the heartbeat of the site is Miranda Furtado. Currently a Sports and Entertainment Editor at Canada.com, her sporting roots feature soccer, dirt biking and wakeboarding, while working as an instructor for snowboarding. Her first brush with fame occurred in 2009 while studying as a fashion student. The 23 year-old would be selected as the Face of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

Eventually, Furtado would join forces with Missy Deyo from Sports Babe of the Day. The bustling brunettes may be familiar to many as they also appeared on episodes of MTV Canada’s sports-themed program Play with AJ in the 30 Seconds of Fame segment.

Having faced numerous health issues with her kidneys, Deyo persevered and gained an army of admirers in the process. During her recovery, she contributed to the Kingston Frontenacs hockey club with social media coverage and covered baseball for the Kingston Whig-Standard.

Deyo’s lively and entertaining Sports Babe of the Day lives on as one of the features on BDB. Featuring both male and female athletes, the SBOTD has featured athletes such as Tessa Bonhomme and Kaylyn Kyle. Providing an in-depth, sometimes humorous, though always informative view on what drives these world-class athletes, the feature makes for a fun read.

Another lady that deserves recognition in helping to grow the BDB brand is Tia Preece, the Babely Vice-President. A co-owner of the site, Preece is a snowbird making her residence in Florida. With aspirations of one day covering NHL hockey (her favourite team is the Tampa Bay Lightning) or the PGA Tour, the university-educated VP also pulls double duty as the BDB Radio Show co-host.

A series of blogs composed by the Babely Army comprise the Featured Blogs section. Six Packs on Ice covers ice hockey, while giving exposure to minor leagues such as the AHL and ECHL. Writer Hope Laws is part of the aptly titled basketball blog Laws on the Court.

Third and 10 is the blog on NFL football, featuring recent stories such as Johnny Manziel and the debate over the use of the name Redskins. Extreme Sports, All Things Aussie and The Bro Blog, featuring male writers such as Terry Michael Maughan and Marc van Herk are among the other Featured Blogs on BDB.

Although Furtado, Deyo and the rest of the Babely Family look more like models than sports fans, there is no denying their expertise. Starting with the coverage of all four major sports, every member of the Babely Family brings their own passion for the game. Some of the highlights include the following:

Hailing from St. Louis, Marjorie Notter aspires to become the Erin Andrews of Hockey and Baseball. A lifelong fan of the Blues and Cardinals, her childhood involved playing softball along with boy’s hockey, respectively. One of her greatest moments was being featured in David Freese’s ESPN article after his MVP performance in the classic 2012 World Series.

Marjorie Notter

Marjorie Notter

Hayley Campbell, also known as the Model Sports Fan is BDB’s blogger for NFL football. Like her colleagues, she is more than a pretty face. With a Masters Degree from the prestigious University of Toronto, she has pulled double duty as a librarian and a fashion model.

A pair of students and aspiring sports reporters, Lindsay Beaver and Mandy Kovacs is gaining valuable experience with their first-rate coverage. Having grown up as a Detroit Tigers fan, Beaver had the opportunity to interview Prince Fielder. One of Kovacs’ finest hockey stories incorporated the funny side of sport as she remarked on the Ten Worst Playoff Beards.

The group even features a former collegiate athlete, Ashley Docking. Having competed in soccer and basketball, her number 10 was retired by her college. Currently serving as a varsity college basketball coach, she is also an employee of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rachel Docking's jersey retirement

Rachel Docking’s jersey retirement

Traditionally, any publication or website geared towards women customarily features the obligatory review of style. Focusing on topics such as Beauty, Fitness, Health, Talk That Talk and Travel, there is no powder puff to be found here. Geared towards the active woman, no topic is off-base.

Acting as coaches of style, the writers cover topics ranging from accessories such as the Ipsy Bag to segments including the Workout of Week, plus suggestions for Coolest Excursions and Vacation Spots.

While all of the energetic and vivacious women from the Babely Army have various goals in sports, it is remarkable to see them collaborate together. With the support of Furtado and Preece, the ambitious effort to branch out with a wide range of coverage has yielded remarkable results. The key is that BDB still stays true to its roots; knowledgeable, intelligent and ambitious women providing thought-provoking sports coverage with a twist of pop culture and wit.

With women’s sports continuing to grow in terms of competition and participation, there is no question that the role of women in sports media is running parallel. Although Erin Andrews, Andi Petrillo, Nicole Zaloumis are living the dream, their accomplishments are the source of dreams upon which BDB is helping to extend and further shape the growing role of women in sport.

The rest of the Babely Family includes:

*Sabrina Bridges *Desiree Christine *Toiya Crawford

*Melissa Fiore *Kelly Gresser *Sammy Hill

*Mandy Kovacs *Gabby Lucivero *Mika Marquart

*Hayley Meyer *Miranda Murphy *Brittany Pfeiffer

*Diana Pulupa *Kayla Ramiscal *Michela Ricci

*Amanda Santos *Paulina Strzelec *Makenzi Wassenaar

*Candace Woodside

All images obtained from Babes Dig Balls

Missy Deyo: The Ultimate Sports Babe

Image

In the world of sports journalism, many women still struggle to be seen as relevant. While there are prominent figures such as Erin Andrews (Fox Sports) and Christine Simpson (Rogers Sports net), others are also trying to make their mark. One such lady is Toronto resident Missy Deyo.

As the founder of the website Sportsbabe of the Day, the ambitious scribe is looking to bring a fun and playful aspect to sports, while trying to peel the onion as to what makes both male and female athletes tick. Some of the athletes that have been featured on Sportsbabe of the Day include women’s ice hockey hero Tessa Bonhomme and softball pitcher Danielle Lawrie.

Conceived at a Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles contest, SBOTD was the result of Deyo and friends talking about some of the more attractive people of the game. Since then, SBOTD has become a hot spot for alternative sports banter, while evolving along the way. Starting with a feature on JP Arencibia, the Toronto Blue Jays catcher, Deyo has included interviews with featured athletes. In addition, she has created a forum where fans truly feel a sense of ownership. Not only do fans suggest what kind of athletes should be featured, but there is also a Hot Fan of the Week, a tribute to their own hotness.

What Anna Wintour did for fashion with Vogue Magazine, what Helen Gurley-Brown did for women’s lifestyles with Cosmopolitan, Deyo is looking to have similar influence with SBOTD. Not only has she created a great community for fans to belong to, but she has given female sports fans a place where they can share their love of the game in a respectful forum.

Upon first glance, her model like looks would provide the impression that she would look more comfortable on the runway of a fashion show, or in the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Rather than elicit the reaction of being comfortable on the soccer pitch or the frozen perimeter of the hockey rink, Deyo’s ascent to sports journalism extols all the qualities of determination.

The one aspect that makes Deyo’s story so compelling has been her perseverance and stoic dignity in attempting to overcome chronic kidney ailments. While her struggle with illness has led to multiple surgeries (the most recent being in August 2012), Deyo has a tough as nails mentality that is just as impressive as any linebacker in the National Football League.

Similar to Clara Hughes talking publicly (and bravely) about her battles with depression, Deyo has utilized the same approach to discussing her kidney ailments without fear. A few weeks before her 25th birthday, Deyo found herself hospitalized. When the milestone 25th came, instead of a pity party, she had a memorable party in Toronto.

Her enthusiasm is a great aspect in all the success she has experienced. Deyo is the embodiment of Yogi Berra’s timeless phrase, It Ain’t Over till it’s over. Like Mario Lemieux battling back from Hodgkin’s disease, or Frank Reich’s miraculous comeback at Rich Stadium in the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history, Deyo has the resiliency to come back from illness and write her own jubilant and miraculous victory.