At the Batting Cage With the Woman Bringing a Sneaky Feminism to Fox Sports

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“When you’re arguing with an idiot … and you have to make them think something was their idea? I do a lot of that.”Photo: Taylor Ballantyne

Katie Nolan is standing in a narrow cage at Chelsea Piers, holding an aluminum bat. Her long hair is tucked into a ratty helmet, and she’s wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt. A pitching machine is set at 40 miles per hour, and softballs are whizzing by inches from her nose. I’m trying to cheer her on above the whir of the machine, but as it turns out, Nolan doesn’t need encouragement. The Fox Sports 1 host played softball as a kid, and she makes solid contact with practically every pitch. “This is so fun,” she exclaims. “It’s totally reawakening my love of softball.” I’m supposed to hit, too, but I’ve worn open-toe shoes, and a Chelsea Piers employee is hesitant about letting me enter the batting cage.

Nolan has taken a break from shooting her weekly sports-comedy show, Garbage Time, to swing a bat with me. It’s a big day in the sports-media world: A few hours earlier, ESPN announced it would not renew the contract of columnist and Grantland founder Bill Simmons. The news is a shock to Nolan, who knows Simmons well, and when we got here a moment ago, she fired off a text to make sure he was okay. “He does such a good job of curating smart-ass voices,” Nolan says. She smiles. “And I don’t just say that because he tried to hire me.”

Four years ago, Nolan was a 23-year-old Hofstra grad, bartending at night and living in her grandmother’s condo in Massachusetts; now she is a writer and producer, and the host, of Garbage Time, a show roughly in the Jon Stewart format that airs Sunday nights on Fox Sports 1. It’s not a show full of stats, though she knows her stuff. Instead, it’s about jokes and tone and, most of all, irreverence. The moment that may have established her was an episode in April, when she did a whole segment about a web post titled “How to Land a Husband at the Masters,” which had appeared on Fox Sports’ own site. She tore it apart with lines like “It is very easy to try to type cosmopolitan.com and accidentally type foxsports.com, if you just got your nails done.”

Off the air, Nolan curses a lot and laughs loudly. On Twitter, where she’s the least filtered, she calls out trolls and speaks her mind. More important, she is not afraid to be the “bitch on a rampage,” as she puts it, in order to make Garbage Time better. “I already do a lot of stuff that I don’t think the male-dominated sports world is really a huge fan of, and I try to sneak it in,” she says. “It’s sort of like when you’re arguing with an idiot — not to call men idiots — and you have to make them think something was their idea? I do a lot of that.” Even, sometimes, with her bosses: “It can either be the show they want or the show you want, and you have to fight,” Nolan says. “And it’s a lot of fighting.”

Nolan wasn’t always so emboldened. Growing up in Framingham, near Boston, she was shy, with a bad short haircut “from first grade until freshman year of high school,” she says. “I was horrid-looking. And middle school is like the comments section IRL.” She briefly played hockey as a kid, and when the coach mistook her gender because of her short hair, she was too afraid to correct him. She dutifully completed the season as a boy named Kyle. “I went by Kyle, and I made friends on the team as Kyle,” she says. “It went on for a pretty long time, until I went to a birthday party in a dress and all the hockey players were like … Kyle?

While bartending in Massachusetts after college, Nolan decided to start a blog called Bitches Can’t Hang, which got her noticed by the men’s-lifestyle website Guyism. She made videos for them before moving to Fox Sports 1, first as a social-media correspondent on the panel show Crowd Goes Wild, then with a web-video series called No Filter that she hosted until the debut of Garbage Time in March. Despite Fox Sports 1’s struggles, the show has been a success, primarily owing to Nolan’s skewering of pro athletes and the institutions that coddle them; one episode in mid-April pulled in more than 1.6 million viewers.

Soon, we move to the medium-pitch machine, where the softballs come in at 60 miles per hour. After agreeing not to sue Chelsea Piers should my feet be permanently mangled, I take a turn at the plate, as Nolan cheers me on. As I miss or foul off pitch after pitch, she shouts, “You got this!” politely pretending that we are operating on the same skill level. When she takes the bat, Nolan misses one pitch — the first — but after that she’s slugging left and right.

Like any woman with a little bit of fame — especially one in a mostly male field — Nolan has attracted her share of haters. They flock to her social-media profiles to say she knows nothing about sports, or that she only got her job because she’s hot, or that she’s given sexual favors to Fox executives. Unfortunately for the trolls, she owns them gleefully. “Boy, I sure hope some day I get better at hiding the fact that I’m ‘thirsty for the D’ during interviews with male guests,” she recently tweeted, referencing viewers who accused her of flirting with Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. “How embarrassing!” In December, she dedicated a segment of No Filter to reading aloud and responding to some of the foulest commentary. “ ‘You still my favorite whore, Katie,’ ” she reads to the camera, before responding, “You know, there are a lot of whores out there. I really appreciate the honor.”

After batting practice, we hop into an Uber and zip down the West Side Highway toward the studio where she tapes the show. She immediately strikes up a conversation with the driver, who is not so evolved. “Here’s a novel idea,” she offers, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “How about I go out and make the money and you stay home and take care of the kids?” The driver tentatively agrees to this idea, but only if her job is more lucrative than any he might take on. Their plan does have one snag, though: “I already have a wife,” he admits uneasily. After we arrive and climb out onto the street in West Soho, she jokes, “Man, he did not want to marry me.”

Garbage Time is shot at Embassy Row, a TV-production center that handles basic-cable shows like Cutthroat Kitchen and Watch What Happens: Live. As I’m waiting to sign in, she checks her phone and tilts it my way. Simmons has responded to her text. She opens the message and offers me the gist, something about how he’s doing fine and they’ll talk soon. “He’s more fun just to talk to than he is to follow [on Twitter],” she says. “On Twitter, it’s too much basketball.”

We head inside to her studio, tiny as a Manhattan bedroom, just down the hall from Bravo baron Andy Cohen’s office. They’re shooting Bravo’s Fashion Queens today, and it’s chaotic; stylists, interns, and cameramen flutter by in a flash of sequins. An assistant swoops in to unwrap a giant bowl of guacamole on the craft-services table. “This is the food we don’t get to eat,” Nolan jokes. Nearby, a Fashion Queens cast member breaks into spontaneous song. Nolan shoots mostly on Saturdays, when the office is much less hectic.

Garbage Time was guaranteed 20 episodes and is about three-quarters of the way through that run. Nolan has no idea whether it’ll be renewed or if she’ll be whisked away to a new project. (Fox Sports says a second season is in the works.) Ideally, she says, she’d like to do a show with a wider lens, perhaps something that mixes sports with pop culture. The tough part, she says, is shaking off the impostor syndrome. Her boyfriend is constantly challenging her to see herself as a successful TV anchor with a dedicated following. Nolan isn’t convinced. “If you become very aware of what you are now, you become Britt McHenry,” she jokes, referencing the ESPN reporter who was recently suspended for a week for berating a towing-company employee. “Which nobody wants to be.”

*This article appears in the June 29, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.