Ian Rapoport, star NFL insider for NFL Network, had just gotten home from his annual multi-week training camp tour.
His wife, Leah, who for most of the year must navigate the parenting of their two sons with a husband who is permanently on-call for work, is especially stretched thin while Ian is checking out practices all over the country.
“Mostly we [the kids and I] try to escape during this time,” Leah told The Post this past weekend.
This year, with their 9-year-old son Max at summer camp, she traveled with their 7-year-old son Jude to see her parents in Mississippi. In past years, her mom has come to see them in Westchester.
“It’s a long period and with small kids it’s kind of painful, so with this time of year especially we just try to throw in a little extra help,” Leah said. “We have no help otherwise, but during this time it’s definitely time for reinforcements.”
Ian Rapoport has not managed to avoid all domestic responsibilities. He does the dishes, makes the bed and does the laundry — for the latter, it’s not uncommon for him to multitask, talking on the phone with sources or appearing on a radio interview with his AirPods in his ears while folding up clothes.
“I would say most of his radio interviews involve laundry folding,” Leah said.
Combining these tasks does not cause Ian to lose his train of thought.
“It doesn’t really work like that,” he said. “I spend most of my time doing multiple things. Like I’m on the radio and folding laundry, or if it’s summer I’m playing golf and there’s text messaging and tweeting or if there’s news. If I’m doing dishes, it’s a pretty good chance I’m on the phone with someone. I’m so used to doing multiple things that losing train of thought doesn’t come into play.
The couple met at The Grill in Starkville, Miss. in 2006. Leah was in school and Ian was covering Mississippi State football for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Leah’s roommate was bartending and Ian was there with another friend, who Leah knew. They’ve been together ever since, through Ian’s career stops in Tuscaloosa, Boston, Dallas and New York.
Leah has counseled him throughout his career. She always expected him to be “fine” but there was the belief his trajectory would be in print newspapers. Neither of them had their sights set on him having a big TV career — the “dream” was to be a sports columnist for the New York Times or another big national paper.
A job at the Birmingham News covering Alabama came open. Ian wondered if it was a “lateral move” but Leah, who grew up in football-crazed SEC country, was adamant Alabama was far more relevant than Mississippi State.
“Nationally, people care about Alabama. They don’t care about Mississippi State,” she recalls telling him at the time. “Which makes me sad. I [love it] there and love it always, but nationally it’s not a story.”
Ian confirmed that she guided him in the right direction here.
“I know they loved football in Alabama, but I had gone down to Mississippi from New York with the hope of moving back up North covering football or baseball — or anything,” he said. “It was one of multiple times in my career where she explained the context to me. Obviously it’s been me doing it, but she’s been very much involved in every career choice.”
“Growing up in the South, you understand the SEC more than a Jewish guy from the North might understand the SEC,” Leah said with a laugh.
It bears mentioning that Ian took the job before Nick Saban left the Dolphins and took his talents to Tuscaloosa for the 2007 season. Alabama had the historical pedigree, yes, but they had won just one national title (1992) since Bear Bryant’s final one in 1979.
It was the news of Saban’s return that Leah remembers as the first time Ian’s work took over their personal lives like a tidal wave.
It was December of 2006. They had been dating for about nine months at the time. She was graduating college and her family threw her a big party. Alabama was zeroing in on Saban.
“He spent the entire graduation party outside on the phone,” Leah said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is slightly annoying.’ But it was sort of like, ‘What can you do?’ I’m not gonna be mad at him for being on the phone for work. These sources don’t work from 9 to 5. This is how it’s gonna be.”
Ian disputes that he was outside on the phone “the entire time” at the party, but conceded it was a good amount.
Leah estimates that Ian takes a phone call during dinner “100 percent” of the days, but she understands that it comes with the territory.
“I literally don’t care. Dinner is not some sacred right. It’s … food. Do what you need to do and come back, it’s fine. It makes no difference,” she said.
When they eat dinner at their country club, a couple of miles from their house, it’s not uncommon that he will jump out in the middle of the meal, go home to tape a TV spot, and then return to dinner.
Sometimes, if it’s “something crazy,” Ian will look down at his phone during a meal, get up and have to be on TV for the next two hours.
What she has worked on with him is “audibly” checking out. This means that if he gets a ping from his phone that he has to stop and give his attention to, he informs her and the boys — or immediately leaves the room. Previously, he would drop off mid-conversation and she wouldn’t know exactly when or at what point the conversation would be picked up again.
Leah has made it clear that when he is physically there he needs to be present, and it’s fine if he holes up in the basement for long stretches when he has to work. A few years ago, during the frantic free agency stretch where he approaches 20 hours of screen time a day, he would make brief appearances to check in with her and the kids but his mind remained on football scoops.
Once, he was so distracted that he brewed a pot of coffee but forgot to put the actual coffee pot in the machine. The coffee spilled everywhere and made a huge mess.
“When you’re like this — just go. It’s okay,” she told him. “You’re either on or you’re off. Just don’t come up. If you need something, I’ll bring it down. Don’t try and talk to someone if you’re not gonna be ‘there’. Pretend your studio is elsewhere. It doesn’t help anyone to be halfway in a conversation.”
The Rapoports do not have a nanny, but Leah no longer works. Until she left the job in 2019, first to go part-time, and later altogether, she managed a Starbucks. The inconsistent schedules of both their jobs made for a logistical nightmare.
There was one viral time a few years ago, when Jude was home sick from school, and he joined Ian on-air as the news that Dez Bryant had signed with the Saints was breaking.
Leah handles the family finances, paying the bills and even taking care of things like invoicing radio stations for his paid spots. Ian did not have his own Venmo account until recently — golf bets were settled through his wife’s.
“It’s a pretty smooth operation, and everything I would possibly screw up — she handles,” Ian said.
NBA insider Shams Charania told The Post that he does not drive, lest he miss a scoop while in transit. ESPN sends a car for Rapoport’s news-breaking rival Adam Schefter when he travels from his home in New York to the company’s HQ in Bristol.
Ian drives a little, but only puts about a couple thousand miles a year on his car. Leah got tired of him dictating text messages to her while he was behind the wheel.
“The texts would be full of names that I’ve never heard of before and have no idea how to spell,” she explained. “And then, you want me to send a tweet for you, but I’m gonna screw it up and everyone’s gonna freak out. I would rather drive 100 percent of the time than send a single tweet.”
As far as spending time keeping the relationship strong, they strive to cook or grill and/or make “fun cocktails” together at least once a day. They also watch at least one episode of whatever TV show they’re currently watching each night after they put the boys to bed. During football season, Ian will have the game on his iPad as a second screen.
While communicating with sources any time at the drop of the hat is OK, the line has been drawn at “mindless scrolling” during their TV time.
“Leah knows my job pretty well. She’ll definitely ask who broke what story as opposed to who won what game,” Ian said. “At some point she was like ‘What are you doing? If you’re scrolling through your feed for news, you’ve already lost. For these minutes, put your phone down.’”
After a few years covering Alabama, the Rapoports moved to Massachusetts where Ian covered the Patriots for the Boston Herald. For a time, they thought their next move would be to Dallas. Ian had the impression from the Dallas Morning News that he would be offered a coveted job covering the Cowboys. However, the role was never formally opened and it didn’t happen.
This song and dance went on for a year, and Ian was “pretty heartbroken” that it fell through — but they wound up having their chance to move to Dallas anyway.
In 2012, in Indianapolis for the second Super Bowl between the Patriots and Giants, Ian was asked into a meeting by Marcus Smith, a talent booker and producer at NFL Network at the time who now works for ESPN.
Though Rapoport had only been booked a couple of times for NFL Network appearances at that point, the meeting wound up being with a number of their decision-makers. They expressed interest in potentially hiring him — and asked if he’d be willing to move to Dallas.
“We’d mentally moved to Dallas a year before,” Leah said.
While she cautioned not to get their hopes up, he got hired about a month later.
“It’s still like the craziest thing ever,” she said.
While Woj vs. Shams gets a lot more attention in the sense that people are racing to make memes of one dunking on the other for whichever of them breaks NBA scoops the fastest, Schefter vs. Rapoport is also a formidable rivalry.
Leah is acutely aware of the two-man race for the news.
“Whenever there’s a story, it’s never like, ‘What random San Francisco reporter may have broken a Niners story?’ That doesn’t matter. It wasn’t Schefter,” Leah said. “If Schefter got there first on the news someone signed, it’s like, ‘Did I get the numbers first?’ It’s always an intense me vs. him. There’s no way around it. I’ve never met him. I don’t know him at all. But I’m definitely Team Rapsheet.”
Ian said, “There’s nothing personal with me and Schefter. It’s really fine. There’s a good mutual respect. We’ll sometimes email each other. It’s not like the Woj v. Shams dunk-a-thon.”
Ultimately, they both concluded, what’s good for Schefter is good for them, too.
“Schefter just got a huge contract. Ultimately, that’s good for Ian. No hard feelings there,” Leah said.
It’s rare when one of them scoops the other by a considerable amount of time, but one recent occasion was when Rapoport broke the news that Baker Mayfield was getting traded to the Carolina Panthers. The anatomy of this scoop is a story into of itself.
“I was playing golf at Congressional at the time,” Ian said with a laugh. “I was playing so well. I was 11-over through 14, which for me is pretty good. I was in the bunker on 15, and I’m waiting on the ‘go’ call. The person wasn’t calling me back, so I’m literally sitting there in the bunker. I had to let another group pass as I’m there waiting. And then I ended up breaking it, and then I played like s–t for the rest of (the day).”