During last Saturday’s broadcast of Minnesota United’s victory against D.C. United, the commentating team experienced some classic technical difficulties.
Sideline reporter Jamie Watson just finished a segment and waited for play-by-play announcer Callum Williams to resume the commentary. But after two seconds that felt a lot longer to those doing the broadcast, it was clear Williams hadn’t heard anything Watson had said through his earpiece.
But before the lull could grow too awkward, color analyst Kyndra de St. Aubin saved the day.
“All of sudden, Kyndra with, like, the smoothest nudge you’ve ever seen, nudges Callum to tell Callum to go,” Watson said. “She knows I’m done. She understands that Callum can’t hear me, and so she gives this nudge that no one will ever know except us when we go into the production meeting, and we watch it back.”
After that quick elbow jab to his side from de St. Aubin, Williams jumped right back in with a “right, there we go, thank you, Jamie” and continued with the broadcast.
And, well, that’s de St Aubin in a snapshot: calm and unfazed, even with thousands of fans watching this season on Ch. 29 and subscription streaming service MLS Live or listening on 1500AM.
That’s a good trait to have for the only woman who is a team-employed TV color analyst in Major League Soccer. And one of the few women in a sports broadcast team, let alone for a men’s sport, let alone in the booth instead of on the sideline.
Those around her are quick to point out de St Aubin’s role as a trailblazer.
“She’s a pioneer. She is the leading lady for what is going to be new era for women in sports,” Williams said.
The woman herself is just as quick to downplay it.
“You also hope that there’s someday, a day that it’s not news,” de St. Aubin said. “You hope at some point, it’s just natural and not a big deal that you hire a woman instead of a man to do that job, because there’s plenty of men out there that are analysts for women’s soccer.”
Lupus part of life
De St. Aubin, 36, has come full circle with this job on Minnesota United’s broadcast team for its inaugural MLS season. A Stillwater native, maiden name Hesse, she started playing soccer at age 12 and eventually played collegiately at Wisconsin and Minnesota as a defender and midfielder.
But a life-changing diagnosis during her sophomore year of high school almost derailed those Division I dreams.
De St. Aubin, a multisport athlete growing up, remembers distinctly trying to play basketball but not even being able to catch a chest pass because her hands, wrists and elbows had swelled so much. The self-proclaimed “ponytail girl” couldn’t even lift her arms above her head to pull her hair back.
After several appointments and lab tests, doctors diagnosed de St. Aubin with lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that causes a body’s immune system to attack its own tissues and organs. While she had to stop playing basketball, she worked hard to continue with soccer. That included playing through many unpleasant side effects from her medication that caused her to “trip over a blade of grass,” she said, and be the “slowest one on the field.”
Since that initial diagnosis, though, de St. Aubin has been relatively healthy. In 2008 while training for a marathon, she had to be hospitalized when her kidneys started to fail. But since then, living with lupus has meant mostly monitoring herself with lab work and kidney biopsies every few months.
Like everything else in her life, though, de St. Aubin takes lupus in stride. She and husband Bobby de St. Aubin were even able to have daughter Adelynne, now 3, despite certain medications prohibiting pregnancy because of a high risk of birth defects.
“That disease and that diagnosis can really define who you are, and she just hasn’t let it,” Bobby de St. Aubin said. “It’s been a part of her life, but it’s one aspect of it, and there are so many other things that make up who she is.”
‘You get paid for this?’
Kyndra de St. Aubin went to college to play soccer, but in her junior year, she had to declare a major. Broadcast journalism was a way to continue her passion for sports.
She was taking a two-credit career exploration class that met once a week for three hours as a way to max out her credit load so she could graduate on time in May 2003 and get married in July to Bobby, her high school sweetheart. One assignment was to shadow someone whose job interested her, so she flew to Chicago where her brother produced the James Brown show on Sporting News Radio.
Her lasting impression from that trip: “You get paid for this?”
She and her husband moved to Milwaukee for his job after graduation. De St. Aubin, despite no experience, eventually landed a gig as a radio station reporter covering the Milwaukee Wave, a professional indoor soccer team. At the time, the station was located in the back parking lot of a Walmart in a double-wide trailer, with carpet on the walls and a bee infestation, according to de St. Aubin.
But under new ownership, the station grew, as did de St. Aubin’s role. She would work 100 hours a week, doing advertising sales in the morning, anchoring its SportsCenter in the afternoon and covering the Bucks and Brewers at night.
In 2007, the de St. Aubins moved to Phoenix, again for Bobby’s job, and she began working at the ESPN affiliate radio station there. That’s also when her TV career as an analyst and sideline reporter began, as the Big Ten Network had recently launched. That trickled into some work with Fox Sports and the Pac-12 Network.
‘Holy cow’ quirks
By 2015, she was part of one of five broadcast teams for the 2015 women’s World Cup in Canada and performed her way into calling a semifinal match. That’s where Ben Grossman, a consultant to sports media and technology companies and part of United’s ownership group, recognized her potential.
“I knew she would be a passionate and fantastic evangelist for what we are doing,” Grossman said. “Somebody out in the community, somebody hosting things for us, somebody just being a great ambassador for the team.”
Grossman said it was no “publicity stunt,” when he approached de St. Aubin about the job about a year ago. De St. Aubin has the special talent of understanding soccer at a high level but explaining the nuances to viewers in a relatable way. Her on-camera comfort makes it seem like she’s watching the match casually from her living room couch instead of a broadcast booth.
When United played the New York Red Bulls back on July 22, de St. Aubin flubbed midfielder Alex Muyl’s name but laughed at her mistake and kept on going.
Her broadcast partner from the Women’s World Cup, Jenn Hildreth, said those traits make people want to watch de St. Aubin.
“She brings her little Minnesota quirks with her. I don’t think I’d ever heard anybody say, ‘Holy cow!’ like an adult person say that as much as Kyndra does,” Hildreth said. “But it’s actually quite endearing, and it’s just who she is.”
De St. Aubin, as one of three women who regularly travels with the team, is very much “one of the lads,” according to Williams. Williams, subject of regular razzing from his TV partner,has high praise for her, saying “there’s no better female analyst out there,’’ and he believes she should be tapped for the 2018 men’s World Cup coverage.
De St. Aubin would lovethat, but it would really just be a bonus.
“I view this as a dream job scenario, not just from the position I’m in but also just being in Minnesota,” de St. Aubin said. “It can’t get much better than this.”