When Mina Kimes appeared on ESPN’s Around the Horn during the pandemic—as she mixed it up with a grizzled cadre of sportswriters across the country from a makeshift home studio—you could catch an Easter egg perched above her right shoulder. Gleaming under the production lights was a painting of Pavement’s third (and most difficult) record, Wowee Zowee.
This is a deep cut, even among indie rock snobs. The most traditionally acclaimed Pavement albums are its first two: Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Wowee Zowee, on the other hand, is best known for its engorged runtime and reedy experimentalism, which obliterated the band's ascending MTV traction. In other words, it’s the sort of record you consecrate when you’ve already spent much of your life thinking about Pavement.
— Matador Records (@matadorrecords) April 15, 2020
ESPN is airing its first Super Bowl in 2026; its staff is composed of retired quarterbacks, game-tape bingers, and reflexive free-agency newsbreakers. But as Kimes emerges as an unlikely star of the jock universe, she’s still very much one of us: an indie kid perpetually eager to put her taste on display.
“I had to scramble to put together a presentable TV backdrop,” says Kimes, reflecting on what it was like to shift her ESPN television duties to her home at the height of COVID, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I stacked a bunch of books and plants on top of my dresser, and then put my Wowee Zowee painting—a gift—on top of it, because I was too lazy to properly hang anything up.” And thus, a now-iconic setup was born. “Since then, I’ve changed my books a few times, but I’ll always leave the Pavement painting in place, because I like how it looks, and I love the idea of a random Pavement fan sitting down for a beer at an airport somewhere in America, squinting up at a TV, and asking, ‘Is that Wowee Zowee on ESPN?’”
Kimes, 36, joined ESPN in 2014, after spending a year reporting on construction moguls and department store CEOs at Bloomberg Businessweek. She was deployed as a features writer for the website and magazine at the beginning of her tenure, spending afternoons with ponderous Football Men like Aaron Rodgers and Baker Mayfield, picking their brains and ruminating on what she found.
But over the last few years, Kimes has slowly invaded ESPN’s television product. She was a featured player on the daytime talk show Highly Questionable with longtime sports-media fixture Dan Le Batard. But in the ramp up to the 2020 NFL season, in June, Kimes was given an analyst role on NFL Live. Kimes’ football knowledge is immense and indomitable, but her presence stands in stark contrast to everyone else on the show. Here is a Korean-American woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of ’90s indie rock breaking down cornerback schemes with Keyshawn Johnson. That, my friends, is representation.
if I was Carlos Correa, I would use the part of Pavement's "Cut Your Hair" where Malkmus says CAREER CAREER CAREER but it kind of sounds like CORREA CORREA CORREA as my walkup song. On a related note this might be why I'm not a professional athlete
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) October 31, 2019
Kimes can point to the exact moment she was introduced to a world of music beyond FM radio. It was the turn of the millennium, the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she was loitering around a Zia Records store in Phoenix. “Someone who worked there put on Fugazi’s Repeater. I had never listened to hardcore before then, and it rattled my bones so much that I bought the album on the spot,” she says. “I still remember listening to it while driving home. I had a CD player underneath my driver’s seat, with a cable connecting it to the tape deck of my Caravan. The height of luxury!”
Like so many other young people lucky enough to taste the alternative canon hiding in plain sight, Kimes was entranced. She kept digging through the back catalog, and soon enough, she was binging on Minor Threat and Black Flag—two institutions of the American underground that lived and thrived for years before Kimes was born. In many ways, she's an early case study of the internet’s ability to mint a legion of teenaged indie-rock aficionados: boys and girls who suddenly wielded the heretical technology to indoctrinate themselves with years of music history without paying a cent.
"This was the summer of Napster," explains Kimes. "which turbo-charged my journey of musical discovery for obvious reasons. I went backwards in time, bouncing from post-punk to bands like The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. By the end of my high school career, I was mostly listening to easier hangs—Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., Guided by Voices. It’s funny to look back and realize I started with the most intense stuff."
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) May 25, 2020
To be clear, when Mina Kimes is on TV, she is almost always talking about football. Unfortunately, ESPN has yet to dedicate a portion of their programming schedule to her record reviews, though she does take time to tell me that Low’s Drums and Guns is one of her favorite albums of the last 15 years. Instead, Kimes' indie-rock takes are teased out on Twitter, with a wink and a nod, just like her furtive Wowee Zowee tribute. I have seen Kimes rank her favorite Pixies songs, recall a morning ritual involving Neutral Milk Hotel, and exalt a gorgeous Superchunk cover of a Magnetic Fields song. Hell, Kimes is even married to Nick Sylvester, a record producer who, in a past life, penned some of the most legendarily snarky Pitchfork reviews of all time. (His pan of Jet’s Get Born is a personal favorite.)
To be in love with independent music is to constantly be in search of those who can speak the same language. Kimes understands that, and it’s clearly working out beautifully for her. One of the people who picked up her breadcrumbs was Bob Nastanovich, one of the principal members of Pavement. He reached out—certainly befuddled to see his band’s most divisive work on display between Kirk Cousins takes—and Kimes now calls him a friend. "Never let anyone tell you that you can’t manifest friendships with your indie rock heroes by becoming an NFL analyst," she says.
The rise of indie rock fan-turned-ESPN star Mina Kimes should teach us, once and for all, that sports fandom and indie-rock fandom are remarkably similar creatures. Both are pockmarked with moments of both euphoria and disappointment, and both require you to debase yourself in the name of community. No matter which lane you choose, once you're in, you'll be there for life. There are no jocks and nerds sniping at each other from across the lunchroom, there is only Ben Gibbard tossing out the first pitch at a Mariners game.
— Bob Nastanovich (@BNastanovich) April 16, 2020
"Indie rock nerds are probably like sports nerds in both good ways — passion! fun! — and the bad ones — gatekeeping," says Kimes. Like Dinosaur Jr. said, we feel the pain for everyone.