To say life is very special is an understatement. For those who are fortunate enough to live their dreams, life is a blessing beyond measure. Such is the case for Arnold “AJ” Speaks, a native son who at 46 recently returned from a dream trip covering the 2020 Olympics in Japan as a senior producer for the Miami Heat.
The trip to Japan was very special to AJ for several reasons. One could say it was a two-fold blessing wrapped in a mission.
“AJ was so excited because he was not only in Japan for the Olympics but he was also going to trace history where Arnold Sr. and I were married and partied 50 years ago,” his mother Diane explained. “Japan is also where his sister Tiffany was born.”
Seems the spirit of adventure and enterprise runs in the family. Diane Speaks is somewhat of a household name around town, as owner/operator of She’s International, a local boutique that offers upscale apparel influenced by her global travels as a former flight attendant.
“I really didn’t know that I wanted to work in professional sports early on. Like a lot of people, I had aspirations to be a professional athlete myself,” AJ said during a June 2021 interview.
“My job is to find the best way to tell stories and with the Marlins and the Dolphins I wanted to learn something new.” I love football, I love baseball and I wanted to do something with both,” he said and express his desire to rise through the sports broadcasting ranks – and did he ever.
Although AJ was born in Baltimore, his formative years were spent in Roanoke where he graduated from Northside High School and went on to attend Fort Union Military Academy (Va). The path he followed to success was paved with hard work, focus and luck – a tried and true formula that led to the breaks that kept opening doors for him.
While in high school AJ attended journalism workshops at the Roanoke Times and shortly thereafter his focus shifted to broadcasting. Instrumental in his efforts to become a newscaster were WDBJ-TV sportscasters Mike Stevens and Steve Mason who both took AJ under their collective wings as an intern at the station.
After graduating from high school (1993), AJ attended Fort Union Military Academy (Va) and said it was the best decision he ever made.
“I was just a lazy undisciplined kid and my post graduate year really helped me to get focused. From there I was able to get into colleges that I would never have been able to get into.”
AJ was accepted at Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ where he got a lot of experience as an intern at radio stations that later exposed him to the “Big East,” a multi-sports collegiate athletics conference. That experience led to a “pivotal internship in the big league in a pool of interns with HBO Sports.
One day while still in school at Seton Hall, opportunity knocked when a certain intern bailed on a project with the network. HBO reps called AJ and offered him the job that led to his rise as a production assistant with HBO Sports.
“Internships are a good thing because you get to learn what you like and what you don’t like so I strongly encourage people to engage in internships in all sorts of fields so you get a taste of everything that will show you where your passion really lies,” he said.
To that, many will agree that a great portion of human progress and prosperity is built on the experience and effectiveness implemented through internships.
AJ rose through his field propelled by internships and also credits sports journalists like Roy Firestone of ESPN fame who had major influence on the manner through which he fashioned his own technique.
“Roy Firestone had a unique interview style where he would get athletes to open up to him,” he said. “Roy played a big part for me because I saw him on TV, I saw that he was really good at his job and I looked at that job as something that I could possibly do so I aspired to be like Roy Firestone.”
For years now AJ has traveled extensively as a television broadcast producer for the NFL, MLB and NBA. His dynamic career in sports broadcasting has landed him positions with the Miami Heat, Miami Dolphins, Miami Marlins and others. He said once, his dream was to go to every Olympics since being there as a fan in 2000. As fate would have it he finally made it back this year working his dream job and figuratively brought home the “gold,” in memories.
- Submitted by S. Rotan Hale