The untold truth of Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts has been a fixture on daytime television since 1995, when she began contributing to ABC’s Good Morning America. When she was hired in 2005 as full-time co-anchor, Roberts’ stature as a broadcaster only continued to grow.

Fans of the morning show have been there with her every step of the way, sharing her ups and downs over the decades as she overcame health woes and personal milestones. Guesting on The View in early 2020, Roberts shared her favorite thing about GMA. “No two days have been the same,” she marveled. “And to be able to share people’s stories, from all walks of life, that’s just something that never, ever will get old.”

Viewers have been starting their mornings with the GMA stalwart for so long they may think they know all about her there is to know, yet there’s much that even her most devoted fans can learn by uncovering the untold truth of Robin Roberts.

Robin Roberts shifted from sports to broadcasting

Before she made the decision to pursue a career in broadcasting, Robin Roberts envisioned herself becoming a professional tennis player. “My first dream was to be Venus and Serena,” she revealed in an interview with NPR. Ultimately attending college on a tennis scholarship, Roberts wound up gravitating toward basketball, but eventually had to admit that a professional career was probably not going to happen. She realized “there’s something called ability you got to have along with that desire and the heart.” 

This realization, she admitted, led her “to panic a little bit.” With a desire to stay within the realm of sports, and the self-awareness that she “didn’t have the patience to be a coach,” she followed the example set by her older sister, television journalist Sally-Ann Roberts, and dreamed a new dream: becoming a sports anchor. 

When Roberts decided to get serious about broadcasting, she received several full-time offers to cover news and one for a part-time job reporting sports, paying $5.50 an hour. She took the latter, and explained why: “I want to put in the work because that’s going to help me get to where I eventually want to be.”

Robin Roberts made history at ESPN

With her sights set on a career in broadcasting, Robin Roberts had a singular goal: ESPN. “I remember when ESPN came on the air, and I was, like, I’m going to work for ESPN one day,” she recalled for the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. “People were, like, first of all, no, because you’re a woman, and second of all, it’s not going to be around that long.”

Roberts proved the doubters wrong when she was hired by ESPN in 1990, initially anchoring the 2:30 AM edition of SportsCenter. Her talent on the air shone through, and it didn’t take long before she ascended to co-anchoring Sportscenter‘s primetime slot, becoming the first black woman to anchor SportsCenter.

In 1996, Roberts’ duties expanded to include hosting ABC’s long-running Wide World of Sports, thus also making history as the first black woman to host the venerable broadcast, which first hit the air in 1961. “It’s the jewel assignment, Roberts told The New York Times. I look at SportsCenter and Wide World as the premier sports programs ever. I like to be able to do both. How many people can say they hosted Wide World and SportsCenter?”

Broadcasting from Wimbledon brought Robin Roberts to tears

Prior to her career in broadcasting, Robin Roberts had serious aspirations to become a professional tennis player. Going to college on a tennis scholarship, Roberts’ ultimate goal was to one day play at Wimbledon. While those dreams fell by the wayside, Roberts’ love of the sport did not — and nor did her dream of someday making it to Wimbledon.

Roberts was able to tick that particular item off her bucket list when she covered Wimbledon in 1993 during her tenure at ESPN. “On that hot and steamy tennis court in Mississippi I would dream of being at Wimbledon,” she told Entertainment Weekly of her childhood dream. “Well you know what? I did get to Wimbledon. I didn’t have a tennis racket in my hands, I had an ESPN microphone. It still was every bit as gratifying.”

As she revealed to the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, when she finally did set foot on that hallowed ground, she actually wept. “I cried because it was a goal I had set for myself,” she remembered. Even though she was there as a journalist and not a competitor, “it was like, Wimbledon, check.”

Robin Roberts exited Good Morning America twice for medical reasons

In 2007, Robin Roberts appeared on Good Morning America to deliver some devastating news to viewers: She would be taking a break from the show to undergo treatment after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She returned a few weeks later, and was eventually declared cancer free. 

Five years later, in 2012 she took another break from the show after revealing she had been diagnosed with leukemia, specifically myelodisplastic syndrome. Roberts once again took a leave of absence from the show, this time to receive a bone-marrow transplant. Her sister, broadcaster Sally-Ann Roberts, was the donor. Roberts was sidelined for significantly longer than she was back in 2007, off the air for nearly six months before returning to the show in February 2013. “I have been waiting 174 days to say this,” she told viewers in her first moments back on the air. “Good morning, America.”

In a 2018 interview with Parade, Roberts admitted that “cancer wasn’t the best thing that happened to me, but fighting off two life-threatening illnesses taught me so much about who I am.”

Cancer helped Robin Roberts realize she was "tougher" than she once thought

Undergoing two major health crises would be enough to send anyone into a serious depression spiral, yet Robin Roberts said she emerged stronger and more actualized from the experience. “I have been mulling over how much more I have learned about myself through sorrow than through joy,” she told Parade. “I’m a better, stronger, more complete person because of these trials and tribulations.”

In fact, the lesson she took from her dual health scares has been an overwhelmingly positive one. “I’m stronger than I thought I was,” she declared, noting that the phrase “this too shall pass” had become something of a mantra. “I now understand it really well,” she said of those words.

Roberts also revealed she’s stopped over-scheduling herself now that she’s so much more aware of being present in the here and now. “I don’t want to plan,” she explained. “In a year’s time I want to still be able to say to you, I am in the moment.”

This is how The View's Whoopi Goldberg brought Robin Roberts to tears

Whoopi Goldberg has won acclaim by making people laugh, yet when Robin Roberts paid a visit to The View, Goldberg managed bring the Good Morning America anchor to tears.

When discussing Roberts’ diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and how the long recovery from a life-saving bone marrow transplant kept her off GMA for nearly six months, Goldberg posed a tough question. On the live show (via HuffPost), the co-host asked if it ever occurred to Roberts “not to come back?” The question led Roberts to become emotional. “I didn’t know if I could come back,” she replied, fighting back tears. “Not that I wouldn’t want to, but I didn’t know if I could — if it was something that was going to be possible.”

Goldberg had already declared herself a fan. Back in 2012, when Roberts first revealed she’d be taking some time off to undergo her transplant, Goldberg sent her a sweet shoutout on Twitter. “Girl I’m gonna miss that smile and the kind of comfort & funny u bring everyday Spark in everyone’s eye out when ur not there,” tweeted Goldberg.

Why Robin Roberts decided the time was right to come out

In 2013, Robin Roberts took to Facebook to share a milestone, a hundred days after receiving a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Sharing a message of gratitude, Roberts thanked her doctors, her sister (who served as her transplant donor), her family and friends, and “my long time girlfriend, Amber.” With that casual mention, Roberts was officially out of the closet.

The following year, Roberts appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime talk show, telling the host — who had similarly come out two decades earlier — that she decided to first get the go-ahead from her partner, Amber Laign. As Roberts told DeGeneres, she wasn’t trying to make any grand statement, she simply wanted to acknowledge Laign. Pointing out that Laign doesn’t enjoy being in the public eye, Roberts praised her girlfriend for being her rock during her health crises. “She’s very, very supportive and she’s been right there beside me every step of the way,” Roberts shared, explaining that as she was sending out all that gratitude on social media, she also wanted to thank Laign. “And I asked her,” Roberts revealed. “I said, ‘I really want to say thank you.'”

Robin Roberts is a longtime fan of country music

Some of Robin Roberts’ fans may be surprised to learn that she’s long been a fan of country music. In fact, the Mississippi native has been a serious country fan for her whole life, and even received a standing ovation when she presented an award at the 2013 Country Music Awards.

As ABC News revealed, one of her first broadcasting jobs was at a country music station, and Roberts singled out her all-time favorite country song: “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.” Roberts explained, “I’m a huge Barbara Mandrell fan … title says it all.”

Viewers first got a taste of Roberts’ country music fandom in 2009 when she hosted the ABC primetime special All Access Nashville. In it, Roberts sat down with stars like Carrie Underwood, Loretta Lynn, and Tim McGraw — who took her skeet shooting. Since then, Roberts has helmed numerous country music specials for the network, including a 2019 sit-down with the woman who changed country music: the one and only Dolly Parton. Parton, as always, was ready with some one-liners. “I count my blessings more than I count my money,” the singer quipped to Roberts, “but I need to count my money, too.”

Robin Roberts feels this controversial interview was a "no-win situation"

Actor and musician Jussie Smollett made headlines in 2019 when he accused two men of attacking him and placing a noose around his neck, with subsequent allegations emerging that he staged the attack for publicity. Two days before that information came to light, Smollett sat down with Robin Roberts for a heavily hyped Good Morning America interview. 

During an event hosted by The Cut (via Page Six), Roberts admitted that it would have been a very different interview had she known about the subsequent accusations made by two brothers that Smollett paid them to orchestrate the alleged hoax. She also explained how her high profile in the LGBT community presented some complications.

“I’m a black gay woman, he’s a black gay man,” she explained. “He’s saying that there’s a hate crime, so if I’m too hard, then my LGBT community is going to say, ‘You don’t believe a brother,’ if I’m too light on him, it’s like, ‘Oh, because you are in the community, you’re giving him a pass.’ It was a no-win situation for me.”

The greatest life lesson Robin Roberts ever learned

Throughout a decades-long broadcast career that’s seen Robin Roberts beat breast cancer and a rare blood disorder, the Good Morning America anchor has gained some wisdom over the years.

Speaking with Closer Weekly, Roberts shared the one life lesson she holds as the most important. “Just don’t compare your despair,” she said. “I know everyone always feels that what they’re going through is the biggest [thing] or is bigger than somebody else’s or something like that. I don’t think that you should compare because truly everybody’s got something.”

Experiencing hardship, she explained, is part of the journey of life, and while it’s easy to want to avoid inevitable unpleasantness, Roberts declared that she’s a firm believer in the notion that things happen for a reason. “We want to get through it, but I understand that the reason why things are placed in our path is for us to learn from and to share with others,” she said.

Robin Roberts debuted her own Lifetime movie franchise

In addition to her role on ABC’s Good Morning America and hosting occasional primetime specials, Robin Roberts landed another gig on another network. That network is Lifetime, which airs her Robin Roberts Presents series of movies. As the Boston Herald reported, Roberts signed a deal to be executive producer on some “fact-based dramas” that had deep personal meaning to her, but under a very special arrangement: Roberts would also produce companion documentaries that would tell the actual stories behind the dramatized movies.

In January 2020, the first of these movies aired. Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story, is the true story about a young woman, played by Rayven Ferrell, who makes the shocking discovery that the woman she had believed to be her mother, played by Niecy Nash, had kidnapped her from a hospital maternity ward when she was a newborn.

As Roberts told the Herald, she covered the actual story extensively on GMA. “It was a story that really resonated with our audience, and I was just so impressed with how Kamiyah was handling everything,” she said. “And I’m glad that we’re doing a companion documentary,” she continued, “because you want to know how she’s doing now.”

Robin Roberts lives by "the Roberts creed"

Robin Roberts has graciously thanked many people — and luck — for her success as a broadcaster, but at the end of the day she believes there are eight simple words that are responsible for making her the person she became and someone who’s been able to achieve all the accomplishments that she has.

When speaking with Reader’s Digest, Roberts credits her parents, Colonel Lawrence Edward Roberts and Lucimarian Tolliver, with giving her the foundation upon which she could launch herself into life. There was, however, one brief yet potent phrase that became something of a mantra to her when Roberts was growing up — eight words that continued to guide her throughout the rest of her life: “You know the difference between right and wrong.”

With those words serving as a constant reminder, Roberts’ moral compass was set. “I would be out with my friends, confronting a situation where I knew what we were about to do was wrong, and I would go, ‘I gotta go home because I know the difference between right and wrong,'” she told Reader’s Digest. “That was the Roberts creed.”

Robin Roberts became the highest-paid woman in morning news

It’s no big revelation that broadcasters working in network television make huge salaries. Yet Robin Roberts hit a particularly big milestone in 2013 when Radar Online reported that she signed a $20 million-per-year contract to co-anchor Good Morning America, a deal that would keep her behind the anchor desk for the next five years. 

According to Radar Online, the network came to the conclusion that Roberts was responsible for the show’s ratings climb, with insiders claiming that “Robin could have demanded $25 million, and ABC would have paid it to her. She is worth it, and deserves the hefty payday.”

Furthermore, Radar Online reported that Roberts’ lucrative new contract propelled her to the top of the daytime television food chain, making her “the highest paid woman in morning news.” Not only had Roberts become the highest-paid female broadcaster, Money reported in 2017 that Roberts was actually the second highest-paid news anchors on television overall, second only to Fox News‘ Sean Hannity and his reported annual $36 million salary.

How Robin Roberts made her "mess" a "message"

Experiencing two very serious health crises under the glare of the spotlight proved to be a transformative experience for Robin Roberts. Speaking with ABC News’ Life After Suicide, Roberts shared the takeaway from what she’d gone through. “Everybody’s got something,” she said. “There’s no handbook that’s given to us to tell us how to get through a suicide, how to get through a bone marrow transplant, how to get through divorce, how to get through unemployment … You just try and figure out what’s best for you.”

Roberts decided the best way she could transform the trauma she experienced into something positive was to turn her “mess” into her “message,” explaining that when she candidly discusses what she’s been through it encourages others to do the same. “When people go through a trauma, we all instantly have a connection,” she said. 

Experiencing her own trauma, added Roberts, led her to discover the depth of her own resilience. “I don’t feel there’s anything I cannot weather,” she added. “I have this inner strength I didn’t know existed … It’s just freeing to feel that way.”

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