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Carolina Panthers
Anish Shroff
Taking the next step in the American dream
Having already found a home in the Carolinas, Anish Shroff can't wait to begin his next chapter, calling Panthers games.
By Darin Gantt Mar 01, 2022

CHARLOTTE — Some days, a game is just a game. Some nights, a game can become everything.

The difference often lies in what's happening in the lives of the people listening, and what they're trying to join, or what they're trying to run away from.

Anish Shroff knows that, and has lived it, and still gets emotional when he thinks about the day he truly became a radio play-by-play announcer, whether he knew it or not.

He was 17 and an All-American, working-class kid growing up in the Sopranos part of New Jersey. His mother Nikita was dying of cancer in a nearby hospital, and the family knew her time would be marked in hours, not weeks. She sent her sons home that night, saying she needed some rest. But knowing what was coming, there would be no sleep for Anish Shroff.

But there was a radio, his refuge in the downstairs bedroom of the small beige house at the corner of Bryant Avenue and Reigate Road in Bloomfield, N.J. That was the portal that brought the world outside into what looked like a small sports museum. Other than a poster from the premiere of the Nicholas Cage/John Travolta movie "Face/Off," the rest of the room was plastered with images of the games he loved. Old Sports Illustrated covers, and pictures torn from the inside of the magazine. A Dan Marino poster. The Ken Griffey Jr. autographed plaque on the wall. Pennants commemorating his favorite team's titles. The photos his father took of the family on a trip to Yankee Stadium. Clothespins in the shape of baseball bats holding beloved cards, for quick reference to the stats that were memorized and cataloged for when he'd need them later.

And that night, there was a baseball game on the radio.

He knew he couldn't stop what was happening at the hospital. But he knew he needed to hear how things unfolded between the Red Sox and the Yankees, and he hoped that Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens could keep pitching against each other all night. The two hours and 59 minutes that game lasted weren't nearly enough.

"Listening to this game, and I wanted it to go on forever and ever and ever, because you knew the inevitable was going to happen," the 39-year-old Shroff said, pausing to collect himself as he told the story. "I remember the way you attach greater significance to a sporting event. If the Yankees can pull this off, if they can beat Pedro, . . . I remember not being able to go to bed that night; it was super emotional. But also kind of walking away like yeah, if I can live my life doing the daydream, it's not so bad. In hindsight, I don't think I knew at the time, but I looked back, and that was where I knew this was what I wanted to do.

"I looked back. What were sports for me when we were going through tough times when mom was sick? They were a way to escape for a couple of hours, a way to get lost in a moment. There are real-life consequences, but they're virtual. Wins and losses are not life and death, and it was this virtual roller coaster, which lets you experience every human emotion, without the consequences. And if you can do that for someone else, I think there's a power to that; there's a meaning to that. And I found meaning in that.

"That's kind of the why."

There would be no comeback that night for the Yankees, not after Trot Nixon's home run off Clemens in the ninth pushed the Red Sox to a 2-0 win.

Now, that's kind of a dark entry point to a story that's otherwise full of light. But Shroff can bring it back around and make you feel good about it, because that's what he does. He eased back in his chair and admitted "this is heavy," as he began to tell about a family tragedy. But then he makes you feel at ease as he does, because of the sincerity with which he delivers his origin story.

Today, the son of immigrants has latched onto his share of the American dream, having traveled a road that led him to a place where he feels like he's always been heading. It was a complicated journey in many regards, including his own grappling with whether he's a groundbreaker, or what it means to be one.

And now, as he settles into his new job in a familiar place, he allows himself to smile as he remembers. Because it's been a long road, paved by parents who allowed him to follow his own path, one that led him to the place he now considers his "forever home."

In news that became official Tuesday, Shroff is taking over as the Panthers Radio Network's new play-by-play announcer this season, the third voice to hold that job in franchise history. He has a long and impressive resume, having worked his way up through the ranks at ESPN as both an anchor and a play-by-play man.

The key to that kind of versatility is an innate curiosity, which allows him to talk about politics or religion or sports — mostly sports — with an ease most can't.

"He's such a talent, and he's still on the rise, he's still getting better," said his ESPN coordinating producer John Vassallo. "Anish is passionate about everything he does. Whether it's football, or lacrosse, or national signing day, he's putting everything he has into it.

"He has this boyish enthusiasm about him, but he also has pure smarts, he can write, and when you bring that intelligence and ability to articulate an event to the table in one package, it's rare."

That would also be a fitting description of his career trajectory, which has landed him in the radio booth at Bank of America Stadium. Even though he's been living here in Charlotte for a decade, this has not been a short road for Anish Shroff.

In fact, it started on the other side of the globe.

His father Hitesh moved to America from India in 1972, went back home and married Nikita, and brought her back to New Jersey in 1978. There, they raised two sons and created an immigrant success story, while allowing the boys the space to create their own identities.

And Anish quickly found his in sports, specifically, through the earphones of his portable radio.

Family photo

"Growing up in New Jersey, we were very middle class, we didn't have cable, and radio and sports on radio were a big part of my childhood," he said. "It was Mike and the Mad Dog. It was listening to Ian Eagle do Jets games, and Bob Papa doing Giants games, and John Sterling doing the Yankees at night. During the summer, if a West Coast game was on, I'd literally fall asleep listening. And I'd wake up in the morning, and it would be 'Hannity & Colmes,' and I'm like, 'What am I listening to? I'm 11 years old.'"

While the leftover political talk in the morning never moved him, those games did, and he couldn't get enough sports. He was in grade school when fellow Bloomfield High product Kelly Tripucka was starring for the expansion Charlotte Hornets in the late 1980s. That high school also produced legendary ESPN announcer Bob Ley, so the convergence of sports and journalism was imprinted on Shroff at an early age.

As a child, he loved to read, mostly about games and athletes. His mother made a deal with him, making him read something of her choosing between every one of his, broadening the scope of his education. So while that led him to slog through books he'd have never picked for himself, it developed his perspective. But there was never a moment when she tried to steer him from his chosen path, encouraging him during a family trip to Boston and a tour of Fenway Park that he'd make it to that press box one day.

Anish Shroff with mother

"Mom was one of the most influential people in my life, who believed I could do this before I knew I could," Shroff said. "She passed down a ton, her love of reading and knowledge and creativity, and so much of who I am as a broadcaster comes from her.

"When I got the ESPN job, I thought of her a lot. It was different being older and having this opportunity, where there's just more of a reflection, more of a gratitude, more of an appreciation for the journey and where you came from and how you got there and the people who helped you along the way."

Similarly, his father knew what it was like to be free to choose. He studied accounting in India, a reputable career path that would have provided a stable and prosperous life for his family.

But Hitesh Shroff was an artist at heart. So when his father Kishorchandra bought him his first camera, it sparked a love that continues to this day. Hitesh stays busy now with grandfather business, but enjoyed a long career as a photographer, building a small business and shooting weddings until his retirement.

"I never thought I'd actually be able to be a photographer," Hitesh said. "But my father bought me a camera, and allowed me to study more. To eventually get to a point where, with my parents' help, I would get pictures exhibited in an art school, was incredible for me. And to be able to do it as a job was something I wasn't sure I would be able to do.

"But if you really like something from the heart, you can love it the rest of your life. Sure, you can go to accounting school, or become a doctor and make more money, but if it's boring to you, what does it mean?"

So Hitesh and Nikita encouraged their boys, without putting limits on them.

"Whatever you do, give it your best," Hitesh said of his advice to his sons. "Never think you have learned enough; you can always do better."

Being pushed to succeed, while having the ability to follow a dream, could sometimes be a confusing place.

And as Anish went on to the prestigious Newhouse School at Syracuse University to study broadcasting, it often left him confused about whether he was truly supported beyond his own family.

He's done something now that sets him apart, but he hasn't always felt affirmed as he broke barriers along the way, leaving him with what he calls a "complicated" relationship with his own heritage. He's entering a club of NFL radio play-by-play voices where the other 31 members are all white males, so he stands out. But there were people around him who thought he was wasting his time watching ball games, and would have been better off studying medicine or finance or technology.

"I look at South Asian representation in media, it's a small number, there are some of us. The part that's not often told is our biggest obstacle to entry has often been our own people and our own community because this is not a profession you go into," Shroff said. "It was complicated to see myself as a trailblazer, because my first line of resistance came from my own community. So it felt different. You're telling me I can't do this because of stereotypes you want to fit me into. And you get to a certain point, you get to ESPN, and now you represent? When I was younger, it took a little while before I grasped that. It's like, where's the community support at the start of the race or at mile marker 13, not at mile 26?

"But over time, I have seen, others look up to you. And having someone with a similar background or looks like you, maybe that empowers a young South Asian boy or girl that I can do this, that I can pursue a job in media or sports or play-by-play or whatever it might be. I've embraced that more as I've grown up, and now I do feel a responsibility."

Shroff did a Ted Talk about the dynamic once, explaining the tension between what he felt he ought to do at times versus what he was passionate about, and the cultural undercurrents that were pulling him in different directions.

But he credits his parents, and the example they provided with being able to choose his own way, which others around him couldn't.

"Sometimes a minority group or subculture, sometimes we shackle our own with stereotypes. Hey, I know we've got some good stereotypes, like you're supposed to be a doctor. And if you're not, you're a failure. I don't think I'm a failure," he said. "Dad has a degree in accounting, but he's a photographer. That was always my inspiration. He did what he wanted, and he was happy. Could he have made more money in accounting? Probably. But the guy never worked a day in his life because he did what he loved. That was my inspiration. He can do that; I can do what I love.

"I had parents, thankfully, who were from a South Asian standpoint, progressive enough that we're not going to tell you what you can be. It was a little bit shocking when I'd hear, 'My parents would never let me do that.' What do you mean never let you?"

What Anish Shroff wanted to do was talk about sports. And the freedom his parents provided him to pursue a career around the games he loves eventually led him in 2004 to try out for the ESPN reality show "Dream Job" — a sportscaster version of "American Idol" that provided a foot in the door. There were a number of other jobs along the way, including a life-changing stint at KNDO in Yakima, Wash. He laughs now at the "culture shock" of being a city kid who didn't look like everyone else in the rural Pacific Northwest. When a well-meaning stranger would ask where he was from, he'd always smile and reply: "New Jersey." But that was also a fortuitous assignment, since that's where he met a Seattle native named Faye Hoffman, who was the station's lead news anchor. They're married now.

They moved back East in 2008 when Anish got a job at ESPNews, and his profile began to rise. But despite landing a spot with the network synonymous with sports news, he remained grounded with the work ethic of that middle-class kid whose family couldn't afford cable. In the middle of an interview for this piece, he was re-introduced to a young woman who used to intern on his show, who huddled behind the anchor desk handing him cards with stats and information while he talked, when she was beginning her own broadcasting career.

"Of course I remember you, Kristen," he said to Panthers Radio Network sideline reporter Kristen Balboni during a quick FaceTime call. "You were always wearing that UNC sweatshirt."

"First off, Anish is just so incredibly professional and well-prepared and knowledgeable," Balboni said of her new co-worker, not surprised he remembered how she chose to fight off hypothermia in that freezing Connecticut studio. "In the role I had then, you're just supporting the anchors, and some of them had the ability to make you look better than you actually were. And even though it could be hectic, he was a guy who was never flustered.

"But he was also just really kind. I was a little person there, on the lowest end of the totem pole, but he made you feel like part of the team. So it's good to see the ones who do it well and do it the right way succeed. You can also tell he enjoys the job so much, and that makes it look easier for him than it actually is."

As Shroff grew in stature at ESPN, he came to Charlotte a decade ago to work out of their Ballantyne studios, while adding to his play-by-play portfolio.

But what he found here was more than an assignment.

He and Faye briefly lived in an Uptown high-rise, but the 29th floor was too much for their German Shepherd, Lola.

"Taking her down 29 flights in the elevator with that banker-lawyer crowd, we'd get some complaints," Shroff said, of Lola, not Faye.

So they did what many young families in Charlotte do when looking for a yard for the dog and a place to raise a family. They moved to the suburbs, and now with 4-year-old daughter Athena in tow, they're carving out their own version of the American dream. It doesn't hurt that Shroff's brother has moved here with his own family, and his father has also relocated, just across the South Carolina border in Indian Land.

Shroff family

For Anish, putting down roots in Charlotte was an easy decision. As he transitioned into more play-by-play work for ESPN, the couple had options, and could have gone anywhere.

"I remember it was a five-minute conversation with my wife — why would we want to move?" Shroff said. "We love Charlotte. It's home, and it's forever home. It went from a place where six or seven years ago, I didn't know if it would be the forever place, but it just grows on you. You get comfortable here.

"We saw this as an opportunity to dig even deeper and put down roots, not just as a family but from a community standpoint."

And in his new role with the Panthers, he gets to do what he loves to do — grow. Which is kind of what this region is doing as well.

When the Panthers came into the league in 1995, they hired Bill Rosinski to do radio. With a booming baritone that established him as a spiritual heir to John Facenda, Rosinski sounded like football. For a region trying to prove it belonged among world-class cities and was new to this club, sounding like you belonged was as good as belonging.

Their next announcer was Mick Mixon, Carolina born and raised, one of our own, a voice that was familiar from the first day, and grew into our subconscious, gently and easily.

Shroff's not like either of them, but he's actually a lot like this area — adapting, learning, becoming more diverse as years pass. In many ways, he fits here perfectly.

Growing up in New Jersey, while Lawrence Taylor was terrorizing Giants opponents, Shroff kept hearing about this other linebacker from a couple of towns over.

"Sam Mills went to school nine minutes from my house," Shroff said. "So when I was a kid, when he was with the Saints, we had LT in our backyard, and that was heyday LT. And I remember my fifth-grade teacher used to say, 'Hey guys, 5-foot-9 Sam Mills from two towns over in East Orange, used to teach over there, see what he did over the weekend?' He was like this 5-foot-9 guy who was larger than life. And in some ways, for us, it was somebody who was more relatable. Because LT was this freak of nature, he was this athletic monster, and you had another guy who extracted every ounce out of that 5-9 frame. So it was kind of cool. Sam Mills just had this presence.

"I grew up a Jets fan, so I remember the Panthers' first win, and Bubby Brister throwing that ill-fated shovel pass. What was that?! I remember watching that with friends and yelling, 'Montclair State!' I also rooted for the 49ers, so the team we all hated was the Cowboys.

So when the Panthers beat them in the '96 playoffs and Sam Mills had the pick, I probably cheered as loud as for any Jets game or Niners game."

"That's the stuff that you remember. You remember those moments. So I look at this job, how do you capture that and crystalize that and make it as indelible as you can for the people listening, as special as you can for the people watching? You can't do that all the time, but that's the goal."

Shroff said one of his other immediate goals is to get a picture alongside the statue of Mills outside the stadium, to commemorate his hiring. You know, Anish and Sam. Just a couple of kids from New Jersey, who came to the Carolinas and created something they couldn't have imagined.

But he also has other priorities. His daughter, who has grown up here and only known the Panthers, wants a personalized jersey. And a stuffed Sir Purr toy. These seem like attainable goals now.

Athena and Lola

At least, as attainable as it can be for a first-generation immigrant to become the only South Asian with a play-by-play job in the NFL, in a city far from his roots, which is at the same time intertwined with them. And a comfortable and growing and changing place for him to raise his beautiful, blended, and wholly American family.

"It's a growing city," Shroff said of what he now considers his hometown. "It's a place that's still figuring out who it is in a lot of ways, and that's always been my m.o. I've hated to be stationary; it's evolve. Somebody once asked, 'How do you define yourself?' And my answer has always been you don't, because the moment you do, you're confining yourself to these boundaries.

"I've seen it grow in my 10 years down here; the people have been great, the lifestyle has been great, the weather has been great. And there's potential. You see potential in Charlotte."

And when Charlotte listens to Anish Shroff, they'll hear the same thing.

View photos of Anish Shroff in the radio booth and on the field as he takes the reigns as the new play-by-play announcer of the Carolina Panthers.

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