Converse and Canadian Football: A Conversation with Matthew Scianitti

There are very few television journalists who are more famous for their footwear than their faces, but one of them is Toronto’s own Matthew Scianitti. Other than engaging sideline reporting, moving video essays, and expert writing, fans can always count on Scianitti for the coolest pair of Chuck Taylors they’ve ever seen. Fashion sense aside, the person behind the TV personality is one of the best in Canadian sport media, whose path to getting here and outlook on the industry is a story every aspiring sport journalist needs to hear. 

Scianitti originally started in a writing sphere so far away from sports it’s hard to imagine how he landed on the set of CFL on TSN. The Canadian journalist earned his Bachelor of Arts in Professional, Technical, Business, and Scientific Writing at York University before completing his Masters of Journalism at Ryerson University in 2011. Alongside his Masters, Scinaitti was on staff with CBC Sports where he mainly published features and profiles relating to the 2010 World Cup. 

His first job out of school came with the National Post as a sports reporter where he covered everything from the CFL to IndyCar to European soccer. This experience taught the young journalist the importance of versatility within the industry; “while we might all come in here with a dream of where we want to be, you have to be willing to cover anything and everything,” elaborated Scianitti. 

When asked how he ended up at TSN, the now veteran journalist chuckled before matter-of-factly stating “well, I lost my job” before offering more sage advice “I was good at what I did, but so goes the saying last one in first one out and you have to be able to be okay with that.”

So how does he go from a lost job to the biggest sports network in the country? Easy: a botched screen test. No seriously, after being offered a screen test with TSN on the recommendation of some of the veteran journalists on the panel, Scianitti was paired with legendary CFL broadcaster Rod Smith. In the middle of their take, the Ryerson grad called his co-host “Rob Smith.” 

And yet here we are, with the two coming off of having worked the 108th Grey Cup together in Hamilton back in December. It would later be revealed to Scianitti that Smith vouched for him to get the job so he was offered a six-month contract. When he asked for feedback on his screen test, he was met with brutal honesty as the producer let him know that he “couldn’t tell [him], we were laughing too hard.”

For his first few years with the network, Scianitti was on the Raptors’ beat. He became known across TV sets from coast to coast as the face of TSN at practices, courtside, and on that original historic run to the Eastern Conference Finals. This part of his job offered him a lot of lessons about the industry, like how it’s basically one big group project every day and sometimes you have to “take the chicken shit and turn it into chicken salad,” and the way it ended taught him one of the hardest lessons: you can never stop working to earn your job every single day. 

One fateful day, Scianitti got a call from the powers-that-be at TSN letting him know that he was being removed from Raptors’ coverage and that the job was being given to Kayla Grey, as well as an increased role for Kate Beirness. The poise Scianitti showed even when discussing this now is something all young journalists should strive to emulate when challenges face them in their careers. The first thing out of his mouth after recounting the story was about how happy he was for Grey as she was someone he had seen grow and develop in her role with the network. 

“This was someone who would come and practice stand-ups with me on her own time, when nobody was paying her,” gushed Scianitti when illustrating how deserving Grey was of having his job. He went on to reiterate the importance of being able to adapt, adjust, and simply take setbacks as an opportunity to reinvent yourself, even admitting that it’s only now, as he’s coming up on his nine-year anniversary at TSN that he’s figuring out who he is as a broadcaster. The football journalist capped off the story by recounting how he didn’t grow up a CFL fan but in trying to make a space for yourself in this industry sometimes you have to venture into spaces you don’t know all that well. 

I had wanted to connect with Scianitti because his work in Canadian football is a big reason why I have cemented a passion for this game. Seeing the engagement he brings to a league that doesn’t always get its due is a reminder of the power of the media and those within it. Regardless of the challenges, he said he faces at times, feeling his passion for the work through the phone made me realize that my passion for football lies just as deep and would be enough to carry me through (so maybe I said I’d come for his job one day, to which he said “bring it on”). 

It’s safe to say that Scianitti has kicked down doors to create a space and that space is one of a football expert beloved by an entire country. Sure, he won’t admit that on his own, but when pressed about the fact that he has become a role model, and most recently a source of light, for people across CFL stadiums, Scianitti simply said that it’s humbling. An ever Canadian answer from an all-time Canadian sports personality.

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