Playoffs Spotlight: Captioning the NFL


Referee, NFL, Realtime Captioning

by Johnathan Moore ©

In the spirit of playoff season, this week we talked with Realtime Captioner Steph Libby about her experiences writing for NFL games. While the schedulers, coordinators, and supervisors may be breathing a sigh of relief from having fewer games to manage per week. Captioners like Steph are still keeping pace with the jam-packed programming. Here’s a peek into her world:


What have you worked on for the NFL?

I captioned 3 preseason games and 30 regular season games.  Some were more entertaining than others.  I saw two ties, and that was weird. Most of the games went long.


That’s a lot of football! What is your favorite part of NFL work?

For the most part, they stay on-topic, and seeing how different fans celebrate is interesting.  I also like that most people have a team or player that they follow, and staying abreast of what’s happening lends to conversations and/or debates with friends.


What is most difficult?

When we see the line up of the players and the players say their name and what school they played for is challenging. They, often, do not enunciate well and it can be difficult to decipher what they are saying, since the audio comes before any graphic to give a clue. The players also can have nicknames for themselves or their schools, and you can’t always prepare for those instances.

Also, the pre/post player/coach interviews.  They are often very excited or rushed and talk very fast.

Crowd noise can sometimes be a factor in not being able to hear what’s being said. Along those same lines, there’s sometimes background music or sound effects that the network adds that can cover up what’s being said.


Do you follow the sport? What team do you root for?

Sort of.  After 19 years, it’s difficult to have patience to sit through a game when not captioning. I prefer to scan the scores or catch highlights.  I root for the Saints or any team that plays the Steelers, just to annoy my husband. 😉


What are the top five things people should know about captioning the NFL?

  1. Reviewing player rosters before each game is so important – players can come off of IR, and you might need to review different spellings of similar sounding names, like DeShawn/DeSean/DeShone.
  2. Look at facts about the venue and host city.  There can be mention of places inside the stadium or town, like eateries or shops or sights, during the broadcast.
  3. Know your history regarding announcers/broadcast crew.  Often, there is talk referencing what they did in the past as a player, coach, hall of fame inductee, et cetera.
  4. Get the names of the referee crew.  They are referenced often and there might be a special interest story involving any of them.
  5. Know the notable history between the two teams.  There’s so many blogs and stories that are out there leading up to game day, if the two teams have a history, you better believe they will talk about the crazy play that happened 13 years ago.  Knowing the names of those players/coaches involved in any historic play/game/rivalry also important to making a good broadcast.

So there you have it! Research, preparation, and lightning-speed reflexes are paramount in not only playing, but captioning football games. Congratulations to everyone who’s made it this far, and best of luck in the coming weeks! We’ll be there with you, no matter the team you’re rooting for.


Steph Libby, VITAC, Closed Captions


Steph Libby captions
national news and sporting events
from her home in Longmont, CO.
When not captioning, she’s either
skiing or jumping out of airplanes.