If you asked many sports fans (and TV buffs)whom they’d consider to be the First Lady of Fantasy Football in the great city of Chicago, they might name Jenny MacArthur, the smart, sassy, and sports-savvy mom-of-two from the FX sitcom “The League.” Well, there’s a real-life Windy City mama giving Jenny a run for her FFL money: Enter Brittney Payton. Not only does Payton, a new mom and host on Fox32’s “Good Day Chicago,” literally have football in her blood (dad is the late beloved Bears legend Walter Payton), but she just so happens to co-own a Fantasy Football team with her husband, Jordan Benson.
“One thing that my husband and I do together is we play in a Fantasy Football league and we co-own a team,” she says, explaining how she and her investment banker hubby try to prioritize time as a couple during the busy blur that is life with a toddler. And with a knowing laugh, she adds: “When we win, it’s because of me—and when we lose, it’s like: ‘How could you have made that move? I told you!’”
Payton, 33, has plenty of wins to celebrate outside of the sports realm. Her daughter, Blair, turns 2 this August, her family is moving to a new home this summer, and this past January she made a move to a new job as a co-anchor with Sylvia Perez on “Good Day Chicago”—a position that’s especially meaningful because she actually interned for Fox, as well as under Perez, when she was a senior at DePaul University.
“I just knew that going into television was what I wanted to do. It was my passion, I enjoyed it, and that was it,” Payton explains of her career path. “I got my first job at an internet sports company, which led me into working with the Big 10 network and WGN and now I’m back at Fox, where I interned [in college], and I’m co-hosting with Sylvia Perez, who I interned under at ABC7, so it’s kind of amazing how the whole thing has come full circle.”
Presently, Payton’s days stay full with quality time with her daughter and husband, reporting engaging lifestyle stories for “Good Day,” keeping up with Chicago sports (she has her eye on the Bears’ Mitch Trubisky—“I’m obviously a huge football fan and I love the Bears, they are family to me,” she says—as well as on the Cubs’ chances for the playoffs), and staying connected to her late father’s inspiring legacy through philanthropic work with her mom at The Walter & Connie Payton Foundation (Payton also proudly presents the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award at the Super Bowl each year with her brother, Jarrett).
During a rare moment of calm between the TV studio and home, we caught up with Payton on all things work, life, and parenting in Chicagoland.
Your daughter, Blair, turns 2 this month. What is she like right now?
I feel like she’s very much developing this very fun, unique personality, where she likes to joke with you a little bit. She’s super-smart and you can just see how she’s learning and taking everything in. She just has this light about her—it’s this light that has just so much energy. She loves to dance around and sing—she’s constantly singing—which are things that I do a lot, but also that my own mother does a lot. It’s funny because I’m starting to see a lot of those traits and qualities from both me and my mom come out in my daughter and that’s really special.
Do you see signs that Blair will be a sports fan as she grows up?
There is no doubt! Between me and my husband, there’s always sports on… When Blair sees the Cubs on she goes: “Cubs! Cubs!” And she’s a natural athlete already—she’s definitely Walter Payton’s granddaughter because she’s super-strong and fast and she runs on her toes just like my dad did. She can pretty much scale anything, and it’s amazing to see how those genes have continued to pass on. I can’t wait until she’s a little older and can really get into sports and start to play.
What have some of the joys and challenges of motherhood been for you?
Everyone always said to me: “You don’t understand how much you can love someone until you have your own children.” And [experiencing] that has been so amazing—just getting to watch Blair grow and go through all the stages…the best part is watching her grow and learn—you can see her little mind learning… I think the challenges for me, just like any parent, [have to do with] learning how to manage time. You’re used to being single and all you have to focus on is you, or once you get married, it’s you and your husband… I had to learn how to not only be a mom now, but also still be me so that my husband and I can have time for our relationship.
What has been the biggest surprise about motherhood for you?
Right after I had Blair, it took a long time for me to adjust. I swear, I cried every day for the first two weeks. I didn’t even know why sometimes—whether it was that I was exhausted, or I felt overwhelmed, or I was trying to figure out this new life, or a crying baby, or what—but I cried every day for the first two weeks and I started to think that something was wrong with me. My husband even got worried! He was like: “Are you okay? Is this postpartum depression? Is this something we need to worry about?” Until I started talking to my friends who had kids, and they all told me “This is normal,” I think I cried for the first three months… Now, with my friends who are starting to have kids, I’m so open and honest with them about it, like: “Listen, it’s really rough at the beginning so don’t be alarmed or surprised or scared if you don’t feel like you’re the happiest person right after you have this baby—it’s not all roses. Just know that’s normal and it takes some time and adjustment, but you will get into a groove and get through that period.”
You grew up near Chicago in Barrington and now you’re raising your family in the city. What do you think makes the area a great place for families?
I’ve traveled a lot and been to a lot of cities, but Chicago, to me, is a city that has everything. It’s beautiful, it’s clean, and it has tons of culture. Everyone’s so nice and friendly. It has great food… I went to college here in Chicago—I went to DePaul—and that was my first time moving to the city and I just loved it. I loved being here, I loved the energy, I loved that, if you want to do something, you can walk out the door and there are a million things you can walk to; and if you don’t, you can sit at home and look out the window and know that there are things happening around you. My husband and I decided that we wanted to raise our daughter here in the city. It would be a little bit different from growing up in the suburbs, but we felt that the city had so much to offer her that we really wanted to raise her here.
You’re a working mom. How do you make the work-life balance equation work for you?
I’m so thankful to have a really great team all around me to help, because you can’t always do it on your own. My husband works full-time as well, but, thankfully, we have the type of schedule where I’m out the door early in the morning—I’m leaving the house by 6:15-6:30am—and he stays home in the morning until the nanny can get there…when I’m done with work I have a little bit of time where I’m able to get in errands, then when I get home I have my me-time with Blair. That’s our one-on-one time before my husband gets home—he gets that in the mornings with her and I get it in the evenings. When my husband gets home, we try to do something together—we’ll go to the park or we play or it’s a tea party or we’re playing house and we get bath time together with Blair each night, if we’re able to, and we have our own little night routine… And [I also] I think it’s important that we both have activities [for ourselves]…whether it’s spending a night to meet up with my girlfriends or—my husband and I are huge Cubs fans—we’ll do a Friday afternoon Cubs’ game because we know we have our nanny and we can have time that’s just the two of us alone.
Tell us about your work at “Good Day Chicago”—what do you enjoy most about it?
It has been such a great transition—any time you start a new job, it’s a little nerve-wracking, but we have such a great team on “Good Day” and we really all get along… It’s great to see how the viewers are tuning in and the ratings are changing and going up. It’s been great to be a part of that. Right now, I do some reporting during the morning and then I co-host the 9am hour, which I love because that’s where we get to do a lot more fun segments—whether it’s cooking segments and things that have to do with fashion or health-related things, and we have more performers on—so it’s a little bit more lifestyle. It’s a mix of news and lifestyle-related things and I really enjoy doing that. After each show, every day, I head out, my cameraman and I, and we shoot a story. It’s been great because they really allow me to pick and choose stories that are of interest to me and are really about Chicago and exploring the city.
What drew you to working in TV? How did your career path develop?
I had a debate teacher my junior year of high school and he pulled me aside one day and said: “You know what? You’re really great at talking in front of people and you have this confidence—you’d be great going into television. I think you need to do something in that field—where you’re speaking in front of people.” And that always kind of stuck with me. I ended up having a medical issue my senior year of high school—I ended up with a benign tumor and had to have that removed and I spent a lot of time in the hospital. I then thought that I wanted to go into medicine. So I went to school and I was going to study chemistry and biology, but I remember taking my first class and thinking: “What did I do? This is not for me! I don’t know what I was thinking!” So I ended up going back home to Chicago and it had always stuck with me what my teacher had told me. I thought: “This is something I enjoy doing and this is the path that I want to go down.”
You also work with your mother at your parents’ foundation—The Walter & Connie Payton Foundation. Tell us about the mission.
My father started the Foundation back in the ‘80s when he started working with a partnership with the Department of Children and Families here in Chicago. He was really working with children who were wards of the state—children who were in foster care. He wanted to do something special for them. It started with just Christmas toys…and that part of the Foundation has continued on. When my dad passed away, my mom took over and we added her name to the Foundation to really keep my dad’s mission going. Ever since my brother and I were young kids, we were always there volunteering and working for the Foundation and it was just something that was engrained in us—that’s something that you do, you give back. As it has grown, we give scholarships, and we give back-to-school supplies… We also, a couple years ago, started to help with homeless veterans, which was a cause that we started becoming more and more aware of.
Your father’s legacy as an athlete and exceptional person in his community is so well-known—aside from working with his Foundation, how to do you stay connected to his legacy?
My father was such a kind, giving person. Being a celebrity and a public figure, he always took the time to talk to people, to engage in conversations with them… It’s great getting to live in Chicago because I really feel like the city is part of our extended family because of how much they cared for my father—and that has, in turn, become care for my family, and [the city has] followed my brother and I and our paths as we’ve grown up, and has been supporting my mom and the Foundation. There’s so much love and support for all of us. I swear, everyone that I meet has a Walter Payton story to tell me. Whether they met him or they didn’t, they always say the same thing: “I’m sure you get this a lot, and I don’t want to bother you, but I just have to tell you this story.” And I say: “You’re not bothering me! I love hearing these stories!” It helps to keep his memory and his legacy around and it speaks to his character that so many people have these great things to say about him and these great memories of him.