By Charlotte Wilder
Photos by Jeff Vallee
Rohan Nadkarni and I both work at Sports Illustrated, and it is my privilege — my honor — to call him a friend and colleague. This past summer he and I hosted the red carpet for the magazine’s Fashionable 50 Issue together out in L.A. At the hotel pool one day, we joked about how we didn’t fit in amidst the well-groomed, neatly-pressed, super hot L.A. people. (I was wearing a cut-off T-shirt from “The Maury Show,” a camo fanny pack, and athletic shorts stained with paint.) Despite our joking around, Ro, in his sneakers, henley, and shorts did actually fit in. He made a collarless, army-green linen shirt look as effortless and chic as the burgundy velvet blazer he wore to the party.
Even at his most casual, Ro is somehow always completely put together. Icaught up with him to talk about his love of showing a little chest hair, his biggest fashion blunders, his career and the importance of representation in sports media, and, of course, thirst traps on Instagram.
Charlotte Wilder: How would you describe your style?
Rohan Nadkarni: Wow that’s a fascinating question.
Shit, I should’ve put some thought into what I was going to say. I guess I just try not to take things too seriously, which I also do with my style; it’s just a reflection of me. I don’t wear a lot of buttons, I wear a lot of weird jackets. I probably spend way more money than I should on things. I definitely appreciate people who put thought into their style and manage to stay on trend. I feel like I’m always one cycle behind what really cool people are doing, but more than anything, every time I get dressed, I try to have fun and still be me.
What’s the article of clothing you own that’s the most you?
I own a collection of linen-based shirts. I also have a velvet suit jacket. A lot of floral prints. I gotta represent, you know? I’m from South Florida, and my family is from Bombay, which is also a peninsula. It’s all about sun, warmth and chest hair.
There’s the whole trope of the rumbled sportswriter who wears ill-fitting shirts and pleated khakis. Do you feel like you have more leeway to play with how you dress because a lot of people in our industry typically haven’t been great at it?
That’s maybe true to an extent, but the problem is that most sportswriters I know live in Brooklyn. I know a lot of writers who are really well-dressed people. I think especially with sports now, the younger generation is keyed in. Because fashion is such a big deal among athletes, I think it translates to fans. The same way people are fans of LeBron because of basketball, they also might love the suits he wears. There’s an element of both sports and fashion that can be aspirational.
Have you always cared about how you dressed?
I don’t think so. I don’t think I cared as much, honestly, until I started interning in New York. And wow, I saw people cuff their jeans for the first time. I was like, ‘What’s going on here? When did that become a thing?’ Once you come here, and you’re around people putting a lot of thought into it, it inspires you. I’m not saying my game has reached their level, but it made me care more.
These days being in media, especially on camera, people often talk about the importance of a personal brand. Even though I hate calling it that, because I think your ‘brand’ is really just your authenticity, has being in a public job made you think about your style more?
There’s definitely something fun about what we do with a lot of video at SI. I’ll think, ‘What’s something fun I can wear for this video?’ But I don’t know how big of an impact it has. I probably care more about Instagram likes than any kind of public perception. I’m like, is my Instagram crush gonna like this? But I think what’s made me care more about clothes are the people I’m friends with also happen to be really into fashion. They have senses of style I really respect. I love shopping with my friends. There’s definitely an element of our business that can be attention- and ego-driven. But I’m mostly just trying to have fun with it than come off a certain way.
Talk to me about working in sports. What’s been your experience of this career so far?
I truly have my dream job. Every day that I’m at SI, I want to reward the faith of the people who decided for some reason I should have the job I have. I’m insanely lucky and it’s super cool. And then, on the other hand, I have days where I think of the advantages I’ve had in my life and where the world is right now, and I kind of blame myself for not doing something more impactful.
Why didn’t I do something where I could be a more positive influence in people's lives? I don’t know if you feel this way, but there are times when I think about how I made the decision to pursue this when I was so young, and things I wanted in my life were so different from what I want now. It’s so personality-forward, and believe it or not, there are times when I just want to be quiet. I think that there’s definitely a part of me that saw this career path as a route to acceptance in a sense. To a degree, I felt like an outsider being an immigrant growing up in a community without a bunch of Indian people. I thought, if I can get the respect of people in this group, that’d be really cool.
I totally get that. I have days like that, where I feel like I should be doing something more helpful or important. Especially with politics, I’m like, as a woman, why did I not become someone who writes opinion pieces about how awful some things are right now? Or one who reports on things that could have a profound impact on our society? But what I will say is that I think it’s really important for us to be in this industry, that has been, and is largely still, very male and white. I think to myself — if I make one person laugh, or if one teenage girl sees me doing this and realizes it’s possible, then that’s huge. And I think it’s the same for you, you’re someone people can identify with who hasn’t traditionally been represented enough here.
That’s definitely cool. And I agree. I think what motivates me a lot now, as opposed to being accepted, is that I think my family really enjoys what I get to do. It’s cool for them to see me in the position that I am. Considering my parents’ childhood in India, and my brother’s, everything was so different for them from what it was for me. That’s probably what motivates me more than anything else. This is so far removed from what their lives were like back home, and I think that’s a really cool aspect of it. Something that’s more important to me than anything else at this point.
Not to totally change gears, but what did it feel like when those NBA players told you they liked your outfit out in L.A.? Was it the best moment of your life?
Yes. When Kevin Love told me I looked like Sean Connery? I wanna play that on a loop at my funeral. That thirty-second clip of, ‘You look like the first James Bond.’ And P.J. Tucker told me I killed it. I only wish good things on them forever.
You’re so easily bought.
Easily. Extremely. I’m only wearing Bonobos for the rest of my life
Charlotte Wilder is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and host of The Wilder Project on SI TV. She lives in Brooklyn, makes too many dad jokes, and is thinking about getting some houseplants. Also: She's starting a podcast soon, please listen to it.