WE ARE SPORTSCENTER
PHOTOGRAPHY Paul Farkas STYLIST Kimmie Smith
We grew up watching ESPN to catch highlights of our favorite games and to see what was going on in the world of sports. Without a doubt, SportsCenter is the essential destination to stay in the loop on whatever games are taking place in the world. Regardless of the time slot that you're viewing it on, it's the anchors that become extensions of your sports action, friends and family.
There's always something amazing going on in the world of sports; however, we were pumped to head to the headquarters of ESPN during the NFL's Free Agency and right before Selection Sunday of March Madness! Being in the midst of the energy, history, bumping into sports analysts, former coaches and more was definitely exhilerating and a lot of fun!
We are thrilled to profile and share the journey of these anchorwomen of SportsCenter, from what stations they came through, what their timeslot of SportsCenter is like, how they feel the state of women in sports/sports media is and how they balance life. We enjoyed shooting, sytling and chatting with them in their world (at work, working out and outside of work) and sharing it with their fans!
Although we didn't talk to all of the anchorwomen of SportsCenter, we enjoyed walking in the shoes of Sarina Morales, Toni Collins, and Dianna Russini - three women who lead busy lives covering up to the minute stories, prepping before they are on air and living their lives.
ATHLEISURE MAG: We see you on SportsCenter and everyone has a story of how they got to this point, can you tell us where you're from, what college you went to, what stations you came through and whether these jobs were in sports coverage or other areas?
SARINA MORALES: I’m from the Bronx, New York. Woot woot! I went to Syracuse University. Whose house? Newhouse. As for my job path, that’s a good question. I don’t even know how to answer this because mine was definitely the road less traveled. When I started at ESPN someone was like 'Oh, where did
you come from?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m from New York City.’ And they were like, ‘No, what station did you work at?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I came from National Geographic.’ They were just like, ‘Oh … OK.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, what’s the big deal?’ But I had never progressed on the so-called natural track.
A little background: I practically moved to London after graduation because it was 2008, the market crashed and I couldn’t get a job. When I came back to New York, I applied to be Nike's field reporter. It was a new position where I would get to interview all of their Nike athletes. Ethically, traditionally, you didn’t take these jobs as a journalist. But I understood what Nike was trying to achieve, being that they’re pretty innovative and creative with the way that they approach commercials and their technology and whatnot; this was a brand actually allowing a reporter to get inside access and create content.
I worked for Nike for a little over a year. And then after Nike I applied to News Channel 12 in the Bronx thinking. 'All right, here is my moment. I'm going to
get a reporting gig and start my career in journalism.' And apparently that Nike job hurt me in a sense. They thought it was branded. They were like, ‘Well, you’ve interviewed all these celebrities, why would you want to work in local television?’ I was like, 'because I want to grow my work as a reporter and I want to start my career in sports.’ They said no and I ended up working at an investment bank to pay the bills.
The path from there was disjointed: Sideline reporter for Verizon Fios on the side, covering high school basketball in Staten Island. Then TruTV as a digital coordinator where I worked on shows like ‘Impractical Jokers,’ which was super fun, but I had limited job growth.
A year after working at TruTV, I came to a crossroads where I had an offer from CNN’s new morning show as a production assistant and an offer from National Geographic Channel as a social media coordinator at the same time. It was a risk for me to turn down the CNN job, because again, since graduating from Syracuse, all I wanted to do was to be a sports reporter, and yet, something in my gut told me to take the job with Nat Geo. So I moved to Washington D.C.
At the time, the VP who oversaw the marketing department said to me, ‘Listen, I know you want to work in sports, I know you want to be a sports reporter and be on TV, but I think you can find some fulfillment in this position. If you can work in sports in this job, do it. If you can do so some on-camera work and do interviews, then do it.’ So I did just that. I would tweet from the Nat Geo Wild account on Sundays like, ‘All right, the Chicago Bears aren’t playing all that well, but we’ve got real bears playing really well on Nat Geo Wild.’
I looked at the job so differently. I was helping grow the social media ac-
counts for their Sunday programming.
In the year and a half I was with them, I was promoted from a temporary, to full-time social media coordinator, and ended up being a manager of the social media accounts at Nat Geo. I worked on the Nat Geo ‘90s special, I grew their Facebook page on Nat Geo Wild from 300,000 followers to 6 million in just over a year that I was there.
As far as my job path, that's a good question ... mine was definitely the road less traveled. I had never progressed on the socalled natural track.
I was just so fully involved in the social media job at Nat Geo that people were like, ‘Let’s give Sarina some opportunities to host the talent show. Let’s give Sarina the opportunity to be the face of this ‘Explorers’ contest.’ And it was that contest that caught the eye of Rob King at SportsCenter at ESPN. He brought me in for an interview. He saw that video I did for Nat Geo because I uploaded it to YouTube.
And ESPN, what great timing, kind of saw that I had some value with my background in social media, my background in journalism and my background in sports that that would be a really good combination to come and work at ESPN.
So, no stations, just a lot of random jobs that kind of made me a good fit for ESPN.
SARINA MORALES | ELIZABETH & JAMES Dress | STERLING FOREVER Gold Keychain Necklace and Ring/Bracelet | SHE'S KIMMIE Beaded Bracelet | Gold Cuff |
SARINA MORALES | RBX Zipped Hoodie | PROPS ATHLETICS Workout Gloves | TITIKA Black Leggings | SNEAKERS Nike |
AM: Were you an athlete in college and if so - what sport?
SM: So, I never made it to the collegiate level playing softball or baseball or volleyball - I played those throughout highschool. But I did play baseball in the Bronx for 10 years growing up. From age 7 to 17, I played. You know, at first it’s cute, right? There’s a little girl playing and there might be a few sprinkled around the league out of an 8-10 team league. There were fewer and fewer of them as I got older. By the time I was 14 there were two and they were both on the same team – it was me and this other girl. And then 15, 16, 17 I was on my own. I played in a league outside of my highschool.
I thought I was going to play college softball until I popped my hamstring my junior year, which is usually when athletes get recruited to go to college. I practiced with the baseball team at DeWitt Clinton High School my junior and senior years. So I was practicing with the baseball team, playing on the softball team. I came back and I had a really strong senior year playing softball, so I got looked at by other colleges, but no D-1 schools. At that point, I realized that if an injury like this can come pretty easily and take me out for a season, then I really need to focus on academics. So no, I never played college-level softball, but my dream before really focusing on journalism was to become the first female to play for the Yankees. I was going to take Bernie Williams’ spot in centerfield for the Yankees. It didn’t happen, so I went to Newhouse instead.
AM: When did you first realize that you loved sports and how did you know that that would be a career for you?
SM: The first time I realized I loved sports was – I can’t remember the precise day – I guess I was 5- or 6-years old and I was watching Saturday morning cartoons with my father. I was sitting on the couch with him. Usually, my mom would kick me off the couch and have me go play Legos or whatever after Saturday morning cartoons were done because she didn’t want us watching TV all day. My dad would stay though, because on weekends they would have afternoon Yankee games – Saturday or Sunday 1 o’clock games. So one day, I sat next to him and stayed. I was like, ‘I’m not going to move. I’m going to see what’s going on. I’m going to sit on the couch with Pa.' It was good family time, so maybe my mom decided to not kick me off the couch. Once I realized I what I had achieved, I was like, ‘All right. I beat the system. This is good.’ The wise 5-6 year old in me hung out watching baseball with him, and naturally, I just started asking questions. The inquisitive mind wanted to know: ‘What’s that white thing called?’ And he’s like, ‘That’s a base.’ And I was like, ‘What does that do?’ And he was like, ‘Look at this 5-year old child asking random questions.’ I was like, ‘Who is No. 23?’ He goes, ‘Oh, that’s Don Mattingly!'
I asked him enough questions and I beat the system to where on weekends I was always sitting down after cartoons and watching afternoon Yankees games with my dad. So it was great that after a couple of summers my dad was like, ‘Maybe I should put my daughter on a team.’
I caught this one ball that was hit to me one game and I earned my spot in leftfield for the first baseball team I played for. We won the championship my first year playing baseball for the Marlins. It was the best feeling to win and to beat everyone and know we were the best team. The best feeling was the smell of the grass, dirtying my white pants and putting stirrups on and kind of started to learn superstitions. I had to have my stirrups washed with my socks laid out before the game a certain way. My dad would buy me new cleats almost every season and I had to have my batting glove on one hand and not the other. It was the best feeling in the world to have
that ball, catch it where the glimpse of sun would hit it as it falls into your leather glove. It’s just the best feeling. And that awesome summer breeze and the ice cream truck music would play and people would be shouting different things. You’d see people peeking through the metal fence to watch at Harris Field in the Bronx. I just fell in love with it. There’s nothing better than the noises and the smells and when that ball connects with that bat and the timing is just right, when you’re using aluminum bats, that clink is both scary and then exciting. Because it's like, OK, you're either running to catch that ball in the outfield and diving to make the best catch ever or you’re the one making that contact and you know it’s going to drop in the perfect spot and you’re going to get to second base. So, I knew by 6- 7-years old that I wanted to be in sports somehow.
The career was going to be, Bernie Williams, see you later: Here comes Morales, starting center field for the Yankees. I still didn’t decide on a walkup song or anything.
AM: Even in 2017 we still focus on women in media - especially in sports and how we continue to break barriers where are we in our journey as a collective?
SM: I think we’re in the middle somewhere. The norm is now a woman is allowed to be on TV and talk about sports. And that is something that is becoming more normal. But it's all forward-facing jobs. I’m just seeing at ESPN us getting female producers. It is becoming normal to see two female anchors hosting SportsCenter togeth- er. Forget what tweets they’re going to receive and the criticism that they’re getting, it is something at least more normal and accepted. It’s funny, a friend of mine said the other day that we had hyped up a lot having four females on ‘Around the Horn’ for the first time ever this year, in 2017. And we hyped it up. It’s a big deal. And it is. It’s a huge deal to have four females being guests on Around the Horn. But we are in 2017. So we’re definitely not to the point where it’s normal to have that, which is absolutely ridiculous with the amount of females covering sports now. Forward-facing talent, we’re getting there. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to equality in terms of we're still going to see all the criticism. We’re still going to get more comments about our looks than about what we're actually saying an the words that we use. I don’t think you really hear a lot of women doing play-by-play.
The producers, people who are making business decisions and higher up producers making larger content decisions, I don’t think there’s been a lot of opportunity for women there. And until there is someone that breaks that mold, the first person that does it is going to have the most difficult time. I'm so impressed by someone like Linda Cohn or Chris McKendry or Robin Roberts, Hannah Storm and Suzy Kolber - these women were pioneers. It's just so difficult, I can’t even imagine. But they made it so that it is normal for me to be on SportsCenter. Which is crazy. It’s just the generation before. So, I would say we’re in the middle if not lower middle. Low meaning we haven’t gotten anywhere and high meaning this is the best and it’s equal all around. So we’re not there yet. We’ve made improvements, but women in sports media are far from the norm.
AM: Who were your mentors that assisted you in getting to where you are today?
SARINA MORALES SHOT AT CRYSTAL BEES | RBX Cardigan | GAP Tee | STERLING FOREVER Layered Chokers and Rings |
SM: I would say I have two mentors, now three. But my first was Harold Tamara. I interned for him while I was at Syracuse. Harold did not go to Syracuse, but I worked with him in digital media one summer when I was in school and he was so supportive as a mentor because he pushed me to think critically. He was the one who told me to get on Twitter. He was like, ‘If you want to do storytelling, then here’s another vehicle for you to do storytelling.’ He put me on to do interviews for different digital projects that he was working on and he just took chances on me. He showed me so much respect and taught me to think in unconventional ways. He pushed me to go study abroad. He pushed me to think critically, to think ethically. And so, Harold long term is still a mentor to me today. He’s helped me when I think about stories. He’s helped me when I did an interview with Laurie Hernandez recently. He talked me through the piece that I wrote for The Undefeated. Another mentor is Hayes Tauber who was one of the people that hired me at National Geographic. He said, ‘Take the job at National Geographic. Be the social media coordinator here and then move up and make the space that you need and make the job that you need it to be so that you feel fulfilled and we can help you grow personally.’ And right now, Adnan Virk who is on ESPN is another mentor to me. He’s the one who has kind of made sure that I’m meeting with the right people at ESPN. He’s being critical of my work and giving me support when he thinks I've done well and talks me through questions that I’ve had being new in the journalism space – or I should say ‘conventional’ journalism space – because I when I look back at my work, I’ve been practicing certain aspects of journalism this whole time. It just wasn’t conventional. He’s been very supportive here at ESPN.
It’s funny that it’s been three men who have made the most impact but I’ve said this many times before, I think women can’t be their own cheerleaders because we’re fighting for our own selves to make space. I can say that Linda Cohn has certainly been a mentor to me in giving me advice here and there, but for long-term purposes it’s been three different men and again, that’s critical because those are the guys who can speak up for women because they have a voice that women don’t have still.
AM: SportsCenter is such an iconic show - tell us about what you do, your time slot and what's a day like on an off the set?
SM: My job for the last year at ESPN has been co-hosting on SportsCenter A.M. with Kevin Negandhi, Jay Harris, Jaymee Sire and the newest and very valued member, Randy Scott. So there are five of us on the show. It's been a year now, or just over a year, of being a part of that show and working with great producers like Mark Eiseman; Heath Henry – he’s the CP of the show; Scott Clark helped us launch the show.
My job for the last year at ESPN has been co-hosting on SportsCenter A.M. with Kevin Negandhi, Jay Harris, Jaymee Sire and the newest and very valued member, Randy Scott. There are five of us on the show.
It was the first time we ever did such an early SportsCenter. It will be part of SportsCenter and ESPN history and that is such a big deal. So, every day I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning. I get ready and I’m in to work between 4 and 4:30 in the morning and I’m looking at the rundowns. It’s a threehour show, so there’s a lot of stuff that needs to get in there, but we get to digest and break down the bigger stories in sports, which is great.
Plus, we’re the first SportsCenter that people are waking up to. We used to just re-air Stan Verrett and Neil Everett overnight until the 9 a.m. SportsCenter, so this is great that we’re starting at 7 a.m. I go through the rundown when I arrive and see all the stories that we’re going to talk about. I’ll write in leads to video. I’ll do some extra research for some of my shot sheets that I’ll use to talk through highlights. If there are things that aren’t in there, this is the time before the show to question it. Like, ‘Hey, overnight I saw X, Y, Z …’ There was a day that Simone Manuel became the First African American female swimmer to win a gold medal in swimming at the Olympics. To me that was a huge deal. Yet her story wasn’t in the top of the show and I felt strongly about her being on the top of the show so that was something that we had a discussion about after she won. Michael Phelps had also won his Xth gold medal, but at the time I thought that was really important, her making history. There was a time when you had segregated pools, now you have this woman, the first black woman to win a gold medal for team U.S.A. in the Olympics. I felt like that was so important and needed to be in the top of the show because, again, as SportsCenter, as the first show in the morning, we set the tone for everyone else in sports that day and to have that understanding is important. We have to really hold ourselves accountable to set the tone for the rest of the sports day. So, it's a great position to be in. I suggested the story, we got that in. So that is the first part of the day. From 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. it's working on the show and executing all of that on the show. After that, we have a post-show meeting. I might have some meetings that will take me to maybe noon and then I’ll go home and take care of my personal life and naps and start my work day, again, at 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock at night where I regroup with the producers on a big e-mail chain about who is going to be on our show the next day. I put on the TV, I watch SportsCenter or I put on whatever game I want to watch and take some notes. I go on the internet and see what stories are growing. And then whoever is our guest that day, I’ll put together some questions for them. So we start the production process overnight and we have a great overnight crew that also puts in stories. They’re watching games for us if we’re not up to watch them. So the workday is broken into two parts. It’s a long day and it takes a lot of work, but because we have such a great crew and everyone is working and putting into the show, it kind of makes you feel like the work that you do matters.
AM: How do you juggle your personal life against the demands of ever changing news?
SM: It’s super difficult to juggle the two and I’m really bad at juggling, so there’s that. It’s really about the people that you keep around you. So luckily for me, Jaymee Sire being on the show with me is one my first friends that I had at ESPN. ESPN is such a huge company. There’s about 4,000 people just on the Bristol campus alone so being where you’re working, a lot of people just end up being friends with people at work. And at that point, there’s an understanding of, ‘Sarina is getting up to work at 3 in the morning, she can’t go have dinner with us.’ That’s a
basic understanding. Dating is very difficult. I think that finding someone who works in sports and understands sports has been extremely valuable to me and also we can talk about everything.
Dating someone who understands my job and the demands has made it a lot easier because if that wasn’t the case, I’d be pretty miserable. My family, my mother has been super supportive. She’ll watch the show from her phone. My boyfriend wakes up every morning to watch the show and watch it with me, almost. As he wakes up, he watches it and gives me feedback on things throughout the three hours. If he sees something that he thinks works for the show, he’ll send it to me overnight. So having someone who knows the workload, who understands the sports world, who understands my job makes it a lot easier to then fit in those personal spots in the rest of my life. It’s so much more clear and easy. And again, having Jaymee, who is one of my closest friends here and at ESPN, to work with her Monday through Friday, to have our dinners on Wednesday nights, once a week we meet up and just kind of hash out and relax and the understanding of, ‘Hey, let’s have dinner at 4 o’clock,’ is not an odd thing to request because we’re both on the same schedule. So it’s really about the people that you keep in your life and those people have been very, very, very supportive. I couldn’t do all of these things without supportive people. That has made my life so much better and made my career and my career growth stronger in a lot of ways because I’ve had people who are strong for me when I can’t be.
AM: Who are your favorite teams?
SM: Oh, easy. The Yankees, Bronx Bombers, let’s go, pinstripes. The Knicks, which has been tough over the years but I always brag about the ‘90s Knicks with Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason (R.I.P. to Anthony Masong) and Ewing and Starks, that team, what the Knicks did for me was just taught me to just be such a hustler and to work hard. Just that mentality of New York. And the Yankees have always been an example of how to win. Being a kid and a Yankees fan, it taught me the winning mentality of you can be down in the ninth inning and win the World Series if you have Mariano Rivera pitching for you. So I learned a winning mentality from the Yankees. The hustler in me is definitely from the New York Knicks.
And the Giants, they’re just a stress factor, but it makes the football season really interesting. And obviously, clearly, probably the most influential team in my later years is the Syracuse basketball team. My eyes were drawn after the 2003 NCAA championship that they won. I applied to Syracuse in 2003 and it was apparently the hardest year to get into Syracuse, the year that I got in, because everyone applied and everyone wanted to go to Syracuse after winning a basketball title. So that was huge for me. Syracuse Basketball, another stress in my life, but for the better and going to the Final Four last year was such a great experience. Syracuse basketball keeps me busy all year round.
AM: March Madness is here - what's that like and how does it affect your normal day to day as you head into the office?
SM: March Madness is the greatest thing that’s ever touched the world of sports, besides the Yankees. I love March. It’s my favorite month. It’s one of those things where you just never know what’s going to happen. The games are exciting. I love watching these Cinderella teams trying to make their way to the second rounds, to the Sweet 16, to the Elite Eight. And it’s one-game elimination. It’s a genius, genius way to get basketball fans excited. The Thursdays and Fridays that
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