Oh, the world of sports. It appears super luxurious on the outside, but it’s not always as glamorous as it looks, especially for women of color. Sports has always been a heavily-clad “boys club” that women have been fighting hard to break into for decades. Women often have to yield a multitude of accomplishments in order to garner the same level of respect as their male counterparts. Carving a successful and lucrative career in the sports industry is not easy nor is it for the faint of heart – but as you know anything is possible for a BAUCE woman. For this profile, I sat down with 10 amazing women of color in the sports that are killing the game right now and asked them this same question:
“As a BAUCE woman of color, how did you ‘trailblaze’ a way into a career in sports? What contributions are you most proud of professionally, and what catalyst willed you to step up?”
Each of their journeys are different. Each of their responses are unique. But all of these women will amaze you with the amount of courage, vulnerability and diligence they possessed to make it to where they are today. If sports is your thing, then continue reading to be inspired and to gain actionable steps for carving your own career.
1) Maya A. Jones
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: Associate Editor at The Undefeated. I’ve been with ESPN for 4 ½ years, but with The Undefeated one year.
Her bio: Maya Jones is an associate editor and writer at The Undefeated, ESPN’s latest affinity site which explores the intersections of race, sports and culture. At her time with The Undefeated, Jones has covered a myriad of topics for the Sports, HBCU, Uplift and Culture verticals from comedian Kevin Hart to black college football. Before moving into her role as associate editor, Jones worked as a senior researcher for ESPN The Magazine.
Where we can find you on the interwebs: @MJay615 (Twitter)
Her answer: “Since the age of 12, I knew I wanted to become a writer. In high school, sports journalism piqued my interest, and ESPN had always been my dream job. Despite being told in so many words by my high school journalism teacher that I should consider a different career path, I still chose to major in mass communication with a concentration in print journalism, at Xavier University of Louisiana. I had an adviser who pushed me to be the best I could be, and dig deeper into my storytelling. In college, I attended media and sports journalism boot camps that led to internships in three different states, which allowed me to further hone my skills while networking along the way.
After attending the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Convention in June 2012, I landed a job with ESPN The Magazine four months later. With my training and clips from internships, I was able to prove that I was of more value to The Magazine than just being a researcher. Since joining the company almost five years ago, I’ve contributed as a daily writer with several long form pieces as well. One of my biggest contributions was a photo essay about the life and journey of Olympic gold medalist boxer Claressa Shields, which I was fortunate enough to discuss on ESPN’s Outside The Lines.”
2) Ros Gold-Onwude
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: Sports Broadcaster, Golden State Warriors Sideline Reporter since the 2014-2015 NBA Championship season.
Bio: Rosalyn “Ros” Gold-Onwude is a Nigerian-Russian (Jewish) American, Emmy Award-winning sports broadcaster and NBA Golden State Warriors sideline reporter. Gold-Onwude also worked the 2016 Rio Olympics, PAC-12 Network, and currently works NBA on TNT national games, the Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament and the WNBA.
Her Answer: “I grew up as a girl playing every single sport, and then basketball really was the one that I had the most skill for and liking for and it’s really been a vehicle. I’m really proud when people come up to me and say, ‘you really know what you’re talking about.’ I always want to lead with my craft and my knowledge. Anything else is just extra, it’s fluff. But as long as people respect me, whether it’s the players or my peers, or coaches or fans it really means a lot to me. Also I would probably say the number one thing I’m proud of right now – working the (2016) Rio Olympics. As a young black female reporter, being the lead reporter on men’s basketball for NBC was a really big deal, and the biggest accomplishment of my career thus far. It’s something I take pride in and I’m very thankful for the opportunity.
I think part of being an athlete and also the way I was raised, I was trained on hard work – I’ve never been someone that’s afraid of hard work. I approach broadcasting or reporting almost the same way I did as an athlete. I time manage, stay organized, work ahead and work hard as far as preparation – so when game time or show time happens I’m ready. Preparation makes me feel confident. To see myself in situations where I’ve been successful builds confidence, because you have something where you can say, “hey I did this, I belong here.” Even when I feel nervous, which happens sometimes because with TV the goal is perfection. It’s almost like being a player, you’re on, you’ve got to be ready, and you don’t get the moment back if it’s happening live. If the stage is big I try to remind myself before I get on air that “you’re prepared, you’re here for a reason, you belong here, and you’re good at what you do so go kick some butt.”
3) Gianina Thompson
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: ESPN’s senior publicist for NBA and MLB, 2.5 years
Bio: Gianina Thompson works at ESPN as an award-winning senior publicist for their NBA and MLB properties. She serves as a spokeswoman and key communications contact working directly with ESPN’s on air-personalities to secure interviews and exclusives in sports, entertainment, lifestyle and music outlets. Last year, she was named to PR News’ Rising Stars 30 & Under list and was part of the team to receive the Beacon Award for brand reputation management for Jessica Mendoza who became the first female ESPN MLB TV analyst. At 21 years old, Gianina received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in communications from Old Dominion University. Her thesis focused on the gap disparity between male college athletes aspiring to play their sport professionally more than female college athletes.
Her Response: “I wouldn’t say I trailblazed a way into sports because there’s so many amazing women in this industry who have broken glass ceilings that allowed me to even consider a sports path. But I feel it’s a mix of my drive, passion and curiosity that’s helped me grow in the industry… And of course, being surrounded by amazing mentors and leaders who won’t let me give anything but my best.
The contribution I’m most proud of would be the tag teams between my colleagues and me. When I was a Division 1 athlete on Old Dominion University’s rowing team, I was only as good as my seven other teammates on the boat, and that’s translated into the corporate world as well. Who you work with is just as important as what you do. Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theater, said it best, “All you can do is be your best self. I’m representing more than just me and I think every person should think that way.” Such powerful words are so inspiring and it motivates me to not only step up every now and then but whenever I can.”
4) Ros Dumlao
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: Editorial Coordinator at the International Paralympic Committee since May 2015.
Bio: Chicago native, University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana class 2012 alumni. Worked at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Swimming and The Denver Post, The Clarion-Ledger. Now in Germany.
Her answer: “As an Asian-American, the first ‘barrier’ for me to enter sports journalism was getting through my parents. They wanted me to be in the medical field, as many Filipinos are. They didn’t think of sports journalism as sustainable, as it was very unknown to them. I wanted to see if I would enjoy it as a major in college. I wrote sports articles for my high school paper and loved it — speaking to athletes, covering games and hearing the stories behind the stories.
That is how I knew my passion for the profession was real. I felt it more writing for my college newspaper. I covered the lesser-known sports — cross-country, track and field, and volleyball. My parents saw my commitment to journalism (maybe over commitment, as I worked Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks) and I didn’t feel they were holding me back. When I moved for the first time out of Illinois for a dream internship with the US Olympic Committee in Colorado, they were supportive.
Through a program with the Sports Journalism Institute (SJI) and as an AWSM scholar (The Association For Women In Sports Media), I stayed in Colorado for an internship with the Denver Post. I met mentors and aspiring female and minority journalists along the way and learned why diversity in journalism is important. While gaining skills in the business, I developed pride and appreciation in the cultural background and different approach I brought. After an internship with USA Swimming and some freelance gigs, I landed my first job as a college beat reporter at The Clarion-Ledger.
Surviving the Jackson State beat, covering stories I never thought of like lawsuits, coaching, institutional firings, boycotts and growing a thick skin from Internet trolls — I grew and learned. I had support from my hard-nosed editor, and from fellow journalists in the newsroom who showed me how important my stories really were.”
Where we can find you on the interwebs: @rosdumlao (Twitter)
5) Karen Weatherington
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: Head Coach of the Charlotte 49er Volleyball program, entering third year.
Bio: This is my 25th year coaching college volleyball at the NCAA Division I level. I was a long-tenured assistant coach at programs such as Duke, Iowa State, Clemson and Butler University. I have enjoyed eight years as a head coach including two seasons earning back-to- back MEAC championships at Hampton University. I am entering my second year as the Head Coach of the Charlotte 49er Volleyball program.
Her answer: “I took advantage of the opportunities other women presented me. My former teammate, Gweyn Zechman contacted me after learning I was in advertising and sales and asked me to help market the New Mexico State Volleyball program. I took the opportunity to leave advertising and began coaching. College coaching allowed me to engage a wide range of skills. I knew this was the path for me within a few days.
I am most proud every time one of my players cross the stage at graduation with a college degree. This is the ultimate goal of why we compete and it is encouraging to watch the culmination of years of study, work and training result in a degree and an undeniably successful future.
I make a committed effort to remain in coaching because women of color are rarely represented and receive less support in college athletics on the coaching and administrative level. I love the process of connecting and supporting young women in the pursuit of gaining an education and winning championships. These provide for memories that last a lifetime.”
Where we can find you on the interwebs: Website
6) Chaunte’l Powell
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: Sports Reporter at the Albany Herald in Albany, Georgia. and September will be my 3 year anniversary with this outlet.
Bio: I’m a just girl from Columbia, S.C. with a love for sports, God and Popeye’s. A proud Hamtpon grad trying to leave my mark in this world one story at a time.
Her Answer: “My passion for sports journalism extends back to my college days when I was the sports editor of the Hampton Script, the weekly student-produced newspaper at Hampton University. It was then I got my first taste of what it was like to break news, tell stories that really excited me and most importantly, give my opinion lol. I carved out my niche in the journalism department as one of the resident sports chicks and by the grace of God, finessed a few internships and landed my first real gig about a month after graduation.
What I’m most proud of in my young career would definitely be my columns. When I moved to Albany, the Ferguson protest had sparked a national movement. I noticed that the town had its own issues with race and that encouraged me to speak up. I’ve seen that race relations and politics often times bleed into sports and my first piece was in defense of Colin Kaepernick.
While at Hampton, I had the opportunity to meet ESPN’s Jemele Hill and asked her how she avoided being pigeon-holed as the reporter who only talks about “black issues.” She very plainly stated that she says what she believes and doesn’t worry about what anybody may or may not label her. That stuck with me and has been my mantra as I continue to opine and tackle polarizing subjects within sports such as race and sexism.”
7) Paula Jackson
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator at Hampton University for 3 years.
Bio: Paula L. Jackson is an athletics administrator with a diverse background in sports leadership, marketing, event management and development. Jackson has worked on several college campuses; at Morehead State University as the Assistant Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator, Savannah State University in the same capacity as well as an interim Director of Athletics, Lincoln University as the Director of Athletics (the only African-American female AD with two NCAA National Championships under her leadership in the same year), Mississippi Valley State and Alabama State as the Senior Woman Administrator and Associate Director of Athletics. Jackson has also worked with professional sports organizations and managed her own sports marketing and events company.
Her answer: “I don’t know if I actually ‘trailblazed’ because it took me a while to work my way in. I have loved sports since high school and knew I wanted a career in sports. I was not a traditional athlete in college. As a cheerleader I could not go to my coach to ask for assistance getting into the industry. I majored in broadcast and print journalism and minored in public relations at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Then I pursued my MBA in marketing at Clark Atlanta University to work on the business side of sports. I worked in several positions after graduation; at a start-up sports marketing firm as director of marketing, partner at an insurance brokerage firm and in sales and marketing for MTV Networks. Eventually I started my own company, Sports Enfocus, creating marketing collateral, managing and coordinating sports themed events. A major client was the Bayou Classic, once the largest African-American sporting event in the country.
My first job in collegiate athletics was back at Clark Atlanta University. The institution hired its first female Athletics Director (AD), previously an assistant AD and health professor at Southern University. She knew me and hired me because I was prepared. I assisted with strategic planning, game day operations, team travel, compliance and served as the Senior Woman Administrator. Networking also led me to the Atlanta Falcons for five seasons on the public relations, game day operations staff. I managed player credentials and assisted in the press box disseminating information and statistics. I continued consulting with my company, with a key engagement in the NFL NEXT Transition program, designed to assist former NFL players in transition from NFL to life after retirement.
Athletics is a closed and guarded community. Once inside there are levels where you still need an invitation. I know how hard it can be, especially if you’re not a former student athlete. This led me to create the Minority Trailblazers in Sports Conference, to assist those who have an interest in working on the business side of sports. At the conference they develop networks and find career opportunities. I invite minority professionals from collegiate and professional sports to tell their stories, and people who were not athletes as our stories are usually different. I’m pleased to say there are success stories of people getting internships and jobs after participating. This is my way of giving back, creating opportunities I did not have. I’m proud of my student-athlete relationships. Everyday I impact the development of young men and women. As an African-American female in this industry I’ve encountered many barriers, but my passion is unwavering.”
8) Tayler Hill
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: WNBA player, I’ve been in the league for 5 years.
Bio: Standing at 5’ 10”, Tayler played college at The Ohio State University Buckeyes before being drafted into the WNBA. She currently plays for the Washington Mystics.
Her answer: “I grew up in a basketball family. I had older siblings who played basketball and my dad was my coach. It was always my dream to play ball. My support system as a child and ‘til now is so great and a big part of why I am here today. I am most proud of being able to give back and be an example for my little sisters and young girls because I was once in their shoes. My family is the reason why I pushed so hard and stepped up.
I am a mother. My son turned three in June. I am one of seven (children), and the third oldest. I have been playing basketball since I was four years old, and played with the boys ‘til 5th grade. I am an alumnus of The Ohio State University, graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 2013, and was drafted 1st round 4th pick to the Washington Mystics, and am currently still with them.”
9) Amy Huchthausen
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: College athletics administrator, Commissioner, 5½ years.
Bio: Amy Huchthausen serves as Commissioner of the America East Conference where she has increased the conference’s profile through progressive multimedia partnerships, a robust social and digital media strategy and a comprehensive rebranding initiative that effectively positions the conference for the future. She also launched new initiatives such as the #3Pillars Academy, Alumni Network and the groundbreaking You Can Play Project partnership. Huchthausen previously worked at the NCAA, ACC, Missouri Valley and Big East. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and was a two-time captain of the softball team. She is currently enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Her answer: “Sports have always been a passion of mine ever since I was a little girl. I’d consider myself a tomboy growing up and loved playing and watching a variety of sports. As an introvert, it was also a tremendous way for me to make friends. As I look back, playing sports growing up – in high school and in college – gave me great insight into being part of a team and understanding the dynamics of working with others to achieve an objective, which is valuable in the professional world, regardless of industry.
While I was in college, I learned it was possible to have a career working in college sports and I knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do. Through a network of wonderful mentors, colleagues and friends, I’m proud to say today it’s the only industry in which I’ve worked. While college sports administration is a largely white and largely male-dominated field, I have simply never allowed myself to pause or question my abilities as an ethnic minority woman.
I have always kept my eyes and mind focused on the great people and opportunities that surround me and I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with a progressive and successful career thus far. A person’s mindset has a huge impact on their perspective, reactions and behavior. I fully believe the proper mindset, coupled with self-awareness are critical elements in having the courage and confidence to step up and take risks.”
10) Ava Wallace
Occupation, official title, and how long you’ve held said occupation: I am a Staff Writer on the colleges team of the sports desk at The Washington Post covering Georgetown and Navy athletics, Maryland women’s basketball and the Washington Mystics of the WNBA. I’ve worked at The Post covering different beats since November 2015.
Bio: I am a native of Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Growing up in such a diverse and politically driven area made me want to tell stories of diverse populations across the world, and being raised a sports fan and athlete myself made sports journalism the perfect vessel! I attended Northwestern University outside of Chicago before returning to the D.C. area to work at The Washington Post, and aside of sports I love talking about pop culture.
Her answer: “My career in sports journalism started in college, when my school’s student newspaper needed someone to cover our seven-time national championship-winning women’s lacrosse team. I played the sport in high school and none of the other sports writers on staff knew the game like I did, so I joined the sports desk. After that I applied to internships over the summer and worked to make connections with professional journalists while I was a student so I had a small network when I graduated. Organizations like the Association of Women in Sports Journalism were hugely helpful in getting my career off the ground – those women were the trail blazers – and I was hired as an intern at USA TODAY Sports after college! From there I went to The Post. My career was a result of good timing as well as my confidence in my own knowledge and willingness to step up when I saw an opportunity.
What I’m most proud of in my career is whenever I’m able to highlight the human elements behind sports. When covering the Virginia men’s basketball team I wrote a feature about the funky hairstyles that symbolize the culture of the team and what it was like for their lone senior playing in his last regular-season game. I also love whenever I get to cover women’s sports.”