Lessons in Navigating a Creative Career in Sports

Lessons in Navigating a Creative Career in Sports

This past September, I had the honor of being part of the second annual Creators of Color summit.

This groundbreaking program spotlights and empowers creatives in sport ages 21-33 who identify as Black, Latino, Asian, and People of Color and was created to ensure the sports and entertainment community looks, thinks, and creates more like the young, global, and diverse fans who consume its content. I was invited to share my story and experience as a creator of color working in sports, and hope that the advice and dialogue we had will help other young people as they start their careers in sports. 

I thought about the path I've taken since I began my career, and how hearing someone's story could have affected me if I had then met someone in production like me. Not only in her successes but also in the difficulties and dilemmas, the challenges and hurdles she had to go through to get where she was. And I decided that if it helps even just one ambitious black woman out there, to be a little less passive, a little more confident and to believe in/herself, it will be worth everything.

A bit about me: I am the Head of Original Development and Production at The Players’ Tribune, where I have worked since 2018 and have been honored to have a front-row seat to tell some of the most exciting stories in sports, all from the athlete perspective. I grew up in Minnesota in a huge basketball family—my dad played in college at Tuskegee University, back then known as Tuskegee Institute and I recently found out that my now 100-year-old grandma was no stranger to the game! I played Division 1 basketball at the University of Denver and majored in communications.

After graduation, I earned a spot in ESPN’s Digital Media Associate Program in Bristol, CT, during the early days of the ESPN app and digital video. Our class was made up of four talented individuals fresh out of college including myself, but I couldn’t help but notice that I was the only woman and the only person of color. The training program however was the perfect introduction to the content space. It taught me the ins and outs of storytelling, editing, production, and management, a foundation that I still heavily rely on today. It was a 24-hour company with non-stop work and I had the opportunity to create some amazing content from features to shorts for marquee events like the Super Bowl, Rio Olympics, and more.

After eight years of moving up the ladder at ESPN, I reached out to my network to start inquiring about new opportunities and connected with a former colleague at The Players’ Tribune. I was intrigued by the new challenge of working with athletes in a way that pushed boundaries and allowed them to take control of their own stories. Today, I’m proud of the team I’ve helped build and the content we create and distribute, connecting fans to athletes and sharing the stories behind the athletes that make lasting human connections. Some of my favorite stories I’ve had the privilege to share include Coaching While Black - Black Women Coaches Roundtable, Houseguest with Nate Robinson, Made Different: RJ Barrett, Dear Black Girls: A’ja Wilson and the Knuckleheads podcast.

I’ve been lucky to have a few strong mentors throughout my career but most of my career learnings, stem from pure experience. Here are some of the key takeaways, along with some of the advice I wish others would have shared with me when I was starting out.

1. While it's always helpful to have someone vouch for you when starting out, or even helping to land a job, once you are there, it’s entirely up to you to stay there and impress them. Your own work ethic and reputation is what will make your manager want to keep you around and continue to give you opportunities. Because it’s not who you know, but your own reputation that will help you.

2. Be your own advocate. I wish I would have advocated better for myself at times to change positions, get promotions or take on new responsibilities that may have aided my career. If you don’t speak up and ask for things, your manager may never provide you with different opportunities. And while you need to earn merits and promotions, be vocal about what you want and your career goals and find someone to help you track towards those goals. Sometimes you have to be your own champion to get ahead.

3. Recognize when it’s time to move on. It’s really difficult to leave a place of comfort, and complacency can be a little sneaky sometimes. But it’s important to challenge yourself, recognize when you are bored and stagnant and have the courage to either make a change so that the job becomes what you want or start to see what else may be a better, more challenging fit. I’m a loyal person, but you have to recognize when that loyalty is holding you back instead of pushing you forward.

4. Make yourself indispensable to your team and your manager. Define the one skill you have that will outlast a fleeting company initiative. Those come and go, but certain skills will make you an asset to any team or project and will allow you to last longer, especially during a downturn in business. A stronger manager will help their team identify these skills and help nurture them.

5. Take time with big decisions. Whether they are related to your own career or more of a business/creative decision, take a beat before you respond and think through all scenarios. The loudest person in the room, that one person who responds immediately, isn’t always the smartest. Definitely don’t miss deadlines, but any decision that is worth making deserves careful consideration before coming to a conclusion. They can wait.

6. Fight for what you believe in. In my world, this might be a piece of content I want to produce or to take a new direction in programming. But before I argue my case, I make sure to come armed with all the necessary data - what are the metrics, return on investment, demographics, etc. It’s harder for someone to say no when facts are given. And remember that the fight doesn’t necessarily end with the first no.

My career journey is still just getting started, and I’m excited to keep learning and watching others who inspire me, especially the black women and people of color taking more ownership in this space. I’m grateful for all I’ve achieved so far, but I know there is a lot more work to be done. And it’s that eagerness that lets me know I’m right where I should be in my career.  

To learn more about my personal experience and lessons learned, please join me for a fireside chat with my good friend Adena Jones, Director of Digital Content at the New York Knicks, on March 8th at 1pm EST by signing up here.