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Obstacles don’t stop ESPN’s Steele from achieving dreams
Sage Steele of ESPN spoke to a filled-to-capacity room in Tator Hall about the trials and tribulations of not only making it as a journalist, but as a female in sports journalism.
“You’re a girl in a boy’s world,” Steele said. “But be in it for the right reasons or don’t do it.”
Steele, who visited campus on Tuesday Nov. 6, captivated the room, packed with aspiring journalists ranging from undergrad freshmen to graduate students, with anecdotes from throughout her career.
After working her way up from small markets, Steele was hired by ESPN in February 2007. Though a position at ESPN is appealing to many, Steele said she was not in it for the prestige.
“I didn’t get into this for that glamorous side that everybody talks about and sees, I wanted to talk about sports,” she said.
Steele said that in eighth grade she realized her passion and if she “couldn’t play [sports] then I wanted to talk about them.” Although her parents encouraged her to be a nurse for the job security and pay, she pursued her dream.
Steele stressed the importance of versatility in journalism, especially when looking for a position on-air. In her first job at a TV station in Indiana, she worked behind the scenes writing, editing and shooting.
“For those of you aspiring to be on-air [versatility] is huge because you have a full appreciation for what it takes to put a show together,” she said. “As an on-air person I would encourage you to get as much experience possible behind the scenes producing.”
Steele explained with a career in the public eye comes criticism from every direction. As the first African American sportscaster for WISH-TV, a CBS affiliate, in Indianapolis during the 1997 Final Four, Steele got a crash course in viewers’ cruel opinions.
“I got some good hate mail, I got some ugliness, heard a lot of bad things [about my performance] but also about as a woman doing [sports] and I also [got] some racial things,” she said. “It was tough, but it made me better.”
However, she also explained the importance of learning from mistakes and the harsh opinions of bosses and viewers.
“I still make mistakes but part of it is to master those things and to be responsible for the names and the facts and the stats,” she said.
Although Steele loves her job, as a wife and mother of three she said: “I’m a mom first and don’t want to let go of those responsibilities.”
Reinforcing the importance of family was the attendance of Steele’s mother and father, who have encouraged and helped her throughout her life.
Steele explained the difficulties that come with balancing her family life with career but advised those in attendance to not set aside personal goals.
“Most of all, love what you’re doing. It’s not an easy profession,” she said. “You can be a fan but you can’t be a fan on the air. You can’t be a fan when you’re asking questions. Keep your morals. Keep your values. Do your job and have a blast.”