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Being your own best advocate

Hi friends,

Growing up, I never spoke up for myself. I hated the idea of having uncomfortable conversations and I always relied on others to stand up for me. Sometimes it was having a friend go to a teacher to argue about a test question we’d both had marked wrong but was actually right. Others, it was counting on my mom to advocate for me to be moved up to play with an older travel team. I was happy to stay in the background and let others speak for me.


Fast forward to my first job at ESPN as production researcher in the Stats and Info Group. By now you’ve probably read about my negative experiences with sexism, sexual harassment, and the toxic culture in the department. Part of the reason I put up with it for so long was because I was afraid to speak up for myself because I’d been warned by my manager that doing so would affect my assignments and how I was viewed in the department. To this day, I regret not being more proactive and speaking up sooner.

That said, I can remember the very first time I did advocate for myself in a professional setting. That situation actually gave me the confidence to continue speaking up and go to HR about the aforementioned situation. I was 23 at the time, over a year into my time with the company. By this point, I’d established myself as one of the top college football researchers in the department. When I wasn’t on football research, I was either being assigned to women’s sports shifts (remember, my manager had “to be cognizant of the fact that women prefer women’s sports” and apparently no man in the department could handle WNBA stats) or working SportsCenter.


The thing about SportsCenter is different timeslots are viewed differently within the company. At the time, I was working the 7 pm or 9 pm shows, which were basically viewed as training grounds for new researchers, production assistants, and directors. They often featured the newest or weakest anchors and were filmed in Studio XA, the smaller of ESPN’s two main SC studios. Meanwhile, the 11 pm SportsCenter was the premier show. Filmed in Studio X, the larger and main studio, it came on after live sporting events and required the researcher to react in real-time as games were ending. It was the ultimate test of your abilities. And I wanted to try it.


At the time, SIG had a two-man rotation of researchers working on the 11 pm show, one of whom was my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Paul. After talking to him about it, I knew I could do it and I decided, for the first time ever, that I was going to advocate for myself. In my next one-on-one, I told my manager I wanted to try it. While I was incredibly nervous about the conversation, I came prepared with examples of graphics I’d built during shows, positive feedback from producers I’d worked with, and a plan for shadowing other researchers to help me prep. I thought there was no way he could turn me down…


Instead, he pushed back, saying I was still relatively new and that the 11 pm show group preferred consistency (aka they wanted to work with the same researchers). Now my younger self probably would’ve folded at this point. In fact, I would’ve apologized for even asking. I don’t know what changed, but this time I was determined. I pointed out that both of the current 11 pm researchers were going to be traveling for remote assignments during the upcoming MLB season and that the department needed a backup plan. I also reiterated my willingness to shadow and train with them so that I was as prepared as possible when the time came. To my surprise and delight, my manager relented.


Two weeks later, I served as the solo researcher on my first 11 pm SportsCenter with John Anderson and John Buccigross, two of the longest-tenured anchors at the company. And as nervous as I was, I did it. Sure, there was a lot of stress – we added so many late highlights that I had to write copy for and multiple games ended during the show that required me to build stats-based graphics on the fly. But I had proven to myself that I could do it.


I left feeling like I could accomplish anything. It was a pivotal moment for me, as I learned how important it was to stand up for yourself. It’s why I felt empowered to go to management and HR about my experiences in the department shortly thereafter. It’s also something I’ve carried with me in the years since. After all, if you don’t advocate for yourself, who else will?

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