Women’s Equity in Sports: The Fight, the Scars and the Thrill of Victory – Panelist Spotlight: Sarah Spain

Sports multi-media journalist Sarah Spain

Sarah Spain is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning sports journalist. With more than a decade at ESPN, Spain has held many roles including radio, podcasting, television, and writing for espnW. She is on the Gatorade Women’s Advisory Board and co-owner of the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League. 

Spain graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2002. While at Cornell, Sarah was a heptathlete and co-captain of the track and field team. 

Sarah Spain as a track and field athlete at Cornell (Sarah Spain photo)

After graduation, wanting to explore acting and comedy, Spain moved to Los Angeles. While taking a TV hosting boot camp, she chose the Chicago Bears as her practice TV show. The instructor asked her if she wanted to work in sports. Her first response was an immediate no. When the teacher encouraged her, Spain decided to explore the option.

In her early 20’s, Spain signed up for a class in TV sports reporting at UCLA. Seeing how she could use her comedic ability in a different way, she embraced the new direction of her career path.

When asked about the challenges of breaking into the sports world as a journalist, Spain responded:

“There were many, I am so thankful and grateful that the industry looks different now. I still think it’s not fixed and being a young woman in the industry still requires having to deal with an inordinate and unfair amount of harassment and disrespect. The industry has gotten better, the ceiling is higher than ever, but the basement remains the same.

“Thankfully, there are a lot more examples of women to look up to, there’s a lot more representation in every single job across the spectrum to look up to.

‘When I was coming up it was the wild, wild west of the sports blog era. The vibe on almost all of them was to combine sports with wives, girlfriends, and girls in bikinis. It didn’t feel particularly welcoming or inclusive.”

After making it through many uncomfortable situations, including full on sexual harassment, Spain’s advice to young women and girls wanting to explore sports journalism

She mentioned, “I needed some good mentors to say, ‘Keep working and be too good that they can’t say no to you when they make assumptions about you. Have a thick enough skin to not get too down about the jokes and disrespect but a thin enough one to know when it crossed the line and you have to say something.’” 

Why did Spain get involved with The Women’s Equity in Sports Forum?

Kathryn Bertine approached her and she didn’t hesitate saying yes.

Spain explained: “I have incredible respect for Kathryn Bertine. I think I would have said yes regardless of who else was there. Reading her book Stand and having her on my podcast talking directly about the ways in which she personally sacrificed in order to try to change the landscape for female cyclist. How she was able to overcome a lot of the barriers put in her way to accomplish that. I have such admiration for her.”

Spain also agreed because the forum provides another avenue to reach the younger generation.

“Young women can learn much younger about the societal conditioning that makes them believe they have to be ‘one of the guys’ or that the values of being male are the ones to aspire to as opposed to understanding the perspective and gift that it is to be in this business with a different lived experience and a different view of things,” she said. “To be in spaces where I can talk to that powerfully is really important so they have that in front of them so they see it is possible. I also think that getting in conversations with other women always inspires and makes me think about things differently.” 

When asked what she would like people to take away from the forum, Spain said, “How we can demand action out of others. How we can be proactive rather than reactive. What can we do, what can we change, who can we ask for help?” 

Spain gave a last piece of advice. She said this regarding a career in sports, but it is a piece of advice anyone can use in any career.

“Lean into and find your personal strengths,” she said. “Be someone other people want to work with.” 

Click here to get your tickets to this free event. There will be a raffle at the end for items donated by the panelists.

Women’s Equity in Sports: The Fight, the Scars, and the Thrill of Victory is hosted by the University of Arizona Center for the Philosophy of Freedom and co-sponsored by the American Association of University Women, Tucson Branch. It is the third event in the Freedom Center’s Public Discussion Forum series, which was created by Freedom Center Director and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Economy and Moral Science Mary L. Rigdon and Freedom Center Associate Director and Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Economy and Moral Science Saura Masconale create a public space where people with expertise in industry, education, and public policy come together to talk about topics that are of general public interest. 

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