Lea B. Olsen clearly is the dean of Twin Cities Black female sportscasters.
See related stories: Blacks still scarce among sportswriters and Blacks in sportscasting: Exposure can increase numbers
Upon realizing this fact, Olsen bemoaned, “That’s not a positive thing because that means either people are trying to do it and aren’t finding success doing it, or [they are] just feeling like it is not an avenue for them.”
Currently serving as the Minnesota Timberwolves sideline reporter on KSTC-TV broadcasts and in-arena host for the team’s Wolves Vision, Olsen, a native Minnesotan, also spent five seasons working on ESPN’s WNBA broadcasts. A South High School graduate, Olsen earned her journalism and mass communication degree from the University of Minnesota in 1990, and almost immediately after graduation she got involved in local and national sports broadcasting.
Other than a few exceptions over the years, Olsen virtually has been going solo as the only Black female sportscaster in this area. “I don’t feel that it is getting any better or any different from when I started,” admits Olsen.
Cheryl Miller is in her 13th season as a studio host, analyst and reporter for TNT Sports, covering the NBA and USA Basketball. A member of Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Miller began her broadcasting career in 1989 as an ABC Sports reporter, and then later covered men’s and women’s basketball for NBC at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Later in that same year, she became the first female analyst to call a nationally televised NBA game.
Like Olsen, Miller is among the few recognizable Black female faces in sports broadcasting today, but she argues against any notion of being labeled a standard bearer.
“I certainly don’t feel that my shoulders are that broad,” says Miller. “My experience certainly isn’t that vast. I am just one of many who hopefully come through the door.”
She proudly adds, “You have to look at the two names that automatically comes to my mind,…Robin Roberts, who made the giant leap from [ESPN’s] SportsCenter to [ABC’s] Good Morning America. Then you have to look at Pam Oliver, who does sideline [reporting] for Fox Sports for the NFL. She does a terrific job every year.”
And like Olsen, Miller, too, uses the “half-full, half-empty” viewpoint regarding the state of Black females in sports broadcasting: “I certainly think it has gotten a lot better,” she believes. “I think there are a lot more women now who are coming up, that personally sought me and said, ‘Hey, what steps do I need to take in order to get to your level and pursue my goals?’ There are far more people approaching me now than, let say, almost 10 years ago.”
Olsen adds that perhaps more mentorship might improve the numbers. She admits, “It still seems like ‘I’m in it, and I am going to take care of myself.’ That is disappointing, but it is also on me as well. I also need to reach out to other people and make sure that when someone comes to me needing information or an interview on how to break in, I am going to take the time to help out other brothers and sisters out there who might not have the contacts.”
Roberts did this for her, continues Olsen. “She really did reach out to people and wanted to help as many people as possible. When she helped me to get into ESPN, her one statement to me was ‘What you have to do is help someone else.’”
On the other hand, Miller is doing something along the line of what Olsen suggests. She and Rhonda Windham, a former teammate, launched 7131 Sports and Entertainment, a company dedicated to empower and inspire girls and women of all ages by creating opportunities for them in sports, entertainment and business.
Contrary to popular belief, being a female sports broadcaster is more than just being a pretty face. “My motto always has been that I may not be the most articulate, or the smartest, or certainly the most quick-witted, but I am the most honest, hard-working sideline journalist there is, along with the others,” believes Miller. “I don’t think that my experiences are any different than the other women struggling to get where I am at.”
Paying one’s dues is still awfully important in this business, claims Olsen. “I am not sure that the 20-something group right now understand this because they may feel a sense of entitlement. I can’t speak on [whether] that it is true, but there may be some of that.”
Finally, Olsen believes that the demands for becoming a sports broadcaster are the same for Blacks — whether male or female. “I think you have to be more educated and over-prepared,” she concludes. “I think you just have to have as much education as you can, and the most field experience as you can get; then really seek out mentors.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or read his blog: www.ww wchallman.blogspot.com.
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