Nov. 27, 2017 Before the Fighting Irish left for Thanksgiving Break, espnW went Irish and hosted Campus Conversations, a forum for discussions that support, educate and inspire female student-athletes during their collegiate careers.
Also on the panel were former Notre Dame athletes, Track & Field’s Jes Christian, Notre Dame Women’s Soccer’s Jill Krivacek and Notre Dame Women’s Kaila Turner.
Before the panel began, I caught up with Spain and Gentile to talk one-on-one about women in sports, their career paths and advice for life after college.
Here are a few nuggets from Gentile and Spain that I inquired as a woman who’s aspiring to develop a career working in sports.
On starting in 2003 in marketing to becoming the Senior VP of espnW:
“No, it’s interesting. I think it’s emblematic of life, how you just work really hard and you do the best possible job you can do and you try to achieve great results and one step leads to the nextÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦I’ve had three very different jobs at ESPN and each one has been more interesting than the next. I started as a director of marketing in our consumer marketing group, then I worked as chief of staff for our company president, George Bodenheimer, in the office of the president and then I started working for espnW. So each of those three opportunities have been really really interesting and exciting at each stage I was always sort of thinking about what’s next and how do I push myself and what’s the next step in my career all lead to this.”
What is your “why” in working for espnW:
“I’ve just been really driven to do more to serve women who love sports and create great storytelling for women who love sports, create great experiences and events like our espnW Summit, to create great events for female student-athletes like we are doing here tonight with espnW campus conversations. So that specific aspect of my job is so passionate about serving young women and girls, getting more women in the spotlight and serving women more deeply.” What is something you wish you had as a student athlete: “I got a lot of great experience by going to a top notch university like that very similar to Notre Dame just everyday was challenging because your fellow students were really smart and had dreams themselves and then competing at that level was really challenging and really pushed yourself to set goals and be committed and really know what it means to be dedicated to a mission. Just by virtue of being a student and an athlete at such a high caliber place I think positioned me really well just to set standards really high. I can’t say I was zeroed in on what my career path was going to be and it turned out well but I think in hind site if I could’ve tried a few more work opportunities it would’ve served me better and maybe build my network earlier; network of relationships and people in the business. You can never have too many relationships in life and in business…So being a little bit more conscious and purposeful of meeting people and learning from them and understanding their paths would certainly just give you a little bit of a leg up and have a sense of where you want to go.”
Biggest growth or learning opportunity:
“Some of it is I have a greater awareness that women face in the sports media landscape if you will. I think before starting espnW again I had a more simplistic view of the world. You work hard, you pay your dues, you are good at what you do and that all leads to success. Once you start something new that’s a bit non traditional and a little different you realize there is probably more evangelism that has to happen, there’s more changing of minds and hearts that has to happen. So that was an eye opener, the notion that as inclusive as sports is it can still be much more inclusive for women, women’s voices and women’s sports overall.”
On what campus conversations is:
“This is awesome and the first thing I think of when they asked me to come do it, I did it at Northwestern as well, is how much I wish we had this when I was at Cornell as a student-athlete. Not only because I think there are a lot of questions about where you go after school inevitably no matter what but I think as a student-athlete particularly some of the things that stand out to you is perhaps feeling behind when it comes to internships or opportunities outside of sportsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦.Sometimes you feel like you haven’t accomplished enough and one of the best things I’ve learned from these is the idea of literally putting your sport on a resume as a job explaining the skills that you learned, the time that you spent, the teamwork, the leadership, everything. So that’s kind of a microcosm of what the larger idea of what it gives people but it’s this idea of all the questions that you have as a student-athlete and how you take those skills into the real world.”
Biggest advice to the young female student-athletes:
“I have so many. Well one of is that to recognize that as an athlete you’ve probably been that your whole life and so that things that are normal to you are not necessarily assumed by others in the sports world. So when you get to an internship or an interview or any sort of outside academic opportunity where you’re trying to get into the workplace really harp on what you learned and what you gained and the time commitment it was because if you meet a fellow student-athlete after school their gonna get it. They’re gonna be like wow that’s amazing division one athlete, great grades, whatever else. If they’re not in that world they don’t get it they don’t get beyond the commitment to practice and competitions, the icing, the injuries, the fatigue, the film, everything and how that teaches you. Even as a women in my 20s I liked being an athlete that was very much a part of my identity but I wasn’t aware yet how much it had contributed to who I was in the workplace and in endeavors outside of sports. Whether that’s being able to work in a team, being a born leader, being able to fight through diversity and adversity. Being surrounded by all different people loving it and embracing it and knowing how to get along with all those people and then adversity being able to fail and be like it’s okay get back up. I do notice it way more now that I’m a little bit older and looking back and that I’m talking to people about it. How it can be a very different mindset from the average person who never went through losing a big game or not performing at their best and then coming back and doing it all over again.”
Advice on wanting to work in sports:
“I would say my two biggest pieces of advice are always to be as diverse as possible so learn how to tape, how to cut, how to write, how to do radio, how to do TV; don’t pigeon hole yourself. You can certainly have a passion in something that you really want and that might help you. There are plenty of people that you’ll find and their story is I was four and I wanted to be the Cubs’ radio announcer and now I’m the Cubs’ radio announcer and then you’ll also hear about people like me who I had no interest in radio I thought it was going to be a bunch of middle-aged dudes calling it and being like do you know who had the most home-runs in 79? Get off the air…I thought that was what it was going to be about and it’s really not it’s a beautiful space that’s super open where you can talk about issues and sports and x’s and o’s and community. You really connect with your listeners because there is more time. I’m a perfect example of someone who was like no not radio and now I love it and it’s a big part of my job. I would say don’t turn away from opportunities always see what you think of them, always try them; you never know how you can get your foot in the doorÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦I’ve found my own voice and my own kind of agency within the industry and that took a while but I also started with a very specific idea of who I am. Which was I wanted to be in comedy, I wanted to be entertaining and I wanted to find the place where sports and joy and comedy intersected. Now I actually do a lot of serious issues now that I’ve kind of gotten to where I am but I still have that part of me that loves just finding the joy in the comedy in itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦Instead of showing up and believing that you need to fill a hole that’s already being filled by many other people like I’m going to be the next thisÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦Figure out who you are and make a space and that’s what I did.”
For more advice from Gentile and Spain, check out the latest podcast of Yesterday, Today & Tamara. Tamara Brown, the Notre Dame Sports Blogger, has been part of Fighting Irish Media since August 2016 and provides exclusive, behind-the-scenes coverage of all 26 varsity sports. A native of Newport News, Virginia, Brown graduated from Virginia Tech in 2015 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism. For more follow the @NDSportsBlogger on Twitter and Instagram.