Six Questions for ESPN's Sage Steele
How sports led her to the career of her dreams.
Sage Steele is enjoying her career to the fullest. The "SportsCenter" co-host was on the road covering the NBA Finals for the first time in her illustrious career and it's a job she doesn't take lightly.
Steele sat down with Loop 21 to talk about the lengths she's gone through to keep balance in her life and how she stays grounded as her career goes to new heights.
Loop 21: What sparked your love of sports?
Steele: My father was a pretty good athlete. He was the first black football varsity player at West Point. He was drafted in the NFL, but couldn't play because of his military obligation. We lived in Greece and Belgium for a period growing up and there was only one TV station in English and every weekend it was always on sports -- Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins. That's what I grew up with.
I also ran track and played some volleyball. I knew at a young age that this is what I wanted to do. When I was in the eighth grade I actually announced at the dinner table that I was going to host "SportsCenter." My parents were kind of like, "Oh, that's nice." [Laughs] Because I was a painfully shy child. I feel pretty blessed. At 12 years old, I announced it and it came true. It was a hard road to get here, but I'm here.
Loop 21: You recently tweeted about missing your kids while on the road covering the NBA Finals for an extended period of time. How do you balance motherhood and your career?
Steele: I knew that if my boss thought enough of me to send me to an event of this magnitude, I needed to take it. I would be crazy not to. On the flip side, I had never been away from my kids for more than five days. This is by far the longest. Thank goodness for technology — Skype and FaceTime.
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Loop 21: So your support system is pretty solid, with some of the travel that's required for your career?
Steele: I have the best support system. My husband has sacrificed his career for us as a family. He's been a stay-at-home dad for 10 years. There's no way I'd be at ESPN right now if it wasn't for him. It was not our plan at all. We thought about it for a couple weeks and did some number crunching. I'm pretty traditional and was willing to be the one who would stay home, but I made more money. It's a blessing, but it was a very difficult decision. I didn't want to miss a thing.
I'll never forget driving back to work eight weeks after having my first daughter. My first day back was the first day of training camp for the Baltimore Ravens. I was working 12-14 hour days with a football team, six days a week. Live television. I pumped during games, whenever I had to, six times a day for six months. I would be pumping at halftime and the players would be banging on the door, wondering what's going on. It was a tough transition. But you can't ask for anything better. It was a sacrifice. I don't regret a single thing.
Loop 21: What advice do you have for women who are interested in a sports career?
Steele: I plead with them to never feel like they have to make a choice between having a career and a family. Of course, there's going to be sacrifices that need to be made both personally and professionally. What are you willing to give up? After that third pregnancy, I sacrificed being the beat reporter for an NFL team, to be an in-studio reporter because I thought it was the right thing to do.
Let me tell you another story. When I was getting ready to have my second child (and my first wasn't even 2), I got a call from ESPN. They gave me a really good offer and I turned it down. I just felt in my heart that I wouldn't be able to give 100%. This was the biggest test of them all. This was my dream job and I turned it down. By 2007, I had had my third child and EPSN came back. And they didn't have to. It can be tough but I tell people you will never regret putting your family first.
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Loop 21: What's been your biggest career highlight since you started working for ESPN?
Steele: I've been able to meet and interview some amazing people, athletes and coaches, but for me, the thing I'm most proud of is that I've been able to balance my personal life. After a while, all the interviews and stories kind of run together. I've done so much in my career but there's still so much more to do.This experience (covering the NBA Finals) has been amazing. It's been humbling because I've watched it for so many years. I was surprised, but as soon as I heard they wanted me to do it, I jumped at it. I've remained true to who I am, despite this sometimes ugly business. I've been able to stay the same person. I come from a family where you treat people the way you want to be treated.
Loop 21: Social media is a big part of the sports world -- how do you balance keeping your privacy versus being "out there" professionally?
Steele: I'm still trying to figure it out. ESPN encouraged us to start these Twitter accounts. At first I thought it was so stupid but I have found the value in it. I thought this would be a more controlled way to interact. I also have a ton of opinions about sports topics but I have to be careful about sharing those opinions as a journalist. I struggle with it because I'm just here doing a job I love, but we're coming into people's living rooms. This is part of my job.
There's many perks but one of the drawbacks is people feel the need to let you know what they think of you. You just need to have a thick skin. They don't know me, but they can critique my performance. I'm doing my absolute best. As long as my boss thinks I'm doing a good job and my family thinks so too, then I'm okay with whatever anyone else has to say.
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