Documentary

Dei Lynam: Cherishing the stories I've told and the stories I'll continue to tell

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Dei Lynam: Cherishing the stories I've told and the stories I'll continue to tell

I never considered myself a tomboy. Yes, I loved sports growing up, and I had more guy friends than girlfriends, but I loved clothes and doing my hair, too. If I didn't end up in sports broadcasting, I really do believe I would have been a buyer for a high-end department store.
 
Fortunately for me, my first dream came true. I can't believe I have been working in the sports broadcasting industry for 25 years. I don't feel old enough for that to be possible.
 
I think of the many people who helped me along the way, either by hiring me or by teaching me tricks of the trade.
 
In 1991, I made my first big move when Don Sperling, Executive Producer of NBA Entertainment, hired me as an editor. I packed my bags in Playa del Rey, California, and left my finance to move in with two strangers in New York City, midtown on the east side.
 
NBA Entertainment was the best training ground for me to learn how to edit and eventually how to produce creative, entertaining pieces. Few people know that I produced promotional spots for the NBA. They were 30-second spots that aired during the nationally televised games on NBC.
 
I participated in changing the NBA's campaign from NBA Action -- It's Fantastic to I Love This Game. I would go to Madison Square Garden and go up to celebrities and ask them if they would look into the camera and say, "I love this game."
 
Sting was one of my favorite celebrities I encountered on this journey. Opera singer Placido Domingo was another because he sang the phrase and allowed me to use one of his songs for a spot.
 
I won an Emmy for those spots, and that beautiful gold trophy sits on a bookshelf in my living room to this day.
 
Later when I was a weekend sports anchor in Madison, Wisconsin, I had a long leash when it came to features I wanted to produce and edit because my boss trusted my creative talents. In January 1994, the Wisconsin football team went to the Rose Bowl, a first in 31 years. My ability to edit coupled with my local knowledge of Southern California from my years of attending UCLA made me an ideal candidate to cover the Jan. 1 event for WMTV. 

I went with a cameraman to the West Coast for the week leading up to the game. One day the team had off, and players could do as they pleased. Somehow I convinced the starting quarterback to join me on a ride to Manhattan Beach. Darrell Bevell was a college senior who grew up in Arizona and had never seen the ocean. I will never forget his reaction when we drove up over the crest of Rosecrans Boulevard, and the beautiful Pacific was staring back at us. He was truly in awe, and my camera was rolling.
 
We proceeded to walk down to the beach where, with the camera still rolling, Bevell engaged in a conversation with a surfer. Imagine a nice Mormon guy talking to a stereotypical surfer dude who knew how to catch waves but had no idea a bowl game was being played in his backyard or that a quarterback was an important position on a football team.
 
The conversation was priceless. The feature received rave reviews. And last weekend when I saw Bevell during the Seahawks playoff game (he's the offensive coordinator) I wondered if he remembers that trek to the beach with an up-and-coming sportscaster.
 
Thinking outside the box has always been fun for me. One time on the day the Kentucky Derby was run I wore a hat during my sportscast. And yes, I was on the set, not outdoors.
 
One of my favorite weekly segments I came up with was Catching up with Ken Griffey Sr. I was working as a weekend sportscaster in Cincinnati and Griffey was a coach for the Reds.
 
Once a week I would go to the ballpark, and he and I would talk baseball while having a catch. Having a conversation while tossing a ball with a member of the Big Red Machine -- so cool.
 
The people and the adventures have been the greatest part of being a sports journalist. I have walked on the Great Wall of China because I went to Beijing to interview Yao Ming live the day he was selected No. 1 overall in 2002. I have been on a safari in the Masai Mara on the heels of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Dikembe Mutombo, who was building a hospital in his home country.
 
Storytelling is a dying art in this age of sharing information in 140 characters or less. A few stories that I will cherish having told are the following.
 
•  I ventured to upstate New York to interview prisoners who were in a program to rehab former racehorses that had been left to die after their careers were over. Seeing men, some of whom had been charged with murder, find a way to care for an animal and be humbled in the process was amazing.
 
•  I flew to California to interview five of the most powerful agents in sports, including Lee Steinberg and Arn Tellem.
 
•  Going Christmas shopping with the St. Joe's Hawks was a blast.
 
•  Attending a summer camp called Seeds of Peace where children from Israel and Palestine live under one roof. To hear their conversations about their respective homelands was both fascinating and heartwarming.
 
•  Finding the stories of MVPs in the sports community -- the people who make a difference has always been a treat.
 
Finally, I want to share a thought that has served me well: Don’t be afraid to try something new. I have been a sideline reporter, a studio host, an anchor, a beat writer, a play-by-play announcer and a color analyst. Twice, I have taken a leap of faith and joined a start-up operation, first with Comcast SportsNet and then with NBA-TV. The business is ever-changing, but it's been a great challenge to change with it and stay relevant in an industry I so enjoy being a part of.

Jillian Mele: 'If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it'

Jillian Mele: 'If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it'

"Who did you sleep with to get this job?"

That was said to my face by a former co-worker at the start of our first day working together.  I was new at the station, young and excited to prove myself, and I knew it would be a long day. I had this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach and I was fighting back tears, but the last thing I wanted to show was weakness. I knew I had to be strong -- for me.

I was a professional that day and we ended up doing a great story together, but the emotion was still reeling inside of me. We got in the news vehicle to drive an hour and a half back to the station and that same person said, "Wow. I thought you were just another blonde who didn't know her ass from her face but you actually know what you're doing. You are good." Was that supposed to be a compliment? Whatever it was supposed to be, I used it as fuel. I had a passion for this business ever since my internship at CSN years prior to this experience, and I wasn't going to let anyone get in my way.

I've spent time in both hard news and sports and as I transitioned into sports full time, one of the biggest challenges I found is having a professional relationship with athletes -- it's a delicate thing to do. More often than I would like to tell you, married athletes have asked me out, while other athletes have asked me to send them photos over the internet. Social media makes accessing people extremely easy, and I have sent countless messages over the years saying basically the same thing: "Thank you, I am flattered, but I am seeing someone," even if I was single. As a young intern in this business 12 years ago, I never knew how hard it would be to manage those relationships, but more than that, manage how it makes me feel.

As I've grown in the world of TV, the comments have started to roll in fast and furious, and the popularity of social media has certainly been a factor. People feel the constant need to comment on everything from my body to my clothes, my hair, my shoes, my teeth (yes, my teeth) and my opinions. People tell me exactly what they think, good or bad, and most of the time I like the fact that people are honest; it keeps me in check and makes me realize the impact I have on their lives. At the end of the day, I am a person with feelings just like you, so when someone tells me on Twitter that I should be fired from my job because I am awful, I'll be honest, it stings. I work endless hours when needed, I ask really tough questions because it is necessary, and I handle criticism because let's face it, for every bad comment there are about 20 good ones that truly mean something.

I love when parents tell me that I am a role model for their daughter, helping her see that she can do anything she wants, even in a male dominated industry like sports. To me, that is everything and makes it all worth it. I want to be a strong role model and continue to pave the way for women in sports, as other women have done before me.

Someone once asked who my daddy knew because I could not possibly have gotten a job in TV on my own. I was told I didn’t deserve it. I proudly told that person that my dad has a salvage yard and my mom is a nurse and they have supported me every step of the way on this journey but this, I did this on my own. My favorite quote puts it in perspective and has gotten me through many tough times as it will continue to do for years to come:

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great." -- A League of Their Own.

How Billie Jean King made me realize my dream

How Billie Jean King made me realize my dream

As the Booking Producer for Comcast Sportsnet for the last 8 years, I’ve had the pleasure of booking and interviewing some of the sports world’s biggest names on both a local and national level. Despite my own feelings of excitement to meet certain athletes, I still have to maintain a level of professionalism in those moments.  

Over the last eight years, there was one major exception: when I met a living legend, Billie Jean King. Now I’m a little young to remember Billie Jean King as the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world -- I wasn’t even alive yet! But when I got my first job at CSN, my mom gave me an autographed BJK ball for my desk and said, "If it wasn’t for her, you probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to choose this career path."

I keep the ball on my desk as a reminder of that moment with my mother, and as a reminder that as a women working in sports, I would always have to work just a little bit harder to earn the respect of my colleagues. So when Billie Jean King came in, I was so excited to show her the ball and tell her my story. She was immediately touched by it, agreed to take a picture with me and the ball to send to my mom. I was blown away by her kindness and enthusiasm and it was a moment I knew I would never forget. But what I didn’t know was the biggest moment was yet to come.  

After she completed the interview, I walked her to the door, thanked her and said goodbye. As she walked out she stopped, turned around and said "Hey Rachel, what is your dream?" 

I froze.

I completely panicked.  

I didn’t know what to say.  

I managed to muster out, "I’m not really sure." 

This answer was not sufficient for one of the greatest female pioneers to ever live. She gave me the death stare. She looked at me sternly and said, "You better have a better answer than that next time I see you." 

Then she added, "Aim high. There are no female decision makers in sports and we need more of them." 

As I walked back to my desk, I was so frustrated with myself. Did I really just tell Billie Jean King that I didn’t know what my dream was? This woman who is a pioneer for women’s rights and equality that fought for women like me to have the opportunities that I do, and I said I don’t know?! I began to think, do I know what my dream is? Do I have a dream? It was after that moment that I knew I had to figure this out.  

Over the next few years, this moment never left my head. There have been many ups and downs in my life, but I can proudly say now that I finally have an answer for you, Billie Jean. 

I’m living my dream. 

Growing up, I was never all that good at sports but was drawn to the thrill of competition. There aren’t many 10-year-old girls attending football games with their dads or spending their Sundays on the couch glued to every NFL game or watching Sunday Night Football in her college apartment while her roommates are watching the newest episode of Sex and The City.  

The "Tomboy" in me was drawn to this male-dominated world and if I couldn’t compete myself, I was going to find another way. I landed at CSN, in a job that I love. Everyday I live Philly sports and am surrounded by people that live it too. I’ve had to work extremely hard to prove myself and earn the respect of my male colleagues, and I’ve done it. 

On a personal level, I’m a mom to the most beautiful baby boy. I have a husband who supports me and holds down the fort at home when I have to work the non-traditional hours that the sports world demands. Being a working mom means having two full-time jobs, and while I’m far from perfect, I navigate the demands of those commitments daily and try to be the best that I can be at both. But I’m not done yet; there are still things I want to accomplish at both the personal and professional level. You said we need more decision-makers, and that’s my next goal. 

Thank you for putting me on the spot, Billie Jean. Without it, I’m not sure I would be where I am today. Thank you for inspiring women like me to work for their dream, to realize when they’re living it, and to never give up. For that, I am forever grateful.