Documentary

Having people to turn to

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Having people to turn to

It was an aspect of working in sports media that I hadn’t even considered, but when I walked into the Fenway Park dining room my first day on the job, I quickly recognized it.

Among all the randomly filled tables, there was one cluster that looked purposefully occupied. The people sitting there didn’t seem like casual colleagues -- they appeared to be actual friends.

My co-worker brought me over to the area; turns out that’s where he sat, too. They were a motley crew of media types: writers, radio personalities and those who worked behind the scenes. Some were veterans of the industry, others were fairly new like myself. I joined them and quietly observed this dynamic I didn’t expect to find in a highly competitive market, especially on a Red Sox beat that at that time was in the midst of World Series contention.

Their warm welcome was refreshing, as was their obvious support for one another, even though they worked for different outlets. From that day forward, they continued to call me over to join them for meals, included me in postgame outings and invited me to their annual holiday gathering (which I eagerly anticipated like a freshman going to a senior party).

It was never about wanting to be part of a group to “feel cool,” though. These people, who I am pleased to call my friends years later, were a support system in this small world of sports. When I had a question, they were there to offer advice. When a new job opportunity arose, they were fast to put in a good word. Anything I was going through, most of them had already encountered. Fenway Park meals turned into an instant learning experience. Being able to turn to them was invaluable as I began navigating the ropes.

I didn’t view myself as a “female reporter” when I began this line of work. Many women, including Jackie MacMullan — whom I interviewed for the TOMBOY podcast — had broken down barriers in the Boston market years before I got there. Rather, I saw myself as a young journalist starting off in a demanding industry ready to work hard at a new job. Both men and women alike were eager to help. When I was asked to write about my experiences for TOMBOY, the first thing that came to mind was, “I have been fortunate to have some really positive ones.” These relationships played a part in that.

As I got to know these fellow media members better, something unexpected happened. I ended up making two best friends who are so close to me I consider them like sisters. I was fortunate to meet women who saw the same value as I did in helping to build each other up. We have leaned on each other on countless occasions, able to uniquely relate to one another in both work and in life.

Even though the three of us live in different states, we have maintained a friendship for over 10 years. We got creative with how to see one another in spite of our often conflicting schedules. “Girls weekends” were far from the typical getaways — we’d meet in New York for Red Sox-Yankees series. Cover games during the day, catch up at night. Not exactly a weekend at the spa, but it worked for us.

The sports media industry is competitive. There are races to break stories and battles to get a scoop. Somewhere in between, though, is the importance of having people to turn to along the way. It makes the grind a lot smoother.

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.