Documentary

A Q & A with Siera Santos

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A Q & A with Siera Santos

What experience had the biggest impact on your life and career in sports and why? 
I’m often asked why I chose to be in sports broadcasting and the answer is not exactly brief. Most people aren’t familiar with my backstory. While I prefer to tell it face-to-face, here it is in a nutshell: Throughout high school, I had a lot of “problems” (that’s the gentle way of putting it). I didn’t graduate and instead got my GED while I was in a treatment center in Utah. That summer when I returned home to Arizona, I needed a healthy distraction and, although I had always been a casual Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns fan, I started watching games every day and reading the sports section with my dad over our morning cup of coffee.

When the NBA season started, I begged my dad for season tickets. This was the Nash/Stoudemire/Marion era and tickets were incredibly expensive. While we didn’t get season tickets that year, we went to several regular season and playoff games. Next season rolled around and, once again, I pleaded with my dad to get us season tickets. He finally broke down and bought a half-season package. We went to nearly every other game. I knew at that point that I wanted to go to games for the rest of my life. I enrolled in community college for the spring with my heart set on getting a degree in broadcast journalism. Not only did Suns games change the course of my future, but they also repaired my relationship with my dad. 

Who’s had the biggest impact and why?  
It’s difficult to single out one person. Obviously my parents' unwavering support got me where I am today. If I had to name someone who is currently a mentor-figure in my life, it would definitely be Jesse Sanchez from MLB Network. He always checks in to make sure I’m OK (in both my career and personal life), and he’s given me invaluable feedback and advice. There aren’t many Latinos working in sports media at national level and he encourages me to embrace who I am. 

What are some of the funniest moments you’ve experienced as a woman in sports?
When I tell people I’m a sports broadcaster, the immediate follow-up question tends to be: “Oh, so you like sports?” It’s tough to not respond with something sarcastic so I usually say, “Nope! I hate them!” I just don’t think it’s a question that you would ask a man in sports broadcasting. 

What was the most negative moment you’ve experienced ... the one that got you fired up or perhaps made you think about quitting?
Overall, most of my interactions are very positive and the majority of athletes are professionals. But I did have an issue with one player who was unbelievably disrespectful. He had been inappropriate on two previous occasions and I dreaded having to crowd around his locker to do interviews with him after games. I stopped asking him questions and after one of the scrums, he said: “If you’re not going to ask any questions, move your ass to the back.” My cameraman was still rolling and the mic was still hot. It was caught on video. Eventually, the issue was resolved with the support of my superiors. However, the entire ordeal was embarrassing and made my job more difficult. 
 
Have you had any teachable moments, i.e. someone made an ignorant comment, but had no idea you were offended – until you said something?
Double-checking the pronunciation of names that I’m not familiar with has been a priority. If you slip-up on a name, viewers will crucify you. Most male broadcasters will be forgiven for a mispronunciation, but it’s not necessarily the same for women. 

Any awkward moments?  
Whenever an athlete crosses the line and tries to be flirtatious or ask for a date. It doesn’t happen as often as you’d think, but it’s still uncomfortable. 

What are you most proud of?
I’m often asked “Well, what’s next?” The truth is I’m very happy with where I am. My end goal was to be a team reporter for a regional sports network and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I live in an amazing city and I love what I do. After I dropped out of high school, I never thought I would make it this far, much less graduate college. I’m incredibly grateful to be here and I’m proud of where I am.

A lot of girls look up to you and aspire to be on TV covering sports. What is the most important message you want to send to them?
Be someone that people enjoy working with and being around. Always be open to feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not 100 percent sure. Oh, and don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want your grandma to see. 

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.