Documentary

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.

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.

#YesAllWomen in sports

#YesAllWomen in sports

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a sports journalist.

There might have been a very brief stint in kindergarten where Friendly’s waitress was discussed as an option, but that melted away as quickly as a Cone Head sundae.

With the exception of kindergarten, there was no hesitation or question; I was going to be a sports journalist. I was going to do anything to get there, but there were going to be some rough moments.

I remember being the only girl watching the game with the boys. I remember the isolation of being the only woman on a beat. I remember the skeptical looks, the odd questions, and the doubtful comments.

But by far, the absolute worst part of all was, and still is, The Quiz.

Any woman that works in sports journalism will tell you that at some point in her life, she has been subjected to a quiz by someone who thinks they know more about sports than she does. It could be someone close to them, like a friend or family member, or someone that she’s just met, like a guy in a bar, your barista or mechanic.

The quiz normally starts with little questions with an air of superiority and condescension, normally starting with “WELL” and ending with “Huh?!” (Real-life example-WELL, What is Utah’s mascot, huh?!)

As a woman, you know that a man would never be subjected to this in a serious context. You are acutely aware that this is not a joke. There is an expectation that you must answer the basic, idiotic questions to show your knowledge and that is the most frustrating thing of all.

If someone tells you they’re an accountant, you don’t ask them to debit an account. If someone tells you they’re a history teacher, you don’t demand they list all the presidents. You don’t make them prove that they are knowledgeable in their field. You take their word for it.

As a society, we still have a long way to go with how we see women in sports, both on and off the floor, but we have made tremendous progress. For all of The Quizzes, there are genuine questions and supporters.

I once asked my mom if she ever tried to convince me to pursue another career. She started to laugh. “Even if I wanted to, I never had a chance. You decided very early that this was what you were going to do. You were constantly going to games with your dad, so I just tried to help in whatever way I could.”

Her encouragement made me focus on the positive aspects of what I do.

For me, work is debating whether or not Terrell Owens should be in the Hall of Fame or covering a March Madness game. It’s always something new.

There’s enough competition in sports, so let’s stop the quizzes and start the support.