CSN TOMBOY

TOMBOY: Q&A with CSN Chicago's Siera Santos

TOMBOY: Q&A with CSN Chicago's Siera Santos

BY SIERA SANTOS, CSN CHICAGO

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, it also repaired my relationship with my dad.

CSN TOMBOYELEVATING THE DISCUSSION OF GENDER AND SPORTS

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.

CSN TOMBOY: Q&A WITH CSN CHICAGO'S LEILA RAHIMI

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% sure. Oh, and don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want your grandma to see.

TOMBOY: Why should the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

TOMBOY: Why should the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

 BY ABBY CHIN, CSN NEW ENGLAND

I grew up playing sports.

For the most part I played soccer, but I also ran cross-country and track. I skied, snowboarded, and, at one point, I tried gymnastics. (It wasn't pretty.) My two younger sisters did the same. Our parents ran themselves ragged driving us to practices and tournaments, arranging carpools and fundraisers.

It never crossed our minds that we were girls playing sports. It's just what we did. And we loved it!

CSN TOMBOY: A Q&A WITH CSN CHICAGO'S SIERA SANTOS

I didn't realize how lucky I was until visiting my grandparents in rural Ohio one summer. I found an old photo of their high school graduating class. I asked my grandmother what sports she played in school and I'll never forget her answer: "Oh, there were no sports for girls back then. We could cheer for the boys basketball team, but that was it."

I was shocked. I thought that was ridiculous. Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

I couldn't comprehend it.

Looking back, I'm so thankful I grew up in a time and environment where that wasn't the case. I can't imagine my life without sports. Not only because it's what I do for a living, but because playing sports throughout my childhood is a big part of what made me the person I am today.

Sports taught me the value of hard work. Being part of a team, I learned how to communicate and work with people to accomplish a common goal . . . and discovered just how gratifying the process can be.

I became a teammate and leader who earned respect and empowered others. I made lasting friendships while stuffed like a sardine in a travel van singing Ace of Base at the top of my lungs. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. And I certainly wouldn't be in the position I'm in without them.

CSN TOMBOY: THE IMPORTANCE OF TITLE IX

Don't get me wrong; it hasn't all been positive. Now that I'm a woman working in sports, I've had other kinds of eye-opening moments. During an interview for my first on-air job I was asked, in so many words, if this is really a career for me or if I had other plans after I found a husband.

Once I did land a job, I covered many college football games by myself. There was one small school in particular whose players relentlessly catcalled me on the sidelines.

I won't repeat the foul things they said, but I can tell you I went home feeling very dirty (and it wasn't because I was pouring sweat after lugging a camera that weighed half as much as I did from end zone to end zone in the middle of an Alabama summer). Even now, every so often, social media has a special way of reminding me how some people still view women in sports.

Surprise -- it's not good.

But if that's the worst I have to go through, I know I can't complain.

My only focus is doing my job to the very best of my abilities and working as hard as I possibly can to continue to grow and get better. We've come a long way. I'm so grateful for those who blazed the trail and made it possible for me to do what I do. And, thanks to my grandmother, I will never take my opportunities for granted. My hope is that when my daughter grows up, she will be just as surprised and appalled by some of my bad experiences as I was talking to my grandmother that day.

TOMBOY: Trenni Kusneirek and the power of language

TOMBOY: Trenni Kusneirek and the power of language

March is Women's history month and CSN is working to elevate the discussion of gender in sports. The world premiere of CSN TOMBOY takes place on Sunday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m. on CSN Mid-Atlantic, following by a live discussion panel. 

BY TRENNI KUSNIEREK, CSN NEW ENGLAND

The first time I held my niece I was overcome by love.

It was the kind of love I never realized was possible. This tiny, perfect, half-asleep little girl grabbed my heart in a way that flooded me with emotion.

One of the biggest pulls: Protection. 

As my niece grew, she evolved into a beautiful little girl. She's the kind of child who prompts strangers to stop on the street and remark on her piercing blue eyes, her infectious smile, her ebullient personality. “You are such a pretty little girl,” they would say. 

While it made me smile, their observations also made me cringe. My niece was barely a toddler, yet I was terrified she would grow up believing her greatest attribute would be something mostly out of her control -- how attractive others perceived her to be. 

It was in that moment I knew I had to change the way I spoke about women and girls while also fighting to make sure others saw the importance of doing the same. 

CSN TOMBOY: A Q&A WITH CSN CHICAGO'S SIERA SANTOS

“They're just words,”people will say. 

“Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.”

Except . . . words do hurt. They're more than just a compilation of letters and punctuation. 

Webster’s Dictionary provides a number of definitions for “word” but one stands out. Definition 2 a (1) states: a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use. 

Communicates a meaning. 

Translation: Words do matter because they carry the weight of meaning.

As my niece grew, so did my linguistic awareness.

If she wore a cute outfit or had her hair styled a certain way, of course I would give her a compliment. However, I made it my mission to ensure our time together was focused on reading, playing, engaging kindly with others and standing tall for herself.

When she did something well, I was careful to be specific with my praise using words and phrases that endorsed qualities like strength, intelligence and understanding. 

I desperately wanted this growing little girl to know she could be and do anything.

CSN TOMBOY: JUST BEING ONE OF THE BOYS

Sally. Pink Hat. Throwing like a girl. Playing in a skirt. 

How often do we still hear these terms used to describe deficiencies in male athletes or fans who lack knowledge? 

On the surface, these phrases seem harmless. At the core, they perpetuate stereotypes that women are weak and inferior to our male counterparts. 

Trust me, I fall into the trap of using demeaning language. For example, describing an upset athlete as “whining like a little girl” has been ingrained in most of us for decades. But nothing is permanent. 

We can change attitudes and perceptions with a slight shift in how we speak. 

Do we need to call a guy a “Sally” or say a team “might as well have worn skirts”? Why not be a little more creative and use our words wisely? If an athlete doesn’t play well, why not explain their performance as “poor, sad, unacceptable, dreadful, atrocious, awful, garbage, shaky, anemic, powerless, weak, etc . . . ” Shall I go on? 

Do we have to describe inept fans as “pink hats” or could we simply call them . . . inept? How about ill-informed, bumbling, or incompetent? 

The reality is, there is a term for when we use female adjectives to relay a message of weakness: Lazy. 

CSN TOMBOY: THE IMPORTANCE OF TITLE IX

Five years after the birth of my niece, my sister delivered a bouncing baby boy. Any fears I had about my ability to love them both equally was swept away the first time I held his tiny, perfect, half-asleep little boy in my arms. I was once again overcome by a love I never thought possible. 

It was also the first time I realized the way I convey messages leaves an impression not just on the women in my life, but also the men. 

When we criticize men for showing emotion, or belittle them for falling short, the message we send is that males need to show perpetual strength while avoiding feelings. This only works to drive home the idea that women are to act one way, men another.

If you've ever been around children, you know that while they tend to gravitate towards certain toys and activities, it's often because those are the only choices they see or hear. I’d like to think that by displaying a multitude of options to my niece and nephew, they're perceiving the possibility of a world without limits based on gender. 

Women are not inherently weak, men are not automatically strong. Women are not born inferior, men do not emerge into this world superior. Women are not all followers just as all men are not leaders. We're each capable of what we believe is possible.

So let’s stop talking as though the only truths are those which we’ve spoken in the past.