The following is a Q&A with ABC 7 Chicago's Dionne Miller on gender in sports leading up to CSN’s original documentary TOMBOY, airing March 10 on CSN Bay Area...
What experience has had the biggest impact on your life and career in sports and why?
It’s hard to point to just one experience, I mean I have loved sports for as long as I can remember. Honestly, I cried when John Elway led “The Drive” to beat my Browns! Actual tears!! That was the moment I knew sports meant more to me than just entertainment. As I got older, I realized sports is just like real life… sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but the next day, the next play we all try our best to be a little bit better. This is why I love sports!!
But my plan was never broadcasting. My plan was teaching -- English Lit -- to high school kids. I think I watched “Dead Poets Society” a dozen too many times and wanted to see kids standing on desks citing poetry. Clearly, I took a detour!! It was actually through some pretty big real-life struggles in college, and taking a semester off, that I realized how much I wanted to be a writer -- not a creative writer, but a journalist!! I attended a small, private, liberal arts school that had no professional writing program to speak of, so they sort of created a curriculum for me. What a gift!!
On my way to becoming a magazine columnist, I had to fulfill a communications requirement. On a whim, I signed up for TV Broadcasting. One of my first assignments was to report from a “Fire” for our faux news cast. I prepared, researched, took my place in front of the “Fire” back drop, and the red light went on. Game. Changer. I have no clue what I said, but I remember what I was wearing when I realized what I wanted to do with my life. I left the class, called my parents and immediately added a minor in communications. Though it honestly never crossed my mind to do news, I was already talking about sports and binge watching sports television. Sports just made sense.
Who’s had the biggest impact and why?
Because I didn’t attend a journalism school, I graduated knowing precious little about this job I wanted so badly. I was advised to pursue an internship, which I did at WWSB ABC7 in my hometown of Sarasota, FL. I walked in the first day, wide-eyed and so eager to learn all I could. I had the best teacher in Kevin Neghandi. Kevin was the weekend sports anchor at the time and honestly taught me everything. Everything.
I met Shawn McClintock (VP Root Sports Pittsburgh) when I took it upon myself to show up in his newsroom and interview for a position I wanted. He didn’t hire me, told me to accept a job offer I had in San Diego (which I did) and then told me to keep in touch. Less than a year later, I was let go from my job in California. I had never dreamed I would be fired. Let alone for no other reason than new management wanted someone else. I called Shawn. He not only encouraged me through that time, but led me to the two jobs that would change my life forever.
He told me he had a college friend who was at a start-up station in Columbus, Ohio, and they were looking for a female anchor. Shawn also said he wanted to send my reel to Fox Sports Ohio as he was good friends with the bosses there. Well, that “college friend” not only helped get me hired in Columbus, he became my husband. And after the station at which we met folded, Fox Sports Ohio hired me. That job with FSO led me to Big Ten Network, which led me to Chicago, and here we are.
What are some of the funniest moments you’ve experienced as a woman in sports?
When I was hired at FOX 32 in Chicago, they sent a station-wide email welcoming "Dionne Miller to the Sports Department." I was told later that they all thought I was an African-American man. This cracks me up.
What was the most negative moment you’ve experienced? The one that got you fired up or perhaps made you think about quitting...
Losing my job sucked! I pride myself on being a team player. I work my butt off. I did everything I was asked to do and then some. But it wasn’t enough. Still makes me mad! I see now what a gift it was that this happened. I had so many more blessings as a result. And I can truly say it NEVER made me want to quit. It only drove me to push harder.
And as a woman in sports, I already know I HAVE to push harder. I have to know more, I have to research more, I have to work harder. I can’t make as many mistakes. I am fully aware of this fact and it’s a drag sometimes, but it will never make me want to quit. I know what I signed up for.
I pray that one day there is more equality in sports broadcasting, especially when it comes to pay. But no job is perfect. And I love mine!
Have you had any teachable moments? Like when someone made an ignorant comment, but had no idea you were offended until you said something?
I remember one of my first college football experiences, I interviewed the coach at Montana State University. I asked a question about his failing secondary and he basically answered me as if I didn’t know that his team played football. It stuck with me. Especially because the next question came from a male reporter who asked virtually the same thing and got a specific football answer. Annoying.
Any awkward moments?
Let’s face it, every time I march into a locker room, it’s awkward. It just is. Athletes have gotten comfortable with it, and truthfully so have I. We all understand I am there to do a job, but it took some getting used to. I always wonder how I would feel if men came into my bathroom while I’m trying to get dressed or undressed. AWKWARD! But show respect, get respect. That’s kind of how I approach it.
What are you most proud of?
I’m a mom of little people. Sometimes I’m most proud that I am awake for work at 10pm ... and dressed!
Kidding aside I am most proud to be a working wife and mom in a city I can’t believe I get to call home, at a station that gives me the opportunity to do so many amazing things, and continue to sharpen my skills. Six months into my first job in Billings, Montana, I was filming a high school football game for work. I got tackled and broke my leg in three places. Never once during the months off the air, rehab, and being thousands of miles from home, did I consider quitting. Not once. I am so proud of where I am and my journey to get here, because it’s MY story. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Many girls look up to you. Any advice for those that want to get into sports media?
First, NO JOB IS BENEATH YOU! I feel like I need to shout this at young girls wanting to get into the business. Try everything, trust your talents, and dive in. If someone offers you an opportunity that you think isn’t “ideal,” remember that it could open a door you never imagined if you just go for it. Trust me, you will not be stuck in “Montana.” Nothing will last forever and you will not die.
Also, understand the landscape of the business. Yes, we will always be outnumbered. Yes, we will be judged by our dress, hair, and make-up before anyone actually hears the words we say. None of this is a surprise. I’m not saying just accept ignorance. Not at all. But to act like this isn’t happening is ridiculous. It is. And its not just in TV. It happens in every job.
BE KIND! To your co-workers, your competition, and yourself! First of all, you need absolutely everyone in the building you work in to make you look good on the air. DO NOT take this for granted. Be kind to your competition, especially other women. Yes, work hard to get your story correct and the best it can be. But do not tear down others on the way. This business is small. Everyone knows everyone. A bad reputation will ruin a stellar resume and incredible on-air talent -- male or female.
And be kind to yourself. You will make mistakes. You will. I do. It’s ok. It will always be ok. Nothing is ever as bad or as good as you think. Stay humble, but don’t beat yourself up. If you make a mistake or miss a story, learn, make a change, and know you’ll do better next time. There is always another show coming.
How has social media changed how easily fans can reach out to you? Do you let it bother you?
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I love it for keeping me connected with what’s going on all over the sports world. But I hate that if I have one slip up on the air, I get immediate comment on Twitter. Or if I show personality and it rubs someone the wrong way, I get an email attack. It’s the worst when someone attacks my clothes and hair. Um, did you even hear what I said??? Yes, it sucks. And honestly, sometimes it does bother me. But I am working towards letting that stuff go. I have to remind myself that the people who use social media to attack me don’t know me. I know the men I work with get comments, too, so I never feel singled out. I just wish people would pause before they lash out. Social media gives us no reason to filter. People are mean. But we can rise above.