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Michele Tafoya was raised a sports fan, and has been enamored with the NFL since she was a child. But, when she first started to pursue a career as a sports broadcaster, she was one of few women in the industry. Today, the landscape is changing, and Tafoya has become a key player in increasing the visibility of women in the sports industry.
Tafoya, who is the sideline reporter for NBC Sunday Night Football, is one of several women involved in professional football profiled in the new 17-week NBC Sports series On Her Turf, Football is Female ahead of this year’s NFL Kickoff. In addition to Tafoya, Dallas Cowboys’ Executive Vice President Charlotte Jones-Anderson will also be featured. The goal of the series is to inspire fans with women’s stories throughout all areas of football — whether they work directly for the NFL, play football themselves, are related to football players, or work in media that covers the sport.
“When I first started, I'd often be the only female at an NBA presser,” Tafoya said in a clip from On Her Turf. “There was a part of me that thought: Am I ever going to have the skin thick enough to stick with this?” Despite these apprehensions, she is now a successful sports broadcaster and has a message for women professionals, particularly those pursuing careers in previously male-dominated industries: Just keep going.
Tafoya chatted with Refinery29 and told us about her experiences and her hopes for the future of women in sports broadcasting and beyond.
Refinery29: You've spoken at length about the challenges for woman working in sports broadcasting. How do you hope On Her Turf, Football is Female will help women working in the NFL and other male-dominated spaces?
Michele Tafoya: My hope is that women — and men — will look at Football is Female and see the broad range of roles women are playing in the NFL universe. There are so many opportunities, and they are varied. Reporting is just one. Women are now coaching and officiating! Women are in the front offices and the athletic training rooms. Just like any industry that has been male-dominated in the past, the NFL is a place where anyone can thrive.
R29: Over the course of your career, you've seen a growth in the number of women pursuing sports broadcasting careers; what are your hopes for what the industry will look like in the next 20 years?
MT: We are seeing so many more women in sports broadcasting. My hope is that careers will continue to evolve organically. In other words, men and women who excel should advance according to their talent level and skills. I hope people will be driven to pursue sports broadcasting careers based on their love of sports and journalism.
R29: You've worked your whole career to gain trust among athletes, coaches, PR people, and others in the industry. In your experiences, how does the idea of trust intersect with women trying to break into male-dominated fields?
MT: I think trust is important in every arena. Integrity is one of my core values. No matter what industry or occupation you are in you should know that doing the right thing is never wrong. Taking the high road is never a bad choice and being honest is liberating.
Relationships are exceedingly important, it’s pretty simple: Be yourself, be truthful, and don’t expect relationships to flourish overnight. Develop them at their own speed. Don’t rush to earn trust. It happens when you do the right thing over and over and over again.
R29: Things are improving and traditionally male-dominated fields are seeing more and more women in them. What would you say to the men who doubt that women can perform in these traditionally male spaces?
MT: I really don’t have anything to say to people who doubt anyone based on their gender, age, cultural background, etc. My message would be to the people who feel they are being doubted. Keep working.
Ignore the doubters — or use them as motivation to prove people wrong. Just be yourself, work exceedingly hard, smile a lot, be a team player, outwork everyone, and good things will happen, eventually. Patience is crucial.
R29: If you could go back, what would you tell your younger self as she prepared to go into this field?
MT: I would tell my younger self that she only has one life, and that she should spend it working to improve herself every day. I would tell her that her talents are unique, and there is room at the table for a variety of people.
I would remind her that she can only control one thing — her mind. No matter what life throws at you, you get to choose how you react. There are so many examples of people who have overcome obstacles purely by how they look at them and respond to them. If you can’t change the situation, change your mind.