Get to Know Michelle Beadle, ESPN’s Most Powerful Woman

Jessica Baker

Michelle Beadle is working in a man’s world, but the tides are changing. As ESPN’s most outspoken (and beloved!) female reporter, she’s paving a path for women to have an influential voice in sports media. Here, we sit down with the SportsNation co-host to get her perspective on working in a male-dominated industry, the impact of social media, and more.

MYDOMAINE: How did you land your big break in sports media?
MICHELLE BEADLE: It’s weird, because this was never my plan. I just sort of found myself leaving college with zero idea of what I wanted to do. I got my break really when the San Antonio Spurs offered me an internship after my father emailed them many, many times in a row. One day they let me try to do television, and it was really bad. It was a piece on how to take care of your dog for a cute show they did, and it was god-awful and my doing it was horrible, but for some reason something in there must have been attractive to me, because I decided to try it one more time. And the second time was more fun. That turned into me doing some playoff stuff, and then they let me do sideline reporting, and then the next thing you know, I was actually working and here I am. I’ve never really thought about my plan B, to be honest.

MD: Do you believe in the cold email when asking for a job or internship?
MB: Well, I do to a point. I mean, especially when you really want something. Being on the other side now, on the receiving end of cold emails, I am always honored that they think I am worthy of giving them advice, but more importantly, that’s a ballsy move to send an email to someone you don’t even know and ask a bunch of questions. At that time, my dad worked for a company that did a lot of stuff with the Spurs and he knew people through that, and what was initially just a meeting where I thought I was going to be lectured about getting my life back on track turned into, “Hey, do you want do apply for an internship?” And the best part about it is the guy who actually gave me the internship is a close friend to this day. I’m so glad he returned that phone call, because I’m not sure what would have happened next.

MD: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced working in the industry, and how did you overcome them?
MB: I think the challenges are quite similar to anywhere else. First and foremost, getting your foot in the door, because it’s so competitive and so many people want to have these jobs and there are only so many. I think that is the number one challenge to the whole thing. And then when your foot is in the door, staying there. That’s a thing too, because there are a lot of hungry young people who are waiting to come up and snatch some of these jobs. It’s just one of those things where you’re here; now what you need to do is stay prepared and stay hungry and stay interested, and if the job that you have isn’t doing that anymore, then find the job that is going to give you those things. I have to believe those challenges exist in everything.=

MD: What did you do to stand out/show your strengths to your boss?
MB: I really have to attribute this to not having had a plan, because I think without a plan, you really throw any kind of ideas of what you’re supposed to do and look like and say out the window. And so from the beginning, I’ve just been myself, which is a really dumb thing to say out loud and sounds really pretentious, but I think when you’re going out for auditions, you’re almost trained to put on some what of an air and be somebody that you’re hoping they want to hire. I never really did that, because it never really crossed my mind that that is how you’re supposed to get jobs.

MD: What advice do you have for women working in a male-dominated industry?
MB: Unfortunately, we are always going to be judged a little more harshly than our male counterparts, and that’s fine, but all it means is that you just need to make sure that you’re knowledgeable in whatever it is that you’re covering, that you ask the right questions. I know they say there are no dumb questions; I actually think that’s not true—I think there are very dumb questions, they exist every day, but try not to ask those. Be prepared. The other thing, and this is something I think I’m learning more and more even as I get older, every female in this business is not necessarily your competition. I spent the weekend emailing back and forth with a bunch of my female colleagues about certain topics, and you realize we’re not all out here to cut each other’s throats. We are a very small group within another small group within this giant group of media. You know, you’re always going to have outliers, but for the most part it’s nice to support each other and have that kind of mentality rather than, Oh you’re another woman, you’re my competition. It’s an unhealthy way to look at it.

MD: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?
MB: The best career advice I ever received was to forget the camera is there, and it was from a cameraman in San Antonio by the name of Eddie Ray Rodriguez who to this day is a friend. And he was actually with me on both shoots; he was with me on the shoot where I was telling kids how to take care of their dog, and he was on the second shoot, and it was that second shoot that intrigued me enough to stick with it. I joke with him all the time when I run into him randomly. It’s such a simplistic piece of information to give someone—forget the cameras are there, be yourself. It just sounds really simple, but it’s been the best thing that anyone’s ever told me. And I’ve worked with some really big beans in this world, and I still think that’s been the best piece of advice I’ve gotten.

MD: Do you find that you still get nervous going on camera?
MB: With SportsNation, because I’ve been doing it for so long, it doesn’t make me nervous anymore. What does make me nervous is anytime I do anything new. So if it’s that being on a friend’s show or covering something I’ve never covered or anything like that, I’m always my most nervous, sweaty, and jittery. But I usually find once it starts, it’s quite fun. You know, that’s kind of the whole thing: finding what you do and don’t love by at least trying it once.

MD: You were included in the Hollywood Reporter’s top-10 ranking of powerful voices in sports media: What do you think you bring to the job that others might not?
MB: I don’t know, because I’ll be honest: Talking with all these women over the weekend, they all have such strong voices and opinions, and I think sometimes just maybe I have a platform that is more accessible right now, and maybe that’s why people hear it. I think it’s also not being afraid of being hated, and that’s been a learning process that I think I’m at a really good point with now. If I have an opinion on something, I can expect to be hated upon or ridiculed or what have you, and that’s okay because as long as I have decided that’s where I stand on something, there’s really no reason to back down or feel embarrassed or that you shouldn’t have that opinion. I think if you’re willing to have the opinions and you’re willing to deal with the ramifications of it, then that is what you gives you a little power.

MD: How has social media influenced the way you communicate today?
MB: I mean, it has just changed everything for everyone. For example, I do an hour show Monday through Friday on ESPN2, and it’s goofy and it’s fun, and today we smacked piñatas in the name of the NFL. You know, we do those types of things, and then I would go home and live my life and that would be it, and I watch sports like a normal person and a fan, and I would have my opinion and the only person that would hear about it would be the people around me. Social media has basically given us these entries into people’s lives where you can say, for good or bad, anything, and then all of a sudden you have hundreds of thousands or millions of followers listening to this. It’s a really crazy thing to have that sort of access just from pushing a button. I think it changed the game for a lot of people. You know, a lot of people who maybe weren’t familiar with us or with our opinions or that we had opinions—it’s changed that. Now I can do both: I can host a TV show and I can also have an opinion on things when I want to.

MD: Do you have any dos and don’ts for social media?
MB: Yeah, I would advise people to not tweet while drinking and or other recreational activities. It’s like anything else; you have a couple glasses of wine and all of sudden you’re like, I can say anything! Don’t do that. You know, try to read it a couple of times before you send it. It’s so easy sometimes, and I’ve been guilty of it myself, to have a visceral reaction to something that your first inclination is to grab your phone and put down your opinion and then send it out into the world. If you can, and I know sometimes that’s hard, maybe stop and breathe and read it or read it to a loved one, and then maybe hit send. Those are the things I’m trying to tell myself daily. Not the drinking one so much, but the thinking before I sent it. That one is big.

MD: Do you have a favorite social platform?
MB: Definitely Twitter. It’s so funny: I started Instagram, but I just forget to do it. I forget it’s there, to be honest, which is weak. But I need to be more involved in it, because it seems like such an easy thing to do; you take a great picture, add a silly caption, and throw it out there. I’m just so loyal to Twitter that I’ve sort of neglected everything else.

Who do you love to follow on Twitter?
MB: Oh man, it changes daily, because you’re always introduced to just some randoms. I find myself loving a lot of the comedians, like Kumail Nanjiani, which obviously they’re entertaining. There’s a guy that actually works for Grantland at ESPN namedShea Serrano—I love following him. He is a father of the most ridiculously cute children, and his tweets are just a mix of like pop culture and sports and his kids and his French bulldog—they are just funny. It’s very rare that I don’t laugh out loud at one of his tweets. During this political run, it’s been fun to follow a lot of the news—not because it’s entertaining, just because it’s shocking sometimes the things that get said out loud. Some days are serious, some days are comical.

MD: What’s the most memorable interview you’ve ever done?
MB: I finally got to sit down for like five seconds with George Clooney, and from a total girl standpoint, I don’t know that anything will ever be better than that. But that’s just me being a super girl. I got to interview Dolly Parton once, which was kind of awesome. You know what it is? Yes, young kids think of Dolly Parton like, Oh that’s the blonde lady with the big boobs, but what they don’t realize was she was one of the first real renegades in her business, and she did it being less than five feet tall, looking like she does, and basically never took crap from anyone and played by her own rules. It was just kind of awesome to sit down and pick her brain for a little while and be a fan at the same time, but just be an awe of what she did before anyone else was really doing it.

MD: We have to ask: Who would you like to see in Super Bowl 50?
MB: Man! It’s funny; my answers are never super sexy on this, because all I ever want is different teams every time, just because I think it’s boring with the same teams over and over again. I would have said the Eagles before this last week. Like a guy like [Eagles head coach] Chip Kelly is just not, it’s not the norm. Everyone’s kind of used to doing the same thing and the way they’ve always done it and they follow the rules, and this guy doesn’t care what anybody thinks. But not in a way that Bill Belichick does, which is sort of obnoxious and rude. Chip Kelly is very passionate about what he believes to be the game plan, and I love that about him. I mean honestly, if it’s not the Patriots, I think we all win. Not the Patriots—that’s what I want.

MD: You’re in the process of purchasing a new home in Los Angeles. How would you sum up your design style?
MB: So yeah, I just bought it, it’s up in the hills in Studio City, and it’s very modern. My style, it’s weird, because again, I think this is part of that we get bored quickly. There are days I want to go total bohemian, colors everywhere, you know, crazy, and then there are other days when I want a super-minimalistic, almost masculine vibe with a lot of leather, wood, and metal. And so the house right now is a mix of all of that. I didn’t want it to feel overtly female or male; I just wanted it to feel like this badass house. I figured I would use the guest rooms to let my other side out, so one is going to be bohemian style, the other is this sort of a rock vibe. My boyfriend is a musician, so he’s kind of in charge of that room. It’s been so much fun, and I find that I want it to all be done overnight instead of just enjoying the process, but I’m just so excited about it. I kind of wish there were more hours in the day for the next couple of weeks, but that is not the case.

MD: And you have four dogs! How do you make a space more functional for them?
MB: Well the number one thing is that we have grass, we have a yard. It’s a little yard, but it’s a yard, and there’s potential to build and make it bigger, which is great. The house itself has a ton of space. I don’t know how in the world we ended up with four dogs, but it’s great because we now have the room. There’s a garage. To be honest with you, it was done like a faux rec room with a rubber floor and windows; it’s not like a normal garage. And we’ve joked about bringing our trashed-out sofa that they’ve been using and making the garage the dogs’ room, because it feels like they deserve it at this point. My biggest fear is that there going to get in there and urinate on everything for the first week, and that’s the one thing I’m trying to avoid. If we can get past that, I will be very happy.=

MD: You’re involved with the Best Friends Animal Society. How did that come about?
MB: That actually came through PMK-BNC and my desire to do anything with dogs. You know, I was joking about how there are not enough hours in the day, but then you think, Oh, I want to do something with the extra hours I have. The one thing that has always been through and through my most passionate place where I truly am affected most are dogs. So when that opportunity came up, I thought yeah, of course I want to. I’m here for anything they want; we’re doing Strut Your Mutt, raising money for that. The joke is always like I cannot allow myself to foster, because we all know I’m never going to give the dog up and I’m going to have 37 dogs in my house, so all right, if I can’t do that, the next best thing is to help get dogs adopted and make people aware that there are plenty of dogs to be adopted. I figure if you’re going to give your time to a cause, it should be one that you actually really care about, and this one was easy, no question. 

Who are some of the successful career women who inspire you? Tell us in the comments below!

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