If you have been paying attention to women’s basketball over the past 7 years, you know who LaChina Robinson is. If you haven’t heard of her yet, it’s time to get familiar. In a sports landscape where the skill and knowledge exist in equal measure to the men, but the sponsorships, salaries and media exposure don’t, broadcasters like LaChina are part of an important movement seeking to change the status quo.
She is a former Wake Forest University women’s basketball player before venturing into the world of sports broadcasting and analysis in 2009. She hosts ESPN’s ‘Around The Rim’ podcast, and is also a reporter and analyst for the NCAA and WNBA basketball games airing on the ESPN family of networks, FOX Sports, and NBA TV.
Although women are outnumbered by men in the sports broadcasting world, we are starting to see a number of notable women disrupting the typical “boy’s club”, such as Erin Andrews, Kara Scott, Katie Nolan, and of course the legendary Lesley Visser, the first female to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame thanks to her sports anchor career.
In 2014 CBS made a major step toward progress by launching an all-female sports show called ‘We Need To Talk’. Aside from the slightly condescending and sexist title, the show features not only the top tier of female broadcasters, but also professional female athletes from various leagues including the WNBA.
But women making headway in the sports broadcasting world shouldn’t just be about a female reporting on the male leagues and athletes. LaChina Robinson made a deliberate decision to work in women’s sports, and told Vice Sports in October she didn’t see how only reporting on male athletes was considered a “step up”.
“I had several offers to work on the NBA side. I was offered a position as an NBA sideline reporter with a team, and I ended up turning it down. I think much like Pat Summitt when it comes to women in men’s sports: Who said that that’s the better opportunity? To me, women’s basketball is great, just as great as football, and just as great as men’s basketball,” she said, mentioning the legendary and pioneer women’s basketball coach who died in June 2016.
What Pat Summitt did on the court, LaChina is aiming to do in front of the camera – become a well-known name synonymous with basketball reporting. We had the chance to ask her about the landscape of sports media, the barriers she has come up against in her career, and what she thinks it will take for advertisers, networks, and audiences alike (the magic trifecta in the world of broadcasting) to understand just how much of a slam dunk women’s basketball really is.
Before your foray into sports broadcasting, you were playing college Basketball. What made you get into that and leave behind your cheerleading days?
I liked cheerleading but more than anything I think I was being a follower. All of my friends were cheerleaders so I just did what they did. I was NEVER good at it and it was clear that at 6’4 (in high school) there may be some other sports that were more suited for me.
Tell us about earning a scholarship to Wake Forest University and your experience playing basketball there?
My parents were separated when I was young I was young and my mothers side of the family didn’t have a history of female athletes. My mom didn’t buy into the thought of me paying basketball until she found out that I could get a free education, education was always important to her. My four years at Wake Forest was amazing, I was exposed to so many aspects of life that I had never thought of before. My horizons were expanded and the collegiate experience really changed my scope of what was possible in my life and all that I was capable of achieving.
How did you land a job hosting ESPN’s ‘Around the Rim’ podcast, as well as being an analyst for NCAA and WNBA game broadcasts?
I started my professional career in athletic administration at GT while working with the women’s basketball team. At the time, I thought I wanted to be an athletics director and knew I wanted to be around sports. I handled a heap of responsibilities such as marketing, travel, fundraising, etc.
One day, I was asked to serve as a color analyst for a radio broadcast while on a road trip. From the moment I put on the headset, I knew I had found my passion. I was able to combine my love for basketball, my love for people, and an opportunity to create more opportunities for women and minorities in a male dominated field. From there, I continued to seek out ways to get on camera and interview experience, anything I could do to build my broadcasting resume.
I began to brand myself in women’s basketball circles, at events, and watching and reading everything about the sport I could. Using the help of mentors, my network, and people that were willing to critique my work I got my foot in the door. The podcast was a little different, I was working with Chiney Ogwumike at NBA TV and we were discussing the need for younger and fresher content for women’s basketball fans.
She and I brainstormed about having some sort of show on an ESPN platform. Then we went to the drawing board and began drafting a proposal. From there, I set up a meeting in NY with Lauren Gentile, the Senior VP of ESPNW and women’s initiatives. She liked the idea, so she and Carol Stiff granted me the opportunity to host a podcast that is now known as ‘Around the Rim’.
Over the past couple of years we have heard a lot of talk about sexism in sports and the need for more equal coverage. As an industry insider, what is your perspective on the way women’s sports are covered, compared to men’s?
One of the last reports that I read said that 3% was the average amount of media content designated to women’s sports coverage. To me this number is far too low considering the increase in participation of women and girls in sports. There has to be more intentional effort put forth in several areas to change this disparity. One, there needs to be more women in decision making positions at major networks where they can drive content and programming of women’s sports.
Two, there needs to be an increase in the number of news outlets that designate personnel and resources to covering women’s sports. Lastly, there needs to be a shift in the way people view women in sports. The level of athleticism and play on the court and field has increased tremendously since the passing of Title IX. Unfortunately, there are too many people who refuse to see women as athletes and do not cover them as they would men .
Do you think more women in sports broadcasting will help change the culture of how we talk about male and female athletes (for example, CBS’ ‘We Need To Talk’ all-female sports show)?
Yes I do. Women have a unique perspective that is just as valuable as men’s. Without being given a platform to share that, we are disregarding an entire demographic of sports fans. However, I don’t feel that men and women need to be totally separate in their coverage of sports; instead be more inclusive of each other.
There was a lot of social media discussion about sexist headlines and coverage during the Rio Olympics. How do you foresee the media making a change in this area?
I believe the change will be prompted by the amazing performances of our women athletes. When you look at the results of the Rio Olympics, the women were phenomenal in their medal count as well as historical performances in sports that we had not previously dominated. This is a product of the exclusion of women in the sports arena for many years prior to Title IX.
The media for a time chose to focus on appearance and sexist views but that becomes more impossible to do when it’s clear that women can truly dominate in sport and that idea continues to circulate. I think the headlines started out with some sexist views but by the end of the Olympic games people were saying “these women are amazing!”.
With players like Brittney Griner becoming a very popular figure, what will it take for the WNBA to get as much attention and money as the NBA, in your opinion?
As far as the attention, it’s a matter of sports networks, newspapers and other media outlets to make a decision to dedicate resources and coverage to women’s basketball. However, we are quite a ways from there starting at the 3% designated for all of women’s sports. But I think incremental changes are needed to level the playing fields.
How has our general culture contributed to the way men and women are talked about differently in sports?
Women are undervalued and unappreciated. When you look at the numbers, whether it be the gender wage disparity or the lack of CEOS at Fortune 500 companies. It is clear that we have a ways to go as a society when it comes to valuing women. Sadly, I believe that sport is a microcosm of the world we live in.
What are some of the personal barriers you have faced in your career?
The biggest barrier for me has been disregarding the fact that I didn’t see very many African American women on television throughout my life. This has made it challenging to believe that I belong in this field while also convincing others that I belong here as well. I am fortunate for all the women of color that helped have paved the way for me to have this opportunity.
What advice do you give to women who want to follow in your footsteps, but are afraid of the barriers?
Drown your fears. Have confidence in what you bring to the table. Work hard to establish your credibility. Focus on building your brand. Establish relationships that will help you to get to where you want to be.
Finally, a question we ask all our interviewees: what makes you a powerful woman?
The characteristic that makes me most powerful is my faith in God. I believe in the higher purpose that He has given me. I can pursue anything in this life with confidence knowing that I have the ultimate power behind me.