Cool As Ice

Staying oneself in the glare of bright lights and blunt appraisals.

Illustration of a blond white woman speaking into a microphone, by Marcos Chin

It's reflexive, when you see someone on TV, to judge from your couch. That girl seems smart. That girl has no idea what she’s talking about. That shirt is a terrible color on her. I never realized I did this. But once I was on TV, I developed a keen awareness of the habit.

As a print journalism major, I had to choose a minor outside of my college. It’s a tough field, and it felt like Penn State was nudging us to at least consider a career Plan B. I chose English. Redundant? Maybe. But all I ever wanted was to be a sportswriter. I got my dream job out of college as a fact-checker, then a staff writer, at Sports Illustrated. Then I was hired as a hockey reporter for ESPN.com. But ESPN is, first and foremost, a TV company. And when the network re-obtained NHL rights last year, I asked the bosses if I could try rinkside reporting; perhaps they’d give me a game or two as a trial. But there I was, on our opening-night broadcast, perched between two NHL benches. When the Stanley Cup was awarded in June, I was the first person on the ice interviewing players.

Inherently, I had signed up to be a public figure. But how can anything prepare you for what that actually entails?

What I love most about the job is sharing people’s stories, creating connectivity through the prism of sport. But for live game broadcasts, I sometimes have only 20 or 30 seconds for a report. I get to ask three questions. Apparently, that’s enough time for some viewers to think they know me. It’s hard enough knowing those silent judgments exist. Social media commentary is another, extremely toxic layer. And then there are things people have said to my face.

“You’re wearing a lot of makeup.” “They tell you what questions to ask, right?” “Saying goodbye to a player in his native language seems like a gimmick.” “Did your work pay for your outfit?”

I’m a feedback-oriented person; I always want to get better. But taking in too much feedback—becoming too aware of how many people viewed me as an object—messed with my mental health. I began doubting my choices; I strayed from the one thing I value over everything: authenticity. I’d taken a different career path, and have a different look, than most people who’ve been in this role. My approach is different. But those things are uniquely me. As I adjusted to my new platform, I let other people’s perceptions become my perception. And I briefly allowed that to affect my work.

Shortly after last season I received a text from an NHL coach: Don’t ever let the cancerous 1% speak for the respectful 99%. I stopped searching my name on Twitter, stopped dwelling on the judgments of others. Only a few opinions matter: Do my bosses think I’m doing a good job? Do the players and coaches I’m covering think I’m doing so fairly? Most importantly: Am I proud of how I’m performing?

As long as the answers to those questions are “yes,” I’m content being “that girl.”

 

For more on Emily's career, including her time as a Penn Stater intern, check out this interview with Editor Ryan Jones '95 Com: