Women In Sports Interview Series: ESPN and FOX Sports reporter/anchor Renee Washington
The former Double G Sports writer discusses her ascent in sports media.
Growing up in Ewing, New Jersey, sports was always a big part of Renee Washington’s life. Both of her parents played basketball. She had one uncle who played in the NFL and another uncle who was a boxer, in addition to cousins that ran track in college. Keeping active all the time, Washington played soccer, basketball, and ran track.
“I come from a family of sports, basketball being the primary one,” said Washington. “It comes very naturally because I come from a family of athletes. It’s what we always do, talk about and watch.”
“My two older sisters, Keri and Kori, are the ones that helped get me started, playing in the background and driveway. That is where my athletic career really got started. I’m three years younger than them, and we used to play and practice soccer and basketball.”
Attending Pennington Prep School, Washington played varsity soccer and basketball. On the educational side, she was on the Dean’s List all four years. “I was part of the drama program, played the violin and in the choir/orchestra,” Washington remarked. “My parents’ gave my siblings and me the opportunities to experience everything and extracurricular activities to figure out what we wanted to do.”
“I knew my passion for sports was genuine because I picked it and wasn’t like my parents’ forced me to play.” I naturally leaned towards being an athlete. I always tell people the benefit of being a student-athlete. You learn how to juggle. It’s not like I went to school and came home and sat on the couch. Running from one practice or game to another and something that has directly translated into my work. I learned a lot about doing without stressing. That is the beauty of sports. It does teach you how to put in the work, have the motivation, and be the best person you can be and to achieve goals.”
Double G Sports went more into her career, including her beginnings in sports media in college.
DGS: You attended and graduated from La Salle University, what was your major and some of your accomplishments?
Renee Washington: My major in college was Public Relations, so my job was event planning. It gave me the opportunity to see the power and the impact that I could have. To me, it was very enlightening to realize that I could put together and create a non-profit. To be part of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and help with their events and spread awareness of what they were doing and help in any way I could because I realized that I had a voice.
My brother Mark has Crohn’s disease and diagnosed at a very young age and for me to be able to use my voice and platform starting out with him. I created a non-profit called “Make Your Mark” in college to spread awareness and something I realized that could a long way in helping him and other patients’ dealing in terms of health.
That was the point of really getting started in broadcasting. I was using whatever skills I had, whether creating videos, writing articles, planning, running events, and speaking at events to get the ball rolling in giving back and paying it forward.
DGS: One of your first experiences in the journalism field was working for Double G Sports. Can you describe what it meant to write for the site?
Renee Washington: I was with Double G Sports for three years and six months. It helped me get started in sports writing. I was covering the Knicks, Philly (Philadelphia) basketball, the big five schools. I was writing in a lot of different areas. It was my first real opportunity to invest in growing as a writer, sports journalist, and storyteller. I’m forever thankful to Double G Sports and helped me get my feet under me and hands-on experience.
DGS: What were some other jobs that helped you move up the ladder?
Renee Washington: I was working on news and sports for Gatehouse Media. For the news side, I was anchoring and was a fill-in anchor. I went out to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and covered that. I enjoyed working in news, but I much preferred sports. I was covering high school sports and news stories, and that’s where I got my biggest jump. It was a great opportunity to learn how to write, shoot, edit, and go out and get different interviews and stories. Getting a ton of experience and pumping out 4, 5, and 6 videos a day.
From there, I went to SNJ Today in South Jersey. Being in a similar role, instead of digital, I was on TV doing sports, news and hosting a sports show called “South Jersey Speed.” I was going out to the race track every week, interviewing racers and drivers and different personnel on the track. South Jersey racing is huge, so that was incredible to be part of it and see the growth in its only second season of it. To make it unique and people were tuning in every week, I was at the track, and people would come up to me and thank me and say how much they enjoyed the show. It was very exciting to see my work come to fruition in a different way. Now I was out in the public.
My first professional role in professional sports was with the National Lacrosse League. A big stop for me and something I always wanted to strive in. Working in professional indoor lacrosse was similar to previous roles working as an anchor and producer. I was doing feature stories, hosting shows, and I was able to get out to a couple of games for pre and post-game.
DGS: In 2017, you joined ESPN covering the Ivy league. What are your responsibilities with the network?
Renee Washington: My role with ESPN is to do more sideline reporting and color analysis for games. I have covered a variety of sports, including soccer, volleyball, and basketball. I had the chance to cover college sports on a very prestigious network and conference. I’m not located in Bristol, Connecticut, but it’s still high quality and top content. A great opportunity to get some hands-on experience and be part of ESPN. It’s a different type of juggling, being prepared for the games and making sure you go live with my hits and storylines. The preparation is so key because you are rarely doing one thing and have time to breathe.
DGS: 2019 was not only a very busy but successful year for you with covering the Atlantic City Blackjacks in the Arena Football League, La Salle University men’s basketball and covering the Washington Mystics. What are some of the responsibilities with these jobs?
Renee Washington: I was a one-man crew out there at games and practices for the Blackjacks. Shooting with my video camera, images, and catching video. Piecing together a feature story, highlights, and pre and post-game stories. I’m thankful I was part of it for one year and able to go in and pitch my ideas, stories, and concepts. They were very open to the creativity I had coming into the league, very welcoming. I felt I was part of the Blackjacks family from early on.
I worked with FOX Sports during the WNBA season to cover the Mystics, and it could not have worked out any better. The first WNBA team I cover won a championship, so I don’t know if it gets any better than that. The chance to get into women’s basketball because I grew up watching the WNBA.
DGS: You not only host Beyond the Headlines with Renee Washington podcast on Fox Sports but have a YouTube Channel and Positive Vibes Only segment. What makes these experiences so important?
Renee Washington: The YouTube Channel is where I put whatever content I’m working on there, and it serves several purposes. An online portfolio along with my website, where I can show my video content to anyone. It’s a great way to reach people. I post my segments from Beyond the Headlines, random interviews from motivational speaking, and continue to grow my following across all platforms.
I was trying to get a podcast when I first got into the industry for a couple of years. I was finally able to nail a concept, a name, and a brand that made sense for me. The Positive Vibes Segment is where I interviewed people that made an impact in their community. Positive Vibes can be more than a hashtag and movement. It can encourage people to change their approach in life and the way they go about their lives. I tell people that I want to use my platform to inspire and impact other people no matter what sport I’m covering. I try to positively do through that way in colleges, camps, soccer events and volunteering. That’s what I started doing back in high school and working in internships.
DGS: What are the biggest differences between hosting a podcast and radio show?
Renee Washington: The biggest difference with a podcast versus a radio show is with a podcast, you have full creative control. Essentially if you get a platform to work on and it allows you not to worry about time. In a sports podcast, I’m trying to bring sports, music, entertainment, and news. Week to week, it can be a different topic. Podcasts give you something different. I’m trying something different outside of your daily shows.
Having worked in radio, you are stuck on a timeline. You have specific content, time, commercials, and radio spots that are a lot more strict in terms of time in that aspect. You have to be hitting your reads and time is of the essence. Everything is on a schedule.
DGS: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Renee Washington: It’s really great how we take this month to appreciate and remember women that have paved the way and continue to break glass ceilings and burst doors wide open for the next generation. There is a day for everything, but for a month, we really can take the time to appreciate the trailblazing women from all over the years in our society is an inspiration. A lot of girls don’t see that.
Social media really helps out with it because a lot of girls don’t see each other and females that look or sound like them and doing great things and what brings it to the forefront. As a young girl, you can have the dreams of whatever you want to be. It’s something we are seeing not just in sports, but across society in general.
DGS: What sports reporters have you looked up to?
Renee Washington: Off the bat, a woman who I really admire is Doris Burke. She does a tremendous job of working across different sports. A lot of people say you have to pick one sport or type of job. She does everything from play-by-play to being an analyst and sideline reporter. She is someone I have never heard a bad thing about and someone people speak highly of. David Aldridge is another one. I definitely looked up to Craig Sager.
DGS: What are some of the challenges you have faced working in the journalism field?
Renee Washington: There are challenges almost every day, I’m a female in a predominantly male sport and I’m a black woman. There has not been upfront racism or sexism, but we’re in a society playing catch-up. When I first started, I had a lot of people questioning my credibility and knowledge and who I am. I would actually hit them up with a line, ‘I actually do know sports, I am All-American in soccer and work for this site.’ I always had to prove myself. It was nothing new to me. It’s what I had to deal with in soccer as a black female player.
The issues I had to deal with and the challenges I have faced are unfortunately nothing new. Being a minority in America, you never forget that and are often reminded. It just doesn’t disappear no matter where you are in society or job title.
DGS: What is your advice for upcoming female sports journalists?
Renee Washington: There are so many ways to become a sports journalist, social media, YouTube, have your own website, be a blogger, and have a podcast. You can work for an outlet like Double G Sports. You don’t have to relocate and uproot your life. You can do it from everywhere, but make sure you invest time because jobs are not handed out to you.
Something I always have to remind people was something one of my mentors told me. Look at the top sports anchors and reporters, how many decades have they been there. It’s not a high turnover rate at the top and familiar names are around for a long time. It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight.
You have to be constantly prepared when your name is called because you don’t know when it’s going to happen and it’s not easy as other fields where you do A, B, and C. It’s a path that’s messy and chaotic, but you have to be willing to put in the time because it’s a marathon. It’s not going to happen two years after you graduate and be a top ESPN anchor. Be ready for the journey.
Sunil Sunder Raj
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