Women In Sports: Ngozi Ekeledo

Ngozi and I met during my last year as a reporter at Inside Carolina.  She was (and still is) on the television side of things, working as a sports reporter and anchor for ABC 11.  Prior to her time there, she worked at KMVT, ESPN, and The Big Ten Network.  Although we didn't get to spend a ton of time together, we definitely had enough chances to talk about our experiences as women in the industry and we still keep in touch.  To put it simply, Ngozi is awesome in every way possible.  Here is one of our many awesome conversations.

I discussed a lot of stuff with Lauren Brownlow and Brooke Pryor about the discrimination of women in the industry as being women sportswriters, but it’s a different story for you. You're on TV, so there is a whole other level to it. So what made you want to get into TV, especially Sports Broadcasting TV?

Just for me, just growing up, I played sports, I think like a lot of us. I played softball, I ran track, I played basketball. Two ACL surgeries kind of ended any dream of wanting to continue on the next level. But I've always loved writing. I tell people originally I always thought I was gonna be an author and write books, which would still be a goal of mine. I would love to do that. But, I did kind of what everyone else said I did. High school newspaper and then when I got to school—'cause we didn't have AV Club or anything in high school—I got to Northwestern and we had our College Club that they do at that first week of school. And the Northwestern News Network, it's like the Campus TV Show. They had a table set up. And there were these three guys there and they asked, “Hey, do you like sports?” And I said yeah, and they were like, “Oh, we have a sports TV show.” Hey that sounds cool, I could definitely major in this. I haven't done much video, so I tried it out and we used to have to do these segments called "Road to the Rose Bowl." So funny. It was like a green screen and we'd talk about the Big Team Matchup. So they let a freshman do that because they were terrible. So I went out and shot some stories and I was like, this is really cool, I like the visual part of this. Not just being able to write about it, but telling stories and like a more visual medium. So I got hooked from there.

When was the first time you kind of—I don't want to say got discriminated against, but kind of just noticed that you were being treated differently because you were a woman?

 I think that, I don't really have super, terrible incidents or anything just yet. I think for me, just... 

Just yet.

I don't know, that's a choice of words. But I, I think it's kind of different from some of the other people you've talked to too being what I remember going to the National Association of Black Journalists and they have a whole session on this, the “Double Minority,” being a female and black in sports. And I remember going to a session on that and they talked about that. I feel like things have had to do more with that type of—the spectrum versus, oh, you're a woman. I mean, you definitely hear the things. “What do you know? You're a woman, you never played this, blah blah blah.” But it hasn't been terrible. I meant, there's the coach instances and things you deal with, like, covering certain coaches. I remember we were going into the locker room at the NCAA Tournament and one of the coaches was asking when are you going to interview me, or whatever, and I was just—you have to make a joke. I use sarcasm usually.


You'll never email my boss this, about what he wore on air. You'll never say "I love that tight dress you wore."


I use sass, but yes...

Yes. Sass or sarcasm. You know, you do get frustrated where it's kind of, “deal with it,” more from viewers I found. My first year here, I got all these emails that were just, kind of, quite frankly, they were inappropriate. You'll never email my boss this, about what he wore on air. You'll never say "I love that tight dress you wore." I had a Facebook fan page for my station and I closed the comments, I closed anything where someone could comment because that's all it was. It was messages from men that were, “Can I take you out?” and things like that. I don't know. It's just kind of—are people even paying attention to what you say sometimes because on TV, as we know, it's visual but I'm also saying things to try to report and that's probably where I've dealt with it the most, to be honest, that kind of stuff.

Have you ever felt pressured to look a certain way, whether it be, not, you know, getting too dressed up, you don't wanna be too pretty because you don't wanna—I don't want to say bring on the comments, but—and again, I keep going back to the people that I've talked to, and it's so funny how everybody shares a lot of these experiences. Lauren, for example, when she first started out, she was, you know, “I dressed kind of frumpy to fit in so that I didn't stand out, I was just kind of one of the guys.” But for you, because there is a visual aspect, do you feel pressured to dress a certain way, not a certain way, look a certain way, sexy, but not too sexy, that kind of thing?

I just remember one comment I got from someone who is in the position of hiring a few years ago where they had watched my tape and they were giving me a few critiques or whatever and he was saying, “I would never hire you, this market, we're still more of the traditional look of blonde hair, blue eyes. You're just not sexy enough for this market.”

Wow.

Yeah. And I just remembered being, “Alright, well I guess this is all I can be.” There's people who [have said], “You look too young,” and I'm like, well, I don't know. It's things like that. I'm not sure how I can change that. It's, I think it's a little different for me because I'm an MMJ too, so it's kind of—I need to be comfortable and I'm out in the heat shooting football games. I'm probably going to be, on a casual day when I'm shooting, I'm gonna be in a t-shirt or something. Shorts and tennis shoes. But when I'm anchoring, I pretty much just wear dresses. I don't know; I try to feel comfortable myself and not let other people dictate how I should feel about what I'm wearing or my look.


I would never hire you in this market, we're still more of the traditional look of blonde hair, blue eyes. You're just not sexy enough for this market.


And that's, that's really hard because—and obviously when I worked at Inside Carolina, my camera was nowhere nearly as heavy as yours, but, you're on the sidelines, it's 95 degrees in North Carolina. I'm wearing shorts and a tank-top and then I get these comments: “You should cover up.” Dude, I'm on the sidelines, it's 95 degrees. I'm not gonna. There's very much a double standard. Because there's guys wearing shorts and t-shirts, but the minute I do it, it's, “Oh, you need to cover up.” It can get really infuriating, and why does it even matter what I'm wearing? And I think that's the frustrating part when it comes to TV because everybody knows that there is a certain appearance thing to it. But the fact that someone is like, we want more blonde hair, blue eyes—that's borderline racist. And I've obviously never dealt with that aspect of it and I'd be interested to hear, because you said it at the beginning, that you kind of dealt with being the double minority and I, yeah, I did wanna talk to you about that and your experiences with that.

Yeah. I think it's interesting because it's kind of, in terms of look, my hair is naturally curly. I would love to be able to wear it naturally curly on air, but I feel like, the natural movement and everything is still something that's coming along. A lot of news directors, kind of, you have to stick with the conservative look, and it's kind of—when your natural look isn't deemed this way, a look that’s conservative or good enough, you're kind of, man, that's a little frustrating. But, I don't know. I mean it's interesting and I've tried to advise people— other, I guess women of color, minorities, what to have—you have to stay true to yourself because there's so many opinions in this industry, there are so many executives, there are so many people that have opinions of what you should be, or what works for them, and it's very subjective. And it's kind of, you have to remember who you are, because it's very easy to lose yourself if you think it's gonna get you somewhere faster. It seems like they almost press upon you, there's not enough networks to support everyone in this field, if you are a woman.

Yes.

That's where it feels like it all kind of comes down to who you are. “Well, she did this and so maybe I should do that.” I think one of the most important things I've learned is that you have to be you and stay true to you and have some principles about yourself that you're gonna keep, no matter what.

I definitely felt that pressure. I felt the pressure to kind of have my career go a certain way. I didn't see many women that had their own shows, or that were funny on air, or they showed their personality until the past year, so I thought, oh I just need to do sideline. And the more that I was going towards that career, the more I was like, wait a minute, I don't wanna do sidelines. I don't particular enjoy it. I like sitting down, having conversations with people, I like long reads, I like that type of stuff. And so, being a woman, number one, you're in competition with every other pretty woman. Every other woman, period. It's how they make you feel. But especially on TV, every woman that's attractive type of thing.  And then number two, you're expected to act a certain way and only fill these certain roles. And so it wasn't until Katie Nolan and Rachel Nichols recently had a show too, and Michelle Beadle on SportsNation, that I kind of realized that, hey, I don't have to be this robot of what everybody expects me to be. I can have thoughts and opinions and be goofy and clumsy and myself. That's exactly what I would say to you. Don't change because one executive or one producer wants you to look or act a certain way.

Exactly! And things like this I really appreciate. You know, your website and everything you're doing because I think this is very important to have because, like you say, it breaks the mold. I feel like, you've said it. People expect the path, at least for women from what we've traditionally seen, it's like, you only have a few things that you can do, and it's, no, that's not true. We can do so much more. There are so many more avenues. You don't have to do it the traditional route where , you know, you started out on the local market, move your way up, and blah blah blah. But I love this. I'm gonna do a blog, I'm going to do podcasts, because it's cool stuff. It's the stuff that I think people our age at least are interested in; they don't want a robot of a person. They want someone that's kind of multi-faceted.


I think executives need to see that women should have those opportunities just as much as men because it's like, why not?


Have you ever—I have—there's been times around male colleagues, and not necessarily the people that I work with that are in my company, but just when I'm out in the field or doing interviews, where I kind of felt I'm viewed differently, as a woman. “Oh, you have an advantage because you're an attractive woman and so you know the players would talk to you.” Have you ever felt like you have had an advantage as being a woman in the industry, or is that just not a thing at all? Have you seen any advantages, I guess is my question?

I haven't felt like advantages in terms of sources that talk to me over that, I guess, just because I, I don't know if I've been here long enough to know people. I'm still kind of developing with people here, so that's something I'm still working on. But it's not, I don't know. I feel like, yeah, maybe a coach would talk to me, but I feel it's not because I'm a woman; I think it's just because the coaches here seem pretty friendly, you know what I mean? They don't seem like they're guys where I don't have time for you, or I'm on a tight schedule. They're just, “Oh, well thank you for coming out. I saw you were shooting. Thanks for doing that.” At least in a less-controlled environment, so obviously, there are environments where there is S.I.D.s, “Hey, this is how we're gonna do this,” and everyone kind of follows that. I will say the one thing that does frustrate me when I'm out [is] that my male colleagues treat me differently… when I'm shooting, when I'm carrying my gear, people are, “Oh, you don't have an assistant to do that?” Or “They make you carry all that gear?” and blah blah blah. I know you are trying to be nice and everything, but I can carry this camera, I can carry the tripod, I can do this. You know, if I couldn't do it, then I wouldn't be doing it. I don't know why that irks me so much, but I hate it so much and I'm just, I can carry this, I go to the gym.  

I lift, bro. Well, I think it's because it's subtle sexism and I've had conversations with women like this. Lauren Brownlow told an anecdote when I did the Podcast with her.  A lot of women kind of, that I talk to experience the subtle sexism. It's when men think they're being nice, when they're like, “I don't want to tell a dirty joke around you. I don't want to curse around you.” It's really subtle, but it starts to get kind of annoying. You feel like a burden a little bit.

Yeah. It's stuff like that. I have three brothers; I'm not sheltered. I don't know. Any stuff like that, I guess, and that's why I can't recall it so much because it's subtle. And at the moment I'm thinking, okay, come on. But then I'm like, wait, but this person is cool and I know they didn't mean it, but it's, it's just kind of—aaahhhhh, I don't know. I don't make press box situations where it's, you know, if a guy doesn't think, isn't taking you seriously or something or you're at the game taking notes and he was trying to explain it and you're [like], “I know what this is.”

Yes. That happens in social situations for me as well. The stories that I could tell. So, final question. What can we do to fix some of these issues that we have? What do you think is kind of the solution? I guess where do we go from here?

I think that, (a), I think it's creating more opportunities, like you said, that are different. I mean, all these young girls that I know that would talk to me in, like, the last year, it's really been recently where they're not telling me, well, I wanna be like a sideline reporter, I wanna be this. It's now people are “I wanna be like Rachel Nichols, I wanna be like the next Katie Nolan.” It's like seeing that there are more opportunities than just being a sideline reporter or being an anchor and then going and being a host or something of some magazine show, you know what I mean? Things like that. It's like people being, “Oh, you can write, and you can do this, or you can do podcasts, you can do this.” I think executives need to see that women should have those opportunities just as much as men because it's like, why not? What makes them any more different? And I think also too, another thing is to cut down on some of the—we talked about before where it seems everyone can have a piece of the pie in the industry kind of thing. It's, people just—sometimes you just really have to focus on yourself. I don't know if you've felt this, but I would feel so much stress comparing myself to other people. When it's literally in the last year I'm just kind of cutting out negative energy, cutting out worrying about things that I really have no control over, people that have no control over any situation in my life. Cutting out some of that baggage and really just focusing on myself and trying to be happy because I think it's so much of thinking about the next thing or doing this, or how can I make myself better at this, blah blah blah. Or you just kind of don't even—just enjoy the moment.

No. I know I said final question, but—and you and I have talked about this a little bit before—social media, I think, also really, really has a negative effect on our industry. I mean on society in general, but don't get me started. But it's like you see, you know, the anchor over there, the reporter over there, the host over there, and her life looks so much better and why am I not like that? Why don't I have 10,000 followers, and why don't I have hot Instagram model pics, and the comparison that we, the comparing that we do—it just becomes toxic because it's starting to feel not good enough when you do that.

And that was for me, and I know I probably should say this, but I deleted my Facebook page almost a year and a half ago, my personal Facebook, because Facebook for me was just kind of, okay, it's just filling my mind with a lot of things I don't care about. And then Twitter for me too, it's—I try not to be on there all the time, because I am not that funny, so I'm not gonna be retweeted. It's a great tool, obviously, for our jobs, but I think some people take it so seriously that it's, it's really not that serious. You can buy what, 20,000 followers for $5, so that really tells you what you need to know about it and then, you know, I don't know, I just feel like it's kind of, all of it is kind of just, it doesn’t really matter that much. It's great. You can see my personality, but I don't—also don't want to give you everything.

For the full interview you can listen to the podcast here.