Women In Sports Interview Series: ESPN and FOX Sports Reporter/Anchor Renee Washington

Growing up in Ewing, New Jersey, sports was always a big part of Renee Washington’s life.  Both of her parents playing basketball, one uncle who played in the NFL, while another a boxer.  In addition, 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 Renee Washington.  “It comes very naturally because I come from a family of athletes and what we always do, talk about and watch.  Something my parents instilled in me from a young age.  My family is a sports family, a normal thing to get up and spend weekends and evenings at a basketball game or track meet.”

“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 High 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,” Renee Washington remarked.  “My parents gave me and my siblings 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 learned towards being an athlete.  I always tell people the benefit of being a student-athlete.  You learn how to juggle and 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.  Making sure going out as a kid and practicing soccer or playing pick-up basketball.  That is the beauty of sports and it does teach you how to put in the work, have the motivation and be the best person you can be and achieve goals.”

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, and it gave me the opportunity to see the power and impact that I could have and to me very enlightening to realize that I could put together and create a non-profit and 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, but 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 and I was writing a lot of different areas.  It was my first real opportunity to invest in growing as a writer, sports journalist and story teller.  It really helped me tremendously to show a job and take articles and physical work I had done.  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 fill-in anchor.  I went out to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and covered that.  I enjoyed working in news but much preferred sports.  I was covering high school sports and news stories and that’s where I got my biggest jump.  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, 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 and only second season of it.  To make it unique and people were tuning in every week I was 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 and 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 able to get out to a couple of games for pre and post-game.  Juggling several tasks and that is the nature of the industry.  As an MMJ (Multimedia Journalist), you are creating so much talent and tell people that is where I started.

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, soccer, volleyball and basketball.  A 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 story lines.  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 and I felt I was part of the Blackjacks family from early on.

It’s been a great experience honestly to come back and take my career and align it in order to help the with the fan experience in the men’s basketball games and a full circle moment.  An In-Arena host is more about the fan experience with different contests and giveaways.  Literally introducing and explaining on the floor and live.  It’s not typical reporting and story telling that I have done but I’m the host of the game.  A very cool experience and something unique.

I worked with FOX Sports during the WNBA season to cover the Mystic and could have not work 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 and I can show my video content to anyone and 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 and couple of years but I was finally able to nail a concept and name and 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 and 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 and week to week it can be a different topic.  Podcasts give you something different and I’m trying something different outside of your daily shows.

Having worked in radio, you are stuck on a time line, you have specific content, time, commercials and radio spots 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 and everything is on a schedule.

DGS: Outside of sports, you have taken up not only modeling but also are the head coach of the FC Bucks.  How have these roles worked out for you?

Renee Washington: Modeling is something I started doing in grad school and where I started working with an agency and taking classes so I want to see where l all these opportunities take me and excited.  For me I don’t know what the future holds so I don’t want to close any doors and put all my eggs in one basket.  I had a fashion that I did back in December and photo shoot in January.  I’m growing and learning as much as I can and network in the industry.

I used to coach college soccer when I was getting my Master’s (Degree) and coached at Lehigh University for two years.  I played soccer to stay connected with the game and coached youth soccer to keep me humble in a sense.  To my players I was just Coach Renee and don’t see me as a ESPN FOX Sports or All-American player.  They look at me as a role model and mentor for them.

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 a month we really can take the time to appreciate the trailblazing women from all over the years in our society is an inspiration and 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, and something we are seeing in sports but across society in general.  We’re turning a corner, seeing a lot of 1st and women doing blank.

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 and 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 people speak highly of.  David Aldridge is another one and 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 and I actually do know sports, an All-American in soccer and work for this site.  I always had to prove myself and nothing new to me and what I had to deal with in soccer as a black female player.

The issues I had to deal with and challenges have faced are unfortunately nothing new.  Being a minority in America you never forget that and often reminded.  It just doesn’t disappear of 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 making sure you invest time because jobs are not handed out to you.

Something I always have to remind people and one of my mentors told me.  Look at the top sports anchors and reporters, how many decades have they been there and not a high turnover at the top and familiar names for a long time and 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.

I try to make sure I’m doing things as credible as possible and go the extra yard.  Doing my research, preparing, dress properly, and not someone who can ever question my work ethic and content I’m putting out.  I don’t want to assume I’m there for the wrong reason or not good enough at my job, so I have a lot of motivation aside from working to impact and influence others and give back to make sure I’m never questioned and always seen doing good work instead of someone doing less than that.

However, you think it’s going to go likely it will not.  It’s not for everyone and what your comfort level is and talking in front of people because you have to keep in mind it’s more scary when you are in front of a group doing a live game or public speaking at an event.  You don’t know who is watching and can’t always see the reaction.  Whether it’s a news shot, sports talk show or sideline you want to be comfortable and knowledgeable as possible.

It should not sound scripted but more conversational and talking to and with the people versus them so the research and preparation are huge because you have to make sure otherwise it will come across you are reading a script and very robotic.  It’s just not popping out in front of the camera and reading a script.  You have to put in the research, hours and days leading up for it so when the cameras on and rolling you are ready to go.

DGS: What has this journey in sports media meant to you and your family?

Renee Washington: I worked writing articles for the (Washington) Wizards as well as hosting my show Beyond the Headlines with Renee Washington and podcast that airs every week.  It has helped me move forward in my career and continue to grow and end career goal of covering professional sports with a big network or league.

I was in the football with the AFL, now being able to work in the WNBA and NBA, not nearly the end step for me, but definitely a great stepping stone for me and in the direction I hope to move in.  From the beginning I have been fortunate everything allowed me to expand and grow whether being an in-arena host, writing articles or hosting my show.

My best memories and moments are with my family.  Calling me on the phone or face timing me and have been my biggest cheerleaders, supporters and coaches.  Telling me the truth when I didn’t want to hear it, pushing me, encouraging and motivating me to keep going.  Some families don’t agree with your choices in life and I’m fortunate my family loves and agrees.  I’m able to share stories and say this is who I interviewed or guess who I talked with.

My parents and sisters are my mentors as well as my rock and reason why I have the comfort and confidence to go out and do what I do and take the risks and pursue sports reporting and being a soccer player.  I would not be anywhere today without my family.