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Sarah Spain Is Being The Woman She Needed

“I think I need to approach my own career in life, with the same view that I am seeing women’s sports through which is to not cap my ambitions or limitations because of what I’ve seen before.”

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For anyone starting a new job, having to navigate a new position, management and workload can be somewhat challenging. In the case of Sarah Spain, an additional obstacle was being the only woman within her department.  

In 2010, Spain started a new job as an update anchor at ESPN 1000 in Chicago. At the time, not only was she the only female voice on-air, she was the only female at the station in any sort of production role.

Courtesy: ESPN Images

In an industry largely dominated by middle-age white men, Spain’s small presence on-air at the beginning of her career was a large step for women entering the industry.

Her next leap came in January 2015, when ESPN announced that it was launching a new weekend radio show, Spain & Prim, with Spain and Prim Siripipat as co-hosts. It was ESPN’s first national sports radio show hosted and produced by women.

In 2016, ESPN launched The Trifecta, featuring Spain and co-hosts Kate Fagan and Jane McManus, further cementing her as a prominent figure in sports talk.

A simple Google search would tell you all this information, but what it wouldn’t openly tell you is that the sports radio industry was and still is dominated by men. Sure, you may be able to rattle off a list of 10-20 women’s names that occupy on-air roles on top stations and shows, but in comparison to the hundreds of men in these same roles, that number is minuscule.

Sarah Spain might not have seen it this way at the time, but what she has been doing since her update-anchor days, is inserting herself in a space occupied by men, so that the next female that wants to work in sports radio will see that it’s possible.

“There was a real pivot point at some point recently where I thought, ‘I’m prioritizing going out and being the woman that I needed when I grew up, being the person that other women need to see to try to reach higher heights, over just being liked,’” said Spain. “A lot of people don’t like ambitious women, a lot of people don’t like people who are confident and go out and say, ‘I’m good. I can do this. I’m qualified. I’m great. Hire me. See me.’”

This is an attitude that everyone – male or female – should have, but is it enough to erase the way an entire industry has operated for decades? Probably not.

So, what’s the solution?

“Well, for instance the hiring practices on the business side need to be more diverse so that those people who are making decisions are looking for a more diverse set of candidates, and there needs to be more risks taken,” said Spain. “It’s also, in my opinion, a lot of times about not risking anything in case people don’t like it, but then also never allowing for girls because they don’t diversify in any way.”

In March 2021, Spain quite literally put her money where her mouth is when she announced that she had become part of the new ownership group for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Courtesy: Sarah Spain

Spain is a Chicago native and has been a fan of the Red Stars for years, but those weren’t the reasons she gave when asked why she decided to invest in the team.

“Changing the face of diversity across sports starts at the top, right?” said Spain. “If you have women making those decisions, then you might have women influencing hiring practices of coaches, assistant coaches, front office, etc,. Then you have them making decisions about what are the priorities and positions of the team in the league. Then it’s, how are we running this this league to make sure that we’re not falling into the same pitfalls that are affecting other sports leagues.

“So, it was really important to me when the opportunity came up to put my money where my mouth is and to say, ‘yeah, this is a massive growth opportunity.’”

Unlike sports radio, where women of influence are few and far between, the NWSL is a space where women are securing leadership roles with the goal of using diversity as a means to help the league grow.

Among other league and team investors are Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian, not to mention a long list of high-profile female businesswomen, celebrities, and athletes.

“They’re saying this is a completely untapped market, that if just given the investment to grow will explode, and it’s been just held back by literally people who don’t believe in it,” said Spain.

Sports talk may never diversify itself the same way Spain and company – no pun intended – plan to diversify the NWSL, but would it hurt to try? It’s worked pretty well for Spain.

“I think I need to approach my own career in life, with the same view that I am seeing women’s sports through which is to not cap my ambitions or limitations because of what I’ve seen before,” said Spain.

Courtesy: ESPN Images

According to Sarah, if you asked her when she started her career at ESPN 1000 if one day she would have her own national radio show with her name on it, or have won an Emmy and a Peabody, or become part owner of a professional sports team, she would have said no.

“It’s a lesson to me to stop putting those limits on myself and instead keep pushing, and then allowing other people to see that and push it for themselves,” said Spain.

Because of people like Spain, the idea of going from weekend update anchor to team owner doesn’t seem so impossible.

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