Sam Ponder is the host of Sunday NFL Countdown, and before landing a spot at the countdown desk, she did a lot of hard work (and made some crazy gambles) to get there. Sam Ponder has truly carved a name for herself in the male-dominated sports industry.
How did she do it? This episode will teach you how to make a name for yourself in WHATEVER industry you are in. Sam is sharing her tips to network, be bold, and create the path of your dreams.
In third grade, Sam knew she wanted to talk about sports on television. Growing up the daughter of a coach and playing sports herself, it was the only plan she ever had. At 18-years old she moved to New York City and became a hostess at the ESPN Zone restaurant in Times Square thinking it would be the perfect place to network for the sports broadcasting job of her dreams. Although it seemed silly, Sam eventually met two individuals who ran the internship program at ABC. She doesn’t necessarily endorse this method of getting your dream job, but it worked!
Sam loved sports, she knew them inside and out, and she was comfortable talking about them on TV. But she didn’t pursue a traditional broadcast degree in college. Sam worked toward the things she loved with a “let’s just go for it!” attitude. And if it didn’t work out? “You can always go home. You can always do Plan B, but I wasn’t going to think through Plan B until I went for Plan A.”
While working through her internship she knew she was running out of money living in New York, so she decided to move back to her parents’ house, take a few classes at Arizona State University, and max out her credit cards to fly from Phoenix to New York every Saturday to maintain her internship and relationships at ABC. One Saturday, the team offered to shoot a demo tape of her during a commercial break sitting at the host table with the big ABC logos behind her. That tape is what got her job offers after her internship. Sam credits maintaining those relationships for her early entry and success in the industry.
Follow Your Fear
Sam shed some serious wisdom on pursuing her crazy big dream of becoming a broadcaster. “Follow your fear to its logical conclusion.” For Sam, this meant thinking through her decision to fly back and forth from New York to Phoenix, putting in the work, and still fearing that it might not work out. But if it didn’t work out, and she didn’t land a job and she didn’t make any money, she knew she would still be okay. Thinking through the logical conclusion of a big scary step takes some of the fear away from pursuing your biggest goals. Could you fail? Yes. Will it be okay? Yes. But make sure you go for it.
Nos Are an Everyday Thing
Yes, Sam got that big yes that lead her on the path of achieving her dreams. But there are plenty of nos in her story. Sometimes nos simply come in the form of no response at all. In this episode, Sam shared a story about her interview at ESPN. She was in her early 20s and was no doubt excited for the opportunity to get in front of the team at her dream network. She rented a car with money she didn’t have, she drove from Manhattan to Bristol, and sat in the lobby awaiting her meeting. The person who should’ve been conducting her interview came out to see her and said, “I’m sorry, I just don’t have time today. You’re really young. Just keep working.” It may’ve been one of the most memorable nos she heard in her career, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. Fast forward to today, and she works at ESPN. Isn’t it funny how things work out?
Sam made her way in an industry that is often dominated by men. Women in sports broadcasting can fall into stereotypes or lesser roles, but Sam used the things that are typically the result of stereotypes to her advantage. As a young, blond, attractive woman, she knew she would land in a sideline reporting role. Instead of complaining that she had bigger dreams than the sideline, she leveraged the opportunity to set herself up for the next step. Sam found that coaches and executives opened up to her more than her male counterparts, and focused on building relationships that would help her land in a host role.
Dealing with Critics
Building a career in the public eye somehow becomes invitation for the people of the internet to weigh in on everything from your hair to your body to the clothes you put on it. Sam deals with plenty of internet commenters whose keyboard criticism comes flying at her from all angles. At first, the unsolicited feedback really weighed on her. Now, Sam’s mindset when dealing with the critics is one I can stand behind. She said, “Even if the criticism is true, my body is not for you. I was not made to please your eye.” Sam explained that working on TV demands a certain level of presentation. Yes, she wants to look good while she’s doing her job, but she simply won’t please everyone with her appearance, and that’s okay. I know, I know, easier said than done.
More from This Episode
Sam gets personal in this episode, including sharing the earliest days of her relationship with husband Christian Ponder (and the Tweet that started it all), how she navigated her career through pregnancy and now as a mother of three kids, and what the darkest days of her life taught her about compassion. Sam’s story is one of focus and strategy, with a fair share of smart gambles that lead to where she is today. Press play on the player above to hear the full episode.
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Photo: ESPN Images