This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Ceresino, who runs the popular sports and lifestyle blog called The Sports Brat. I talked to her about her lifelong love of sports, how her dad taught her all about the West Coast offense, and the new podcast she launched just last month.
Q: As someone who didn’t get into sports until much later in life, I’m always curious how people got into sports. How did you become interested in sports? What is your earliest sports memory?
A: I always say I didn’t stand a chance, because sports are in my DNA. My grandfather played in the NHL, and my dad was a linebacker at Stanford and for a little while in the NFL. I even happened to be born on the Friday before the Super Bowl in 1985. I went home from the hospital on Super Bowl Sunday and watched it in my dad’s arms.
Sports have always been a big part of my family and my identity. When I was little my dad wanted me to play a team sport, so I signed up for soccer. I was actually pretty good, because I was fast. Youth soccer in Southern California is something else. It’s very serious from a young age. I started playing in selective competitive soccer teams when I was 8 or 9, and competing against international teams a few years later. I went on to play in high school and at the University of Colorado.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to work in sports?
A: When I was in college, the women’s professional soccer league had folded. So the only way to continue playing was to make the USWNT or to go overseas. At that point, I had a little bit of a love-hate relationship with soccer; I loved the game but it dominated all my time. I ended up giving it up during my junior year. Instead, I decided to study journalism and behind-the-scenes TV production. My first job was an unpaid production assistant internship at ESPN with Jim Rome Is Burning. I got my foot in the door and worked my way up.
Q: Afterwards you went at San Diego State to get your MBA, what were you hoping to do with your degree?
A: When I was at ESPN, the path I was on was to become a producer and I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur of some sort, but I wasn’t sure what the end goal would be. I decided to get my MBA to learn some of the important skills like finance, accounting, and how to write a business plan. I went to San Diego State for its accelerated MBA program. It also had a sports focus, so instead of looking at DuPont or Exxon Mobile cases, we looked at Nike and other sports companies.
Q: You developed the idea for The Sports Brat, while you were in business school. Can you tell me a little bit more about the inspiration?
A: I was always this weird combination of girly-girl and Tom boy. All my friends in high school were girly-girls who loved fashion. At the same time, I loved sports and the whole experience of going to games: the crazy fans, the competition, the drama. Some of my favorite memories were going to Stanford football games with my dad, who would teach me how to read the offense.
When I was in business school, I was 25. Most of my girlfriends were single and dating, and they would call me up to say “I’m dating this guy and he has these 49ers tickets and I don’t want to go. I hate going to games.” I didn’t understand why they didn’t want to go. The games were so much fun and I thought they could really enjoy them. My goal with The Sports Brat was to bridge the gap on how sports content was marketed to women. I wanted it to be more easily consumable and enjoyable.
I get a lot of flak because people say I’m dumbing down sports. But I’m not dumbing it down, I’m just translating it because the way women consume media is different. I give tips for how to enjoy the game, at every level of passion: I’ll write about the lipstick you should wear to the game, I’ll give a quick guide if you don’t understand football, and if you already understand football, then great let’s talk about the West Coast offense.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced when first setting up The Sports Brat?
A: I’ve faced a lot of challenges, but I think the biggest hurdle was launching it. It was really scary to put myself out there and publish my first article. I also hate having my photo taken but it’s so important to the social media aspect of the business, so that’s been personally challenging for me.
Another big challenge is just getting the word out. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. Everyone was really supportive about the idea, so I thought, “Everyone is going to love this.” But growing the kind of following to be a “successful” business is difficult. You have to constantly curate content. For example, I just built a 6-week plan for my posts, and because I’ve just started a podcast I want to weave those in and have them be relevant as well.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the podcast you just launched?
A: The podcast is “The Sports Brat with Jess Ceresino.” I take the same topics I write about on my blog onto the airwaves. My first episode was with Whitney Bond and she went through terrific game day recipes, like a taco bar and s’mores cinnamon rolls. This past week, I had Kristin Celano, who is a designer from New York that designs cute game day striped dresses. In another episode, I’m going to bring on some girls to do a Fantasy Football 101 episode. It’s a comprehensive look at the elements of game day.
Q: What is a storyline in any sport you’re following this year?
A: I have a huge vested interested in the NFL concussion policy. My father didn’t have an extended NFL career, because he was pretty small for a linebacker, but he did play in college and is in the Hall of Fame at Stanford.
I grew up hearing people talk about how my dad played football, but I never go to watch him because there isn’t a lot of video from that time. Now that I’m older, I’m worried about him and how violently he used to hit. He always led with his head. There were times when he would get concussed on the field and the coaches would ask him where he thought he was. He’d say, “I’m in the locker room” even though he was out there with 100,000 screaming fans.
There’s a real possibility that he could have damage from those hits. These guys are like weapons, because they are so big and fast. I don’t think people understand how much these guys are risking with every play. I’m interested to see how the league will protect their players. I hope they can keep the integrity of the game. So far doctors can’t test for CTE until after people have passed away, so I’m wondering what advances will happen medically so that we can diagnose it earlier and monitor it.
Q: If you could have a dinner with any athlete living or dead who would it be and why?
A: It would be Bill Walsh, who was my dad’s coach at Stanford. When I was young, I got to spend some time with him. He was always just a family friend to me.
Then I remember I was running on the treadmill at the gym and watching ESPN, when they announced that he had passed away. In the weeks that followed, I saw all these tributes to him in the media and it made me realize his impact on the game. Now, there is so much I’d want to ask him. I’d want to know about Joe Montana and the early years. I would want to know about him building and popularizing the West Coast offense. I would have talked to him way more about football.
You can follow Jess Ceresino on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Her podcast "The Sports Brat with Jess Ceresino" is available every Thursday on iTunes. And don't forget to get your daily dose of sports news from Goalposte by signing up here.