This week we’re featuring AZ Sports reporter and host Paige Dimakos. Over the past 2 years, Paige has become the social media manager and host of 3 different shows on the ESPN affiliate, including Fantasy Football Fix, the Luke and Paige Show, and Extra Point. Read on to find out more about her first true love--the Cubs, that time she fangirled over Joe Maddon, and the advice she would give to young women starting out in sports media.
Q: As someone who didn’t get into sports until later in life, I’m always curious how other people became interested in sports. What is your earliest sports memory?
A: Honestly, it was a combination of parenting and environment that I grew up in. Both of my parents were into sports. My dad had a very big impact on my love of sports. He played professional basketball in Greece. He was also scouted and drafted to play with a bunch of MLB teams, but his first love was basketball so he decided to go play abroad. And my mom loved sports too. She was the cheerleader at Nebraska, which is a huge football school, and she works in sports marketing now.
I grew up in Chicago, which is a very devout sports city. I was born in 1989, just coming into the time when Michael Jordan was so dominant. He was such a global icon, and he just happened to be playing for the city and team that I loved.
My first sports memory was when the Bulls and the Jazz were playing in the NBA Finals. I remember they played on a Sunday, and my family made these signs that said, “The Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays.” [Utah Jazz star Karl Malone’s nickname]. That’s my first real sports memory. Us trash-talking Utah Jazz fans. That and I remember going to Wrigley Field. I went with my Pappous, which is Greek for grandfather. It was a big deal, my parents were pretty strict and we weren’t allowed to have unhealthy foods. But when we went to the games, we were allowed to have popcorn and pop.
Wrigley Field is a gem. If you grow up with Wrigley Field and Michael Jordan, it’s pretty easy to fall in love with sports. Honestly, I don’t remember a time where I didn’t love sports—it goes that far back.
Q: When did you know that you wanted to work in sports media?
A: In 2003, I was in 7th grade and the Cubs were in the NLCS. I was watching that famous Bartman game [when a fan—Steve Bartman deflected a potential catch from Cubs outfielder Moises Alou]. The Cubs were the best team in baseball and the whole city was entranced by them. I was young and obsessed with that team. I kept and I still have every newspaper clipping of the Cubs from that year. I remember my mom let me skip school 3 or 4 times to go to day games. I was fully invested in that team. It was my first heartbreak.
At that age, I was old enough to understand that I was really passionate about them and that maybe this is something that I should pursue as a career. In my 8th grade yearbook, they asked what we wanted to do when we grew up, and I said I wanted to be a sports journalist. I don’t think I even entertained anything other than that from about the time on.
Q: You aren’t originally from Arizona, How did you end up there and do you remember what it was like to ramp up on learning about the local teams? What did you do to get up to speed? Were you at all intimidated when you first started at AZ Sports
A: I got an internship with Fox Sports in Arizona when I was a junior in college. I lived with my aunt and uncle, while I was doing the internship. At the time, I really liked Arizona and it was the middle of the summer, so I figured if I liked it when it was a bagillion degrees, I would really like it when it wasn’t so hot. I thought when I get done with school, I’m going to find a job and move back out here.
When I finished up school, I got a job with a smaller company called Breakthrough Sports. I didn’t get paid much money so I was living with my aunt and uncle again. I was just networking and trying my hardest to get to know people. I never really found it difficult to immerse myself here, because I knew that if I wanted to work for the company I work for now I had to. I set my sights on AZ Sports—they’re an ESPN affiliate. I told myself that I wanted to work for them within a year. I had a vision board and AZ Sports was on there. Every day I would wake up and look at it and ask myself, “What steps am I taking to do this?” I didn’t have a life for about a year. I did nothing but go to games and network with media people. It was a bumpy ride and I made a lot of mistakes but I learned a lot and I got better. I did everything: I did video, I did radio, I did podcasting, I was writing, I was doing social media.
I ended up meeting this guy, John Gambadoro, who works for AZ Sports. He is the most well known personality in Arizona and he always jokes about how he got me my job. I had started building up a big social media following on Twitter and he discovered me. He told my now-boss, Ryan Hatch, “Hey, I think you need to meet with this girl. She knows a lot about sports and I’m really impressed with her.” I met with Ryan for coffee and he said “Pitch me ‘The Sports Paige.’ Pitch me who you are and what you can do.” He ended up giving me a part time job as a trial run for 6 months. I think within 2 weeks, they knew I was going to be full time. Now, here I am, 2 years later still with AZ Sports.
Q: Even though things are starting to change, working in sports is still a predominantly male field. What was it like starting out as a woman? Were there particular challenges you faced?
A: You have to prove yourself more because you’re a woman. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but that’s kind of the way it is.
I don’t think that’s going to change until the older generations are gone. It’s unfortunate, but my dad’s generation they sit around and they think it’s so inappropriate. They say to my dad, “How do you feel about your daughter being in a locker room with a bunch of guys?” My dad has never even thought twice about that. He’ll say, “She’s not in there watching them change. She’s not in there checking out the players. It’s her job.”
It has to be the younger generation of players that grows up respecting women. I’m lucky that the Arizona Cardinals have spoiled me because they have so many amazing people in their locker room and their leadership just doesn’t allow for guys to act that way. I’ve formed some great friendships, like Tyrann Mathieu is a friend. He’s a great guy and he’s a vocal leader in the locker room. We did a podcast together and he said, “I know how much flack I get, I can’t imagine being you. I can’t imagine what it’s like.”
I don’t want to play the victim card. I don’t want to complain. I chose this field and I knew what I was getting into. Life isn’t fair. There are going to be challenges. People aren’t always going to treat you like you treat other people. That’s the reality, when you’re in working in any environment, but it happens even more when you’re in an environment that’s 95% male, has high testosterone, all alphas, and lots of money and fame.
That’s the biggest challenge, having to prove yourself, pull yourself by your bootstraps, and toughen up. My dad taught me that at a young age, so nothing really fazes me anymore. I get nasty comments on Twitter like “You’re a stupid blonde. You don’t know anything about sports.” But I know that I know sports. I played sports. I competed; I know what it’s like. I know I’m as smart as any guy. Sure, I won’t ever understand what it’s like to play in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about it. I lean on people that I work with who have played professional sports to enlighten me and teach me. It’s not only women in sports media that haven’t played professionally. A lot of guys that talk or write about sports haven’t played.
Women have to learn to be tough. I went to college at Nebraska, which is a very old-school, old fashioned football program. I remember I was the only girl in a room of 150 reporters and I asked this question to one of the biggest jerks in all of football Bo Pelini and he did a double-take. He looked at me like, I can’t believe that question came out of that little blonde’s mouth. I got called all these demeaning names like sweet cheeks and sweetheart. I remember my first day I went out to my car and bawled my eyes out. Then, I popped the mirror down and I said, “That’s it you’re not going to cry again. You’re going to be tough.”
You have to surround yourself with people that love you and give you confidence. If I have a rough day, I call my boyfriend, dad, or brother and they all have the same response, “You know who you are, you know what you’re doing. You don’t need some idiot on Twitter to justify anything.”
Q: You currently work as the social media manager and as a host on 3 different AZ Sports shows. So you have a lot of different responsibilities on your plate. Can you take us through a typical day?
A: Every day starts with coffee, and usually a workout. Then I get into the office, set up my TweetDeck and read through what happened overnight. I am a detail-oriented person, so I keep things pretty organized. I am a big to-do list person, so I write notes to myself about what I want to talk and Tweet about. I’m on social media most of the day, deciding what content we want to put up. For example today, I put up the Top 15 quarterback list that we’re going to talk about for our Fantasy Football show over the weekend. For Fantasy Football we also try to wrangle guests.
It’s a lot of reading, writing, consuming, and taking in what athletes and other writers are talking about. I don’t have a 8-5 job, if news breaks I have to stay late. But that’s what I signed up for and I don’t mind. It’s much easier to put in a 12-hour day, when I’m talking about football, because I love it.
Q: Working for AZ Sports, I’m sure you have had the opportunity to meet a number of famous athletes and celebrities. Who were you most excited to meet? How did it go?
A: I was a big Joe Maddon fan before he was the manager of the Cubs, but then he became their manager and that’s my squad. I went to do a National League media night for the Cactus League during spring training. I was supposed to go out there to talk to the Diamondbacks manager and GM and some of the other guys, but then I saw Joe and I was like, “Obviously going to talk to Joe Maddon.”
There was a big group around him and I let all the people who actually had to talk to him (like reporters) go first. Then I introduced myself. I said “I’m trying not to fangirl, but the 8 year old girl in me can’t help it.” He just started laughing and said he’d never heard of the term ‘fangirl.’ He was such a gem. We just sat and talked for 25 minutes. He wanted to hear all about how I got into sports. I told him about when I was in high school me and some friends snuck out of school and took the train to Wrigley Field and had our first beers. He just sat there and was eating every bit of it up. Later, my coworker was who was watching me said I was so starstruck. I’m the biggest Cubs fan. It’s great because I can still be a fan of the teams I grew up with, while I cover the teams that I didn’t grow up with.
Usually, I don’t fangirl for players, because they’re all about my age. They’re kids. They do the same dumb things I do. They play video games and goof around. Most people get infatuated with them, but I get more respect because I’m not freaking out. They are always like, “Wow this girl is really chill.”
Q: What is one rule you would change to any sport? What rule change you have appreciated?
A: The rule I would change would be the catch rule in the NFL. Nobody knows what a catch is. It’s an ongoing saga in the NFL. We need a clear definition of what is a catch and what isn’t. The verbage is not definitive enough. Last year there were like 12 plays where the refs were all looking at each other like, “Was that a catch? I don’t know.”
A rule that they changed that I liked was against hand-checking in the NBA. Now, it’s so much more exciting you get to watch more scoring. The old school guys will say the defense was better back then, but no they were fouling players. I wish I could have seen Michael go off for 70 points every night instead of 35 because he was getting fouled every time he was going down the lane.
Q: If you could have a dinner with any athlete living or dead who would it be and where would you take them?
A: That’s an easy one for me—Jackie Robinson. I would want to go back to his hometown so he could show me things about his life. I’ve always been so enamored with the strength that he had to endure what he had to endure. It’s a long list of athletes I would love to meet. But he’s one I’d love to listen to, get advice from, and have a better understanding what he had to deal with and how he kept persevering.
Q: Whats a piece of advice you would give to another woman who is just starting out in sports journalism?
A: Be the most confident person in the room. That has helped me get through so many tough moments. I give myself a pep talk. I tell myself to have confidence, put my shoulders back, and command the room. You get confidence by preparing. There is no such thing as over-preparing. If you know your stuff and you’re a girl then it’s great to be in this business. My boyfriend and my brother (who also has a girlfriend in sports too) will say there’s nothing sexier than a confident girl that can talk sports. If you throw me in any room or any bar, I’ll be able to outsmart any guy. They always think that I wont know anything about sports and then I embarrass them. Embarrassing guys about sports is my favorite pastime. It’s just so much fun to do.