This week we’re featuring FOX Sports host, anchor, and reporter Laura Okmin. Okmin has covered some of the biggest events in sports, including over 10 Super Bowls, 2 Olympics, and multiple NBA Finals, World Series and All-Star games. Now she’s paying it forward by helping to train, mentor, and prepare the next generation of women in sports media with her new sports broadcasting bootcamp called GALVANIZE. Read on to find out what she thinks is most rewarding part of founding GALVANIZE and how sports media has evolved for women since she got her start two decades ago.
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 and when did you know that you wanted to work in sports?
A: I’m always asked when I started getting interested in sports, but as a Chicago girl, I really don’t have a concrete moment because in Chicago, loving sports has nothing to do with gender. You grow up rooting for the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, and depending on your geography, either the Cubs or White Sox. It’s not about gender… it’s about Chicago.
But I will add this, as a young girl, my mom always told me to make sure I knew and was interested in sports. She would say not only does it guarantee you’ll never have a bad date, but it will also guarantee you won’t be left out of a conversation—especially in business situations. She was right-on both fronts.
Q: You have been working in sports broadcasting for over 2 decades. 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? What were particular challenges you faced? Were there any advantages to being a woman in the field?
A: I still have the same love for my job as I did back when I was a 22-year-old young woman starting out in Montgomery, Alabama. I was the first woman sportscaster in the area and I’ll never forget my first live shot. I was covering a Friday night High School football game (a huge deal in Alabama) and the coach walked up to me with a football in one hand and a basketball in the other, saying he wanted to make sure I knew the difference. That was my “Welcome to Sports moment”—and everything that comes with it.
But I love that you asked if there’s any advantages to being a woman in the field. We’re asked all the time about the disadvantages, but there are also plenty of advantages to being a respected woman in this business-especially when it comes to earning trust and building relationships. I’m happy to say there are so many more women in the field than when I started, but there aren’t nearly enough women in positions that can make a difference. You see more women standing on a sideline, but we need more women in the positions that make an impact.
Q: Have you noticed any improvements for young women breaking into sports broadcasting now from when you started out? What is the biggest change?
A: This generation gets so many more opportunities than we did decades ago. It’s not considered a “novelty” anymore to have a woman in your sports division, but I often worry that many of them get thrown in too quickly—and that’s not even mentioning social media. I’m really glad I started in small markets so I could learn and grow and make my mistakes on a small scale. Thick skin is the most important thing a woman wears in this business.
Q: Recently, you started GALVANIZE a company that conducts workshops, seminars, and bootcamps to help young women improve their on and off camera skills for sports reporting. What made you want to start GALVANIZE?
A: For the reason above. I was seeing so many great young women getting thrown into opportunities they weren’t ready for. Ten years ago I was resentful of those women, but at this motherly age, I am really protective. I want them to grab every single opportunity that presents itself, but I want them ready for it. That starts with confidence. As a woman in the sports world, you’re going to hear every insult there is, and your own voice has to be louder than the ones saying horrible things. The goal for GALVANIZE is to help them find their voice, their confidence and their story. This is essential as they begin the journey of telling other people’s stories.
And most rewarding part for me? They get something I didn’t: A strong network of women cheering them on. It’s my favorite part of GALVANIZE. I love helping, mentoring, and teaching these wonderful women, but my heart grows three sizes when I see them lean on each other. For every single person who talks about how catty women are, and how much they compete with each other, I wish they could come to a GALVANIZE event. It’s awesome to watch these women empower themselves, but it’s even more amazing watching them empower each other.
Q: Following Erin Andrews’s trial and her harrowing experience of being filmed by a stalker at a hotel, you participated in a panel for Sports Illustrated about the safety precautions female sports reporters have to take on the road. You and the other panelists talked about the stark realities of traveling when you are a female sportscaster in the public eye. Now, you are in a position of being able to give advice to young women starting out in the industry. When you were just starting out, did you have a mentor that was able to help you with these types of issues?
A: I really didn’t have a woman mentor when I started out. My best friend was the amazing Stuart Scott from ESPN. We met as young reporters and have leaned on each other for over 20 years in this business, but Stuart couldn’t help with so many of the issues women face and he was always honest about that.
There are extra “layers” to being a woman in this business—not all of them are negative. Now, I’m going through a lot as a woman, who is getting older in this business and I’m so thankful to have a great group of women peers that I lean on. I would have loved to have had them when I was younger—I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but it’s why I love GALVANIZE so much.
Q: Working at FOX Sports, you have had the opportunity to meet a number of famous athletes. Who were you must excited to meet?
A: Muhammad Ali. I’ve never seen a room (which happened to be an entire stadium) tilt the way this one did when he walked in. It was absolutely incredible to see a room change with his presence. I was mesmerized watching him and the effect he had on people when he spoke to them.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in sports this year?
A: Easy. I’m most looking forward to the upcoming 2016 NFL season. I can’t wait to get started.
Q: What is a rule that you would want to change in a sport today? Or what rule change have you appreciated?
A: I appreciate any change that makes football safer. The greatest gift I get from my job is getting to know the players as people—as fathers, sons, husbands and friends. I care about the people I’m doing injury reports on. I’ve been standing on football fields close to the action for so many years, and yet I’m still amazed by the ferocity of the hits these players withstand. You get to see the impact of these hits and the speed of the game
Q: If you could have a dinner with any athlete living or dead who would it be and where would you take them?
A: Sandy Koufax. And anywhere he wanted to go.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self as you were just starting out?
A: I would tell her to be kinder to herself. I’d tell her to enjoy the heck out of every single wonderful occasion and milestone (because there’s not enough of them) and to really dig deep and find the lesson in every heartbreak and disappointment—because that’s truly where the growth is. I’d also tell her, with a big smile on my face, “You won’t believe how good it’s going to get.”
You can follow Laura Okmin on Twitter and Instagram! You can find out more about GALVANIZE here and follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! And don't forget to get your daily dose of sports news from Goalposte by signing up here.