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ONYX Presents: A Conversation With Maria Taylor

ONYX host Monica McNutt recently had the opportunity to sit down with Maria Taylor, ESPN analyst.  ONYX, a platform dedicated to celebrating Black women in sports, is a safe space for these women to discuss their experiences: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hopefully the conversation will inspire a new drive for change. 

Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Georgia and returned to complete her Master of Business Administration. She’s currently a reporter for College GameDay and ABC Saturday Night Football, and has hosted NBA Countdown since 2019. Below are just a few highlights from the insightful and inspiring conversation with Maria Taylor.

What do you love about being a Black woman in sports?

I love everything about it. Honestly. I love being able to walk into a room and know that, in some instances, I might be the only black woman there. It’s my responsibility to represent us— me, you— to the fullest because at the end of the day that matters. That means something. I love being a Black woman in sports because I get to cover these athletes who I believe their stories should be told a certain way. I believe they should have the opportunity to talk to someone that looks like them.  I believe that they should go over to talk to someone who might understand some of the struggles that they’ve been through culturally. And I also understand that’s a responsibility that I love, so those are two of the main things definitely representing us. And then also being a part of the fabric of the black male athlete as well, and being able to share their stories

How have you been challenged as a black woman in sports?

I’m challenged all the time. You know,  it can be small things. I describe them as those small cuts, that add up and then eventually you bleed out. It might be a conversation that you have, um, and someone tells you, ‘well, we just didn’t know if you were ready,’ and then I’m thinking, ‘but you wouldn’t say that to somebody else.’ Or, ‘yeah, we’ll see. We’ll give you part of this, and then, we’ll find out whether or not you’re going to be capable of doing X, Y, and Z.’ And I also know that while in the past, I haven’t seen that happening to somebody else. And so those are the ways that you’re constantly being challenged.

I know I used to walk into meetings and sometimes no one would speak to me. So you would go into a coaches meeting, and you know how they are Monica, it’s usually your producer, your director, yourself, game analyst, play-by-play. And a lot of times, well every time, I would be the only Black female in the room or Black person. You could get someone to come in and introduce themselves to everyone, or they have been on the golf course together, or they’ve known each other forever and they’re getting into great conversation. And you’re just over here in a corner like where do I fit into this? And so that’s difficult. I’ve had a Black coach tell me one time, college football, he was like, ‘you know what? You really do have to stay here, hold the line in college football. You have to stay here until there’s another Black woman ready to take your place. Because if you don’t then there will never be another one of you.’ And so then that’s like a cut in that it’s a great responsibility that you bear. And sometimes I just want to do my job, but you recognize it’s just so much bigger than that, though. I feel like that’s a challenge.

So what makes you so proud of what has been accomplished in this space thus far?

I think honestly, it’s just bringing the attention to everyone that there’s a problem. So for the first time we’re actually (thinking), ‘you know what, maybe there shouldn’t just be one Black college football sideline reporter. Maybe we should be better.’ You know what I mean? Even if that’s just the baseline conversation that we’re having at this point that means we can grow from there. Or seeing Cari (Champion) and Jemele (Hill) having that show, and it’s going to be great. Every time we put Black people on a pedestal—Black Panther—you know what I mean? Like we could probably just go down the list of when you invest in Black community or you make something specifically for Black people, they will show up and show out for it. It’s just a matter of investing in believing in that group of human beings.  Like, and so I do think that there’s an awakening to that. There’s realizing that we, we are real consumers. We are loyal consumers. We care. And now at this point you want our vote, you want a lot of things from us, but you’re going to have to give up something if you want us to show up, you want us to play these games. We’re not going to be quiet anymore. You want us to work here? We’re not going to be quiet anymore. Like we’re about to put them onus and responsibilities on you. So I think the progress is one, we know that our voice matters so we’re being empowered in some ways, and people are recognizing that there’s a problem. So when those two things come together and you got players saying, ‘all right, well, I’m about to give you this list of demands. What’s up.’ Now you recognize the problem, but you got to have a solution. 

When you look at where you are Maria, what is your hope?

My hope overall is that I really do think that there’s a way that  things can be equitable in our space. For me, that’s very important. But I’m also very focused on the college game, so I want to see more Black coaches at every (level), I mean from women’s basketball to college football and all the way up, I want to see more Black (athletic directors). I want us to have a Black female commissioner. I want all of those things to be happening and people to put that in the front of their minds because the only way we’re gonna get there is if people say that that is a goal. You have to say that. Don’t come at me like, ‘well, we’re just gonna go with the best candidates.’ No, I need a goal. I need you to set a goal and tell me that that’s what you know you’re working towards. 

The same thing in broadcasting. I think there’s no reason why NBA countdown is the only show full of Black faces. I love it. I love being on it. But why in every other show is tokenism. I feel as though there’s only one Black person and 70 percent of the league might be made up of Black men. How does that make sense? It doesn’t make sense. And so just like finding ways to be more equitable. (If) you are in Athens, Georgia, and you know that there’s an entire community of Black people surrounding that city that aren’t doing as well as your students, how (is the university) investing back in that community? Like how can we just find ways to make income flow in and out when we’re, we’re using so much of that same community to find the talent, you know what I mean? We’re going in and we’re stealing out the best talent and bringing them to these colleges, but are we giving back to that same community? So there’s a lot of different things that I would love to see. But as far as broadcasting’s concerned, I need to see a completely new group of faces front facing. Just added to it.  Let’s demand it. 

Photo Credits: Instagram

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