PHOENIX, AZ. - The Super Bowl is in the Valley and so is NBCU Academy. Downtown Phoenix's very own Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication hosted the NBCU Professional Development Workshop Monday afternoon as part of an action-packed week leading up to Super Bowl LVII.
About 6,000 reporters will be in Arizona from across the country for the big game, but four leaders from NBC Sports and the NFL decided to spend their time discussing covering the Super Bowl and other memorable career experiences with journalism students.
Arizona State University graduate student Alexis Davis opened the event introducing Kenneth Shropshire. Shropshire might have over 30 years of experience working at the University of Pennsylvania, but he is no stranger to ASU.
The former CEO of the Global Sport Initiative is also the Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport at ASU. His team's research from the Initiative was referenced in The Washington Post's BLACK OUT series, which focused on the lack of Black head coaches in the NFL despite the implementation of the Rooney Rule in 2003.
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Guests were able to ask questions to Shropshire about his thoughts on diversity issues in various professional sports leagues.
"I start off the conversation by saying, 'What does success look like? Where is it that we are striving to get to anyway?'" Shropshire said. "The denominator is not the racial makeup of players on the field of play and it is not the population of the United States, so nobody really knows the right kind of number as to the number of head coaches and ownership should be. That's something that a lot of work can be done on as well."
An interest in taking on the big questions for stories and projects was a common thread for the final four panelists, all of whom are currently with NBC Sports or the NFL amidst long careers.
The only woman on the panel, Charean Williams, shared how comfortable she has always been in male-dominated sports journalism settings because of her love for football and the Dallas Cowboys. When she was growing up, "girls didn't do that type of stuff." which gave her more of a reason to strive for greatness as an NFL writer for Pro Football Talk.
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Williams has worked nearly 30 Super Bowls, seven Olympics and was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. Her experience allowed her to create relationships in order to tell unique stories during this time of year. Tightened budgets in print media resulted in WIlliams getting laid off from her long-time Cowboys beat at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2017, but that rejection paved the way for another chapter of her career.
"It ended up being one of the best days in my life career wise because I ended up falling into NBC right away and never missed a day," Williams said. "The greatest parts of my career have been the last five years. The worst day turned into the best day and sometimes you just don't see beyond the immediate to now that things are probably going to work out and work out for the better."
The sports journalism world is a small one: It was Williams who referred content creator Myles Simmons, another panelist, to Ron Vaccaro, the vice president of editorial content for NBC Sports and also a part of the panel.
Simmons' relationship with Williams was important to leading him to ProFootballTalk, but the panelists emphasized that what distinguishes reporters is their dedication to the work behind the scenes.
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"I've been with NBC for the past 18 and a half years and it's pretty apparent who works and who coasts. There's no substitute for work and human relationships." Vaccaro said.
Simmons covered his first Super Bowl in 2019 when he worked for the Los Angeles Rams, and while the atmosphere is unmatched for American sporting events, he advised journalists to not get complacent.
"You get to one thing, and it's like 'yeah, that's good but what's the next one?'" Simmons said. "I like to think I'm still working towards that next thing. I don't necessarily need to know what that is."
Keeping your options open was a big takeaway for the students involved in the discussion. Davis felt very inspired by how multifaceted Shropshire is and hopes to apply his advice in her future endeavors with women's basketball.
"There aren't really any limitations to what you can do," Davis said. "The main thing for me is to not limit myself and box myself in. Just because I like sports reporting right now, that doesn't mean I can't go into sports business or just another avenue so I know I'm keeping all doors open."
Opportunities to start making moves in the industry inspired a group of University of Arizona journalism students to drive from Tucson, arriving early, eager to learn more about what NBCU Academy has to offer.
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"Our professor recommended we come up here to build the U of A connection with NBCU because we are a recent partner with them," Arizona student Annabel Lecky said. "I was personally interested in coming because everyone says they want to make connections, but I don't know how to start doing that so I came to learn."
Connecting with the community is very important to NBC Sports and the NFL, and Phoenix is prideful of their native culture. This is where the unique stories come from, and it's a win-win situation for the reputation of the NFL and the chance for someone's story to be told.
The NFL's Manager of Influencer, Talent and Culture Marketing Keyon Branch knew how important it was to honor and reflect the league's care for Arizona. He understands the power of marketing your brand with clear intent and using your platform for impactful change, in this case, diversity, equity and inclusion in the NFL.
Arizona native Lucinda Hinojos, also known as La Morena, is an artist that will be showcasing her artwork through Super Bowl LVII. Her Chicana and Indigenous culture will be displayed on the Wilson Duke football, all 60,000 tickets and on posters surrounding State Farm Stadium.
It wouldn't have fit the mission of the NFL to host a Super Bowl in a large, diverse city and not include its historical significance.
"Lucinda is the woman who did a lot of the art that you'll see around here and also the ticket," Branch said. "Sitting down and listening to her story, I think there was something we wanted to break through and push out there because we want our audience to understand. We know what the demographic and the makeup of our audience is, and we want to continue to grow that."
The Super Bowl is everyone's dream event to either work or attend as a fan and one of the few sporting events that has this much anticipation and preparation leading up to the game.
"That moment sitting down in the press box, working with people who have become my best friends and you look at the logo and go 'Wow, this is something a hundred plus million people watch and I'm here for it.' That was one of the coolest moments of my life," Simmons said.
Author's Note: Janaé Bradford is a graduate student obtaining her master's in sports journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She received her bachelor's in media, journalism and film from Howard University in May 2022. She's currently a graduate assistant with the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, and she also is a multimedia journalist and photographer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow her on Instagram @janaeainbradford or check out her work on rollingwithnae.wordpress.com
Sports journalism workshop with NBC Sports, NFL leadership part of Super Bowl LVII leadup originally appeared on NBCSports.com