How College Sports Star Robin Roberts Achieved Her Ultimate Goal
Prominent TV Anchor Robin Roberts Set A Goal For Herself At A Young Age And Went On To Achieve It
Compiled by Doug Thompson
She believes a key factor was the confidence she gained through college athletics - plus the support of loving parents. While attending Southeastern Louisiana University during the early 1980s, Robin Roberts, who today is a news anchor for ABC News’ “Good Morning America,” was making news on the basketball court. She ended her career as the school’s third all-time leading scorer and rebounder. During her senior season, she averaged 15.2 points per game.
But encouraged by her college coaches to write down a mission statement for her future, Roberts, who graduated cum laude with a communications degree, took out a piece of paper and admits her answer was a slam-dunk. She wrote, “ESPN in 1990.”
“My coaches taught me that talk is for dreams,” Roberts told Black Enterprise, “but when you write it down, it becomes a goal.” 1
Prophetically, Roberts landed at the all-sports Bristol, Conn.-based network in February 1990, where she enjoyed a meteoric rise from being ESPN’s first on-air African-American anchorwoman to serving as the first woman ever to host a network televised National Football League pre-game show. Moreover, she worked as a play-by-play commentator and host of ESPN’s telecasts of the Women’s National Basketball Association, and she hosted numerous other prominent ESPN programs, including LPGA events.
In 1996, while still working for ESPN, Roberts gained even more notoriety when she was named the first African-American female host of ABC’s “Wide of World of Sports” (both ESPN and ABC are owned by The Walt Disney Co.). A national writer, however, wrote that Roberts is one broadcaster whose accomplishments don’t deserve to be categorized by her color.
“That she is a black woman should not be a factor in assessing her work,” wrote Richard Sandomir, a New York Times correspondent. “She’s flat-out talented.” 1
Whether she’s shooting hoops on the basketball court, playing a round of golf — a sport she says she “really enjoys” — or in front of the lights and cameras at ABC’s “Good Morning America” studios, Roberts remains unflappable. That’s not surprising considering her pioneering family.
Her father, Lawrence Roberts, was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen unit during World War II and is a retired Air Force colonel, while her mother, Lucimarian, served for years on the Mississippi State Board of Education. Roberts’s older sister, Sally-Ann is a successful television anchorwoman in New Orleans and served as an inspiration to Robin to pursue a career in broadcasting.
After leaving college in 1983, Roberts was quick to discover that being both a woman and a minority would make the job search tougher. She turned down offers for news reporting to pursue a career in sports reporting, and took a part-time job as weekend sports anchor and reporter at WDAM-TV in Mississippi, her native state. Her starting salary was $5.50 per hour.
“Because my sister had worked there and had a fabulous reputation, they granted me an interview and said that they would take a chance with me,” Roberts recalled. “I felt like saying, ‘Why are you feeling you’re taking a chance with me?’ I graduated with honors, had practical experience and worked for a local radio station in college as a sports director.” 2
Roberts moved on to WLOX-TV in Biloxi, Miss., and then to WSMV-TV in Nashville, Tenn., where she won the “Nashville Scene” Sportscaster of the Year Award in 1987. That was the same year ESPN first approached Roberts, offering her a job but she opted for more experience in a large market and settled in at WAGA-TV in Atlanta. It proved to be a shrewd move for Roberts, who became a local celebrity, working local radio talk shows and attending charity functions.
In 1990, ESPN called again — this time with an offer to host the station’s overnight “SportsCenter” broadcasts. Roberts accepted, and within a month was promoted to anchor of “Sunday SportsDay” and “NFL Prime Time.”
“I’m very proud to be the first African-American woman, and I’m not going to make any excuses for that,” Roberts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shortly after joining ESPN. “But it’s a ticklish situation because you want to be known for who you are and not just gender or race. I say with all the humbleness I can, I’m qualified and I’m prepared for this assignment. 1
Her own ESPN series, “In the SportsLight,” which debuted in 1994, specifically addressed the role athletics play in the lives of successful people of all walks of life, such as U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, who enjoyed a great career in the NBA with the New York Knicks.
Had she not been hosting it, Roberts may have been a candidate for the show. “I really believe you can learn so many things from athletics other than how to become a professional athlete,” Roberts once told the Chicago Tribune. 1
Roberts can’t underestimate the importance of athletics in a young person’s life, and is not only grateful to her parents for their support but also for the passage of Title IX.
“It’s a blessing that I was encouraged by my family to participate in sports at a young age. The intangibles I learned have helped me in every area of my life. The success others claim I have achieved is directly connected to my sports background,” noted Roberts, who, in 1998, received the media award from the New England Women’s Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing opportunities for women and girls through sports. “And Title IX gave me a scholarship, which paid for my college education, self-worth and self-esteem. I used to see the boys playing and ask why I couldn’t play. I don’t know where I would be, or in all sincerity where the country would be, if it were not for Title IX.” 2
In the mid 1990s, Roberts began to get more involved with the news division of ABC, while slowly moving away from an all-sports resume. Roberts has since covered a broad range of stories for ABC News and “Good Morning America,” including the homecoming of soldiers aboard the USS Roosevelt; the Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace; the 25th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley; the practicality of sky marshals on airplanes; how the World Trade Center attacks affected the New York town of Rockville Centre; and the custody battle over a 12-year-old between two men claiming to be the boy’s father. She also covered President George W. Bush’s inauguration and the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia and the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
In April 2002, her ascension at ABC News was capped with a promotion to anchor the regularly hourly newscasts for “GMA” in its Times Square Studio Ltd. She also will continue to serve as an ABC News correspondent, covering a wide variety of stories and appear as a substitute co-anchor on “World News Tonight.”
As a pig-tailed little girl growing up in Mississippi, Roberts, who went on to become salutatorian of her high school class, was a big fan of “Wide World of Sports.”
“I wish I could say I thought one day that would be me hosting the show. But I didn’t, because that seemed so out of reach.” 1
From that little girl to today, Robin Roberts has certainly left her mark. Consider that the inaugural Robin Roberts Sports Journalism Scholarship was created by the Women's Institute on Sport and Education and presented at the 1996 NCAA Women's Final Four.
And nobody, including Roberts herself, believes she has reached the zenith of her career. For now, however, the Manhattan resident is content where she’s at, comforted by knowing she’s already come a long way.
“My greatest accomplishment is that I set a goal for myself and I obtained it,” Roberts said. “I think that is the biggest thing anyone can do.” 2
GALE Publications, Gale Group, Inc.
Women's Sports Foundation (www.womenssportsfoundation.org)
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