Sarah Spain was the captain of the Cornell Big Red in the early 2000s when the Ithacans began to dominate the Heps Championships like no team before. She has since waded into the male-dominated sports talk business, now serving as a SportsCenter anchor on ESPN 1000 in Chicago as well as a reporter for ESPNChicago. She also recently wrote a piece for espnW which linked to HepsTrack. That’s how we tracked her down and subjected her to our five questions. It was actually seven, but we bill it as five.
Since graduating from Cornell you have worked yourself into a role as one of the only female voices in the Chicago sports world. Why so few women talking about sports?
Well, there are more male than female sportscasters and writers in general, and Chicago isn’t any different when it comes to that. One reason, and this was true for me, is that a lot of women grow up without seeing a career in sports as a viable option. Growing up, the few women working in sports were sideline reporters, something I’ve never been much into because it’s such a limited role–not much time to be funny or creative. After college, when I realized I could combine my interest in TV hosting and improv comedy with my love of sports, I suddenly saw an opportunity to do something different and sort of break through traditional barriers. Most color commentators on television and radio are former players who draw from experiences in the NFL, MLB, etc. to do their jobs, so that’s nearly half of the major broadcasting gigs right there. There are other reasons, some of which are antiquated and hopefully on their way out (i.e. men preferring to get their sports from just men). It can be an intimidating field; you have to be confident, hard-working and have very, very thick skin if you want to hang in there with all the men.
What is the latest controversy in Chicagoland and where do you stand on it?
Seems to be a new one every day! Recently ESPN’s Rick Reilly wrote an article damning Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for being an unfriendly, closed-off guy. After the piece came out I found myself defending Cutler a lot more to fans on Twitter or Facebook who hate the guy’s smirks and shrugs. While it would be nice for Chicago to have a funny, media-savvy guy like Peyton Manning, I just want our QB to go out and win games. We haven’t had someone as talented as Cutler at the quarterback position in such a long time, I don’t think we should complain about how friendly or unfriendly he is, just cheer for him as he’s leading us to Dallas.
What is the single dumbest thing a caller, co-host or guest has said?
Oh man, there are too many. I think the one that I get the most often that really chaps my hide is people who hear that I work for ESPN and ask “Oh, so you do like sports?” Definitely not something a male sportswriter or radio personality has ever heard!
You once showed up at Indoor Heps with a red racing stripe down your leg. How did that come about?
There are a lot of things I did in college that are really inexplicable, and that is one. Ha! To be honest, I don’t remember how or why we hatched the plan to draw the stripes (and fake heart tattoos on our biceps!) but it stemmed from our excitement heading into our first Heps. My teammate Betsy and I were both competing in the hurdles and I think we thought it’d be intimidating or something. Ah, misguided youth.
You were the team captain as a senior and you took the squad to an Indoor team championship. What do you remember about that?
Indoor AND outdoor! In fact, the Cornell women won 12 in a row beginning with the indoor games my senior year! It was an incredible feeling, particularly because track is such a team sport despite being so dependent on individual performances. We had such a fantastic group that year and I took a lot of pride in being named a captain. It was bittersweet for me too, though. I tore my Achilles the week before indoor Heps my junior year so senior year, unable to compete as a heptathlete anymore, I ended up becoming a javelin specialist. I still played a big leadership role on the team, but it was tough to be limited to just one event after perfecting the whole “jack of all trades, master of none” thing!
What would be your ultimate job? Voice of the Bulls?
Actually, I’d like to host “The Daily Show” for sports. It doesn’t exist yet, but I’d like to create it. I like to work at the intersection of sports and entertainment, so a show that would combine sketch comedy, improv and satire with real sports news and knowledge would be my dream. (It’s a little late for this, but a cast member on SNL wouldn’t be half bad, either!)
If folks from the Heps Nation want to hear you talk about Chicago sports, can they do so online? When and where?
Absolutely. I’m a regular writer for ESPN’s new national website geared towards female athletes and fans, espnW.com, I do 2-3 interviews and other video pieces a week for ESPNChicago.com and I’m a SportsCenter Anchor for ESPN 1000 in Chicago 9am-1:30pm Central Monday-Friday. I report scores, trades and news and often jump on during the show to chat about current topics with the hosts.