Q&A with Johnson C. Smith Alum, ESPN.com Editor Shannon Cross
If you are one of the billions of sports fans around the world regularly visiting ESPN.com for your scores and features fix, chances are good that you’ve read the work of Shannon Cross, associate editor for the world’s most popular sports website.
Cross, an alumnus of Johnson C. Smith University and Social Media Correspondent who will be featured on this Friday’s ESPN National Town Hall: “The Image of the Black Athlete” (6-8pm on ESPN), recently shared her take on opportunities for women of color in sports, race relations, and how HBCUs can find a place in the sports discussion.
In front of the camera, we’ve seen an increase of exposure and opportunity for black women in sports. Is this trend present in sports writing, production, web content at ESPN?
There is certainly a demand for a diverse group of TV personalities and sportswriters. People like Robin Roberts, the first African-American woman to anchor an ESPN broadcast, have paved the way for women like SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele, ESPN reporter Lisa Salters and even ESPN.com’s Jemele Hill. The more the demand increases for women of color on-camera, the more the demand will increase online.
Talk about your time at Johnson C. Smith University. How did it shape your career ambitions and drive for success?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in when I first arrived at JCSU, but I had an unrelenting passion to write. And thanks to my dad, I also became extremely passionate about sports. It wasn’t until I took a sports broadcasting course with Professor Herman Howard that I realized I may have a future in sports media. Professor Howard always challenged me to be great and to exceed expectations. In my pursuit of finding my dream job, I held four different internships between 2000-2004 in radio and TV production. I was the Vice President of my class for three years straight, a member of the JCSU Women’s tennis team and a member of the Gamma Lambda chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Moving from Seattle to Charlotte was a big step for me, but JCSU had a home-away-from-home feel and it groomed me into the poised professional I am today. My mother instilled a strong work ethic in me at a young age and my college experience was just the first chapter in my drive towards achieving success.
We know that sports has been a great catalyst for social shifts in race relations. In 2011, do you think that this impact is as prevalent as it was 50 years ago? Why or why not?
No matter what race, gender or creed, one common dominator we all share is sports. If you’re a Lakers fan, like me, the only enemy on game day is a Boston Celtics fan. The great thing about sports is that it’s a chance for everyone to enjoy their favorite team compete. Sports is, and always will be a catalyst for social shifts in race relations and it’s up to the next generation of athletes to continue to bridge the gap that we may have otherwise never conquered.
On the flipside it’s interesting to see how fans receive athletes like Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre and Tiger Woods after they experienced image damaging situations. The impact of these athletes’ decisions off the field have certainly impacted the way we perceive them and in some cases made us question our allegiance.
As a producer of sports content, what can HBCUs do to have a more prominent role in popular sports culture?
It’s no secret that Division I schools get favoritism when it comes to national coverage. But the best way for HBCU’s to gain exposure is to utilize social networking outlets like Facebook and Twitter. It’s also important that HBCU’s develop a better relationship with local and national media. In addition, I encourage HBCU students to write, write, write! Start a blog about how Howard University will always be the real HU, or how the CIAA Basketball Tournament is one of the most-anticipated events of the year. If we can’t create a buzz amongst ourselves, how can we expect the masses to?
What are your plans for the future?
I would love to win a Sports Emmy. In my first few months with ESPN.com I was nominated for a Sports Emmy in 2008 for Best Original Web Series for Mayne Street (www.maynestreet.net). Recently, I accepted a special pin from Disney recognizing my fifth year with the company. In the next five years I look forward to discovering new ways to serve sports fans everywhere. I’m also really looking forward to my first TV appearance with ESPN this Friday. Oh, and somewhere along the way I might pinch myself and realize what was once my dream job is actually reality.
*Photo Courtesy of Jessie Adore, Make Up by Jessica Guzman*