As Jessica Mendoza was completing her master’s degree at Stanford, her plan was to move to Washington, enter politics and focus on educational reform.
Mendoza secured an internship, but she never got to D.C. after making the U.S. women’s national softball team.
It’s just as well. In some ways, Mendoza admits she can be politically incorrect, a key reason why she was surprised when ESPN initially approached her about working in television.
“I laughed at first,” Mendoza said. “I was like, ‘C’mon. No filter. It’s live television. I’d get fired first day, for sure. There’s no way.’ ”
Mendoza’s way has worked.
Before her appearance at the inaugural Celebrating Women’s in Sports luncheon Thursday in Orlando, Mendoza spoke with the Orlando Sentinel.
Question: As a former president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, what is the biggest thing you learned in that role?
Answer: “I realized just how much it takes both (men and women), and not even just from the boardroom support but just going out educating and talking and advocating about all the things the Women’s Sports Foundation does.”
Question: Where do we stand in terms of opportunities for women in sports and how they are viewed?
Answer: “We still have a bit of ways in the sense of equal, true equality. Even in television, the day and age when it’s not a huge deal that a woman is calling a men’s game, when we’re not saying, ‘Oh, for a woman,’ or, ‘She’s the first woman’ … And (we don’t) have the preface of their gender to let people know why it’s different.
“Where we’re getting there — and I have two boys, two sons — (is) when you think about the next generation and how we continue to showcase strong women and that’s just the norm of whether it’s athleticism, it’s intelligence, it’s the ability to be successful on an equal stage as men. The more that happens, it becomes the norm. That’s what I’m looking for more than anything when we talk about progress and change.”
Question: Did you see a different reaction to your work when you began broadcasting men’s games?
Answer: “When I did softball games, there would be criticism … The difference was, when I started doing men’s sports, it was like the people who were critical stopped hearing me, like they never got to me saying something.
“It was just the fact that I was a female, and that bothered me. Because I would be like, ‘Look, I’m all in if you disagree with something I’m saying, because that means you listened. I just want you to get past the point of my gender, so you can actually listen, and then feel free to have at it. But don’t just hate me because I’m a woman.”‘
Question: Several women have proved themselves in front offices in baseball. How soon until we see a female general manager?
Answer: “I think it could be tomorrow, to be perfectly honest. There’s women like Jean Afterman with the New York Yankees (and) Kim Ng, who was very close and applied to multiple positions. (Ng is currently an executive with MLB.)
“Alex Rodriguez was just at a convention last week, pitching the fact that there should be a female GM. When you look across the board at the general managers, very few played past Little League, so it’s not like that there’s this prerequisite (that) you even had to play baseball at any point. The Theo Epsteins. You think about Jeff Luhnow of the Astros. The best minds in the game are non-baseball guys.”
Question: The NBA and NFL have had female assistant coaches. When will we see one in MLB?
Answer: “I feel like baseball has a ways for that. Justine Siegal is the closest who has come. She coached in fall ball (with the Oakland Athletics). To see and talk and know her …, her thing is that there just needs to be more. To get more people and players comfortable with women, we just need to see more of them, and we’re not there yet.”
Question: What do you want women potentially starting out in sports to take from your journey?
Answer: “Two things. One, my biggest thing is to find what it is about you that makes you different or unique, besides your gender, and not be afraid to stand out. The second thing is not be afraid to get outside your comfort zone.
“You can’t always say and do things and wait until the right moment, when everything is perfectly lined up. As women, I feel like we do that. I just see so many women take the back seat and wait until the right opportunity, and when you do that, you miss out on the best things. When you get outside of that comfort zone, that’s when the magic happens.”
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