For a female who didn’t study broadcasting in college – Political Science, instead – to launch into the spotlight as one of the most notable and recognizable figures in the sports broadcasting industry, Sam Ponder is a very special woman.
In a chat sponsored by Xyience Energy drinks last week, Ponder conversed with a handful of reporters through Google Chat in a new-aged press conference style format. We were able to type in questions, and Ponder would answer them and interact with us – even though she couldn’t see our faces.
She answered everything from her thoughts on Greg Hardy and the College Football Playoff to the craziest places she has changed her daughter Scout’s diaper, all while not skipping a beat and lacing her answers with “family-first” values. That’s what has made Ponder so likable. She has a dream career, an NFL quarterback husband and all she is concerned about is being a good mom.
My question to the ESPN College GameDay staple was about her rise to network prominence and how she was able to do it. Ponder said she has always been interested in broadcasting since her days of elementary school.
“I realized in the third grade that I wasn’t good enough in sports to ever play professionally,” Ponder said while laughingly recounting a story of how she wasn’t the fastest girl in her elementary school class.
She got a taste of being on-air in her college days at Liberty University and worked her way through internships and small exposures to finding a place on ESPN’s Longhorn Network. All of those stops led to College GameDay. Ponder is a reporter for the show that airs Saturday mornings during the college football and basketball seasons. She has also appeared as a sideline reporter for the network’s primetime broadcasts.
ESPN and Ponder have been the perfect match. It’s where she met her husband. It’s the company that allowed her to travel with her newborn. And it’s the place that let her cut back when Ponder decided raising her daughter needed to come first.
“Before I had Scout I was working insane hours and on the road five days a week,” Ponder added. “But, when I had Scout I decided and I was fortunate to make this decision financially that I was going to cut back and not do as much.
“So, now I am only on two flights a week which has just been incredible to spend that time with her at home,” Ponder continued. “At the end of every day I thought to myself what do I want to be doing? Yes, I want to part of this industry and sports broadcasting, but more than anything else I just want to be a great mom. I want to be the best mom I can be.”
Of course, one of the most popular questions to Ponder was about her role as a female in a male-dominated industry – a question that has been asked of her, probably, hundreds of times. And the indelible Ponder had a perfectly poignant answer.
“I would just say this. Yes, we face different challenges and there are going to be ignorant people that say ignorant things. But knowing the men I have known that have gone through this industry, it doesn’t matter what industry or whether you are a male or female, you are going to face adversity. It is going to happen. I don’t mean to scare you, but that is just life. In terms of having lofty career goals, I would just say first that if you think any job or title or amount of fame is going to satisfy your goal and make you feel like you have arrived and you can hang it up, you are sorely mistaken because you get to the top and there is nowhere to look but back down.”
She then offered advice her father gave her on her rise to network fame. “Always ask yourself ‘then what?’”
Ponder said she will return to a bigger role with ESPN when Scout begins going to school, but for right now she is putting her family first. Once again proving that she is not only a champion in a male-dominated industry, but a selfless, loving mother in a female-dominated industry, too.
Shannon Shepherd is a graduate of Broad Run High School and is now a sports reporter at News Channel 9 WSYR in Syracuse, N.Y. Follow Shannon on Twitter @shannshep.