Growing up, Maria Taylor never imagined that she'd be a host for college and professional sports shows. Not because she lacked the desire to, but because with the exception of ESPN sports journalist Lisa Salters, brown-skinned girls weren't the faces flashed on television screens during game days. They were analysts or players, not hosts or commentators, so when the former University of Georgia basketball and All-SEC volleyball player picked her path, she primed herself for a long career climbing the ladder in women's athletics.
"I just figured that I didn't fit the aesthetic and I never even thought that that was an option," she says. "It never crossed my mind until I got my first job in college football."
Call it fate or call it divine purpose, Taylor soon found herself going from a reporter and host for IMG College at the University of Georgia to a host of traveling pregame show SEC Nation and ESPN's first African-American woman host on pregame show College GameDay. In addition, she's served as a reporter for college football and basketball, a host for the NCAA Women's Final Four, and more recently added the co-host of NBA Countdown to her roster. But while she's collecting her trophies, she's still facing challenges along the way as she breaks down barriers of the boys' club and paves the way for black girls aspiring to follow in her footsteps. She's the representation that matters, and a voice that's needed.
Proof that the unimaginable is possible, we chatted with the sports broadcasting pioneer about her journey from student-athlete to being watched by millions of sports fanatics every week, overcoming feelings of not belonging in a male-dominated industry, and why she's motivated to stay on top of her game as a black woman in sports.
*Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
xoNecole: What did your parents teach you about being a black woman, and how did that shape how you moved throughout the rest of your career?
Maria Taylor: My dad faced a lot of adversity at work and he understood what it was like to go through feeling like there was a job you should have received, but there might've been some unrelated circumstances holding him back. But as far as my mom was concerned, she always held down a full-time job and took care of all of us. They're still married to this day. She worked full-time as the CFO for the Paper Institute of Technology, which was affiliated with Georgia Tech. So I knew and watched what a strong black woman looks like.
My grandmother, too, played a big role in raising us because she lived in Atlanta and owned a dump truck business. Although she couldn't go to the University of Georgia because at the time they weren't accepting black students, she still found a way to get her associate's degree; she still found a way to own her own business. I've always been taught that what's not going to be an excuse is your gender or your race because I come from this strong lineage of black women that have always done it by themselves. So, it's never been an excuse for me.
Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images
"I've always been taught that what's not going to be an excuse is your gender or your race because I come from this strong lineage of black women that have always done it by themselves. So, it's never been an excuse for me."
xoNecole: At what point did you realize that you could take your sports broadcasting career to the next level?
Maria Taylor: I worked at Comcast Sports South, and the very first game I did was a Vanderbilt game. They had a black coach at the time— his name was James Franklin. I think there was a reason why that was the very first game that I worked on. One, because it's Vanderbilt football and so we always got the game that not as many people cared about. But he just made me feel so welcomed and my crew was great that first year. And I was like, "Oh, I can totally do this."
I also realized that I had this unique advantage of being around a team where most of the majority of the team are African-Americans. They look at me as a sister or a cousin or an auntie, so there's a different kinship and bond that I can have with them when I'm asking them questions and trying to make them feel comfortable. And I do feel like it's a bit of my responsibility to be a "strong black woman" that shows up in their space, because if you go to division one or FBS schools, there's just not a lot of that around period. No one's really hired in those roles. Obviously their coaches aren't going to be black women. It's cool that I get to pop in every now and then and be a representation of them when I can.
xoNecole: When you're walking into these [male-dominated] rooms, are there things that you have to keep in mind being both a woman and a black woman?
Maria Taylor: I don't voice concerns in the same way that maybe one of my counterparts could because, and this might be women in general, but it would be seen as negative or derogatory or having an attitude. So, I have come at it from a different respect, you know what I mean? I have to come up with, "OK, this is why I would like to be treated this way or this is why I would like to work on this or have you thought about that?" These are conversations I've had time and time again.
And I always tell people, sometimes it's just about being recognized because I always think that being a black woman in this world is like you have an invisible struggle; like you're barely seen. Yeah, you're a woman, but you're black, that's different. So race doesn't recognize it. Gender doesn't fully recognize it because you're a black woman. So, who's really fighting your fight? And it's just us, you know. But sometimes it's just the recognition of someone coming up to you and being like, "Hey, I recognize this can't always be easy for you or that this could possibly be draining for you. And I see that and I recognize it and just keep going."
Allen Kee / ESPN Images
"Being a black woman in this world is like you have an invisible struggle; like you're barely seen. Yeah, you're a woman, but you're black, that's different. So race doesn't recognize it. Gender doesn't fully recognize it because you're a black woman. So, who's really fighting your fight? And it's just us."
xoNecole: Do you have a sister circle that you kind of keep around you, whether they're other black women in your industry or friends from different backgrounds?
Maria Taylor: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Taylor Rooks, she is an amazing talent. I feel like Carrie Champion is someone who I've always loved and adored. Amina Hussein, she actually is my coordinating producer on NBA Countdown. I've worked with one other black female producer and this is the first coordinating producer I've ever worked with, so it means a lot to be working one-on-one with someone on a project that has power. Every now and then, when you find that person, you just latch onto them. And I will say that at every step of the way I've had someone that I've been able to work with or just have a common bond with.
And then Robin Roberts has been kind of like my go-to person. Every single time I have to make a big decision, "Let me call her and see if she thinks this is right," or "Should I make a big deal about this?" Or, "What direction do you think would be the best direction?" You know, that type of thing.
xoNecole: Speaking of Robin Roberts, you've mentioned that she's one of your role models. Was there any specific advice that she gave you that inspired your journey?
Maria Taylor: One of the things that really stuck with me is that she said no matter what job or direction you decide to go, every day that you show up for work, you need to act as though there's no place in the world you'd rather be and that this is the only job you could see yourself having. When people walk in the room, they should feel better after having spoken to you. And she just reminded me that our world is so small, that if you upset one person, it could come back to bite you in 10 years and you won't even know it happened.
She also said you're going to see some things that won't sit well with you and you're going to see that it takes you a little bit longer to run your race, but you can't get frustrated or get down about it because it will pay off in the long run. And I think part of that is just speaking to the struggle that women have, the struggle a Black woman might have, that there's going to be more hurdles in your race and it's going to be longer, but do you have the diligence or do you have the persistence and the endurance to make it through?
Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images
"Every day that you show up for work, you need to act as though there's no place in the world you'd rather be and that this is the only job you could see yourself having. When people walk in the room, they should feel better after having spoken to you."
xoNecole: Recently Gabrielle Union was in the news for her hair being “too Black” for ‘America's Got Talent’. Being in the industry you're in, do you feel a pressure to conform or wear your hair a certain way?
Maria Taylor: The question for me always is, do I want to be that change or am I being enough of a change? No one else has to ask themselves this question, you know what I mean? No one else's hair is a statement on all of society, but my hair is. If I choose to change my hair, it's going to be a story on E!. That's something that I have to internally battle. It's something where maybe if I have a daughter and I see her hair and I want her to know that she's beautiful just the way she is, then I may just start wearing my hair out. And so those are all the things that I'm constantly thinking of.
But I do think financially that would have some implications, and I don't know that every single sponsor or every single show that I've been put on will see the same cause. I used to always say that at the end of the day I'm a product of my target market. In college football, it might be a 50-year-old white man. Keeping that in mind, if I'm a product being sold to that target market, then I have to go with what their tastes would align with. It's small decisions we make all the time.
xoNecole: What are some lessons you've learned from sports that translate into other areas of your life?
Maria Taylor: Shoot, everything. I've learned the whole practice makes perfect thing. Not only that, but attention to detail could change everything for you. Because there are people that have all of the natural talent in the world and they never turned it into anything. And there's a reason for that. Also the fact that your talent can only take you so far, height can only take you so far, beauty can only take you so far. People who have sustained success are the ones who are students of any game. So, whether that's researching every day how to make your shot better or rehabbing or staying ahead of the curve on what helps your body.
And then just juggling a bunch of different things. As an athlete, when I played volleyball and basketball at [University of] Georgia, there was never time. Being productive was a big part of being successful, so it taught me how to be productive under stressful situations. It teaches you how to lower your heart rate, know how to handle stress, and to know how to channel it into something different.
Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images
"Height can only take you so far, beauty can only take you so far. People who have sustained success are the ones who are students of any game. So, whether that's researching every day how to make your shot better or rehabbing or staying ahead of the curve on what helps your body. And then just juggling a bunch of different things."
xoNecole: So for young women coming into the sports broadcasting industry, where would you say they should start? And what attributes should they start working on now?
Maria Taylor: The biggest thing is being comfortable on camera. How can you be yourself on camera? Are you comfortable enough in your own skin that you can just show up and talk and no one thinks, "They're trying to be somebody else," or 'They don't know what they're talking about"? Because at the end of the day, the audience has to kind of like you. So, are you likable on camera? And then just being knowledgeable. I'm constantly listening to podcasts and reading articles, and it's the only way that you could bounce from college football to the NBA. You have to be genuinely interested in your subject matter.
So those are kind of the two biggest things. I get a lot of resume tapes and I love to watch them, but it's someone who just seems so natural on camera. It's almost like, oh they belong there versus someone who's almost forcing it. I don't know if it's a natural thing or it's something that can be worked on, but you can see the difference.
xoNecole: Were you always comfortable in your own skin or was that something you had to grow into?
Maria Taylor: It took time to grow into, but I think sports is the reason why I am. Being a 6'2'' black girl in the suburbs, there's nothing comfortable about your skin in that you know there's nothing in common but your hair. But I found my comfort. And at the end of the day, they can call me the Jolly Green Giant, but this is who I am. So I think sports is what made me comfortable in my own skin, and then it started to translate on camera. Without that I'm probably still like a nervous 13-year-old in high water pants and big boots. [The Netflix movie Tall Girl] was me in real life. Literally, my friends came up to my elbows and I was huge.
xoNecole: One thing I love is that you keep your style more feminine. Is that a purposeful decision?
Maria Taylor: Sometimes I wake up and I'm like, 'I want to be a super biker chick.' And so usually when I'm doing football, I want a leather jacket and leather pants, and I want boots and no one [to] talk to me. You know what I mean? I just want to [have] that kind of strong persona. And then sometimes I'm like, 'You know what, I'm in the studio today and I want a bright yellow dress and I just want to look like sunshine.' And I do think that's the power of being a woman. We get to choose which costume we want to put on and which persona we want to fill up a room with. So if one day I want to be really, you know, a turtleneck and a jacket, then I'll be that. The next day if I want to wear a dress with sneakers, then I'll do that. And if the next day I want to put on heels, then I'll do that too.
Allen Kee / ESPN Images
"I do think that's the power of being a woman. We get to choose which costume we want to put on and which persona we want to fill up a room with."
xoNecole: So what's like your go-to Bible verse when you're like encountering life's challenges?
Maria Taylor: Oh, there's so many. What I tend to do is pray to God that He gives me some kind of strength. Like at the end of the day I want wisdom and I need strength because there are so many times when I'm confused about how I should react to someone or what I should say at this moment. But every single time that I pray for strength or wisdom, I get exactly what I need from it.
xoNecole: Between ‘NBA Countdown’, ‘College GameDay’, and more, you’ve got a lot on your plate! What do you do to get yourself back in the right mental and emotional space?
Maria Taylor: It's hard because the job is so time-consuming. Just the other day I was close to breakdown mode where I'm just like, 'I can't do anything. I don't want to get on a plane, blah, blah, blah.' And then my husband was just like, "Just go home." And so that's what I did. I just stopped for 24 hours and waited until the next event, trying not to over-pack myself. Sometimes you think about these 19 things you've got to get crossed off the list, but realize that you don't; it doesn't have to be done in that order.
xoNecole: At one point when you were engaged you realized that while your fiancé was a good guy, he wasn't the one God had for you. In our society there's this whole push for being married by a certain age, and people sometimes settle in their relationships for that reason. How did you get the courage to walk away from a situation that wasn’t serving you?
Maria Taylor: I knew probably when we got engaged that neither of us was ready to be engaged and that he definitely wasn't ready to be a husband. And it was almost a come-to-Jesus moment where I called the pastor that we were doing our couples therapy with and I was like, "I just can't do it. I don't think I want to do it." And he literally told me, "I've actually been praying that you would come to this decision because I knew, but God had to tell you." And so I had all the peace in the world having that conversation with him about it. But I think it's just recognizing that it's OK to be alone. Like that's just totally fine.
Courtesy of The Knot
And the greatest twist to that story is now we are married. We separated for two years, didn't talk at all, and then started talking again February of last year right around Super Bowl. All the changes and whatever growth that was supposed to happen happened, and we got married in May.
Congrats to the happy couple!
You can catch Maria Taylor on this season of NBA Countdown.
Featured image by Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images
How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
I’m willing to bet that this is not the first time you’ve seen this couple. Dalen Spratt is a television producer, owner of a tailored men's suit line, and creator of Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests, which is currently streaming on Destination America. Stacey Spratt is also a serial entrepreneur, focusing mostly on events and the nonprofit world, and she is the owner of two award-winning craft beer bars called Harlem Hops. But their accolades are not what united them.
The couple met years ago at their alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, when they were still working to create the life they have now, and if you had told them then that they’d eventually tie the knot, the pair probably would’ve laughed in your face.
Today, they’re new parents, flourishing in their careers, and each others’ “teammates.” When desiring love, Dalen recommends not looking to other couples for advice. And Stacey advises staying true to what you want. “Don’t put age or limitations on love and children. If God could do it for me, why can’t he do it for you?”
Here's How We Met.
How did you meet?
Dalen: We met in 2005 when she was advising the Greek sororities and fraternities in college. She was old as hell in college, and I was a young buck (laughs). Everybody had a crush on her, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, in 2007, we were in the same grad school class, but she still wasn’t trying to see me then either. I had to catch her five years ago; I was very patient.
Stacey: Yeah, everybody in our grad school class called him Young, Fresh to Death because he was always dressed in B-school (what CAU affectionately refers to as business major classes), and we’d just wear sweatpants (laughs).
So, I know Dalen was always attracted to you. But what about you? Did your attraction to him develop over time?
Stacey: So 2006-2008 – all the years went by. I don’t think we were really thinking about each other at all back then. Years later, I had an event in Dallas, and I booked him to be a speaker. Then, a few years ago, Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: "If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you." But I still thought he was too young at the time, and he started pulling receipts. Taraji P. Henson was dating someone young at the time, Gabrielle Union–
Dalen: First of all, I didn’t do that. You did that.
Stacey: Okay, I did. I thought he was a cutie pie, but that age thing was on my mind!
"Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: 'If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you.'"
Talk to me about the first date. How did he change your mind?
Stacey: Our first date was at Tin Lizzy's in Atlanta. During that time, he was living in Dallas, so it was long-distance. But he came into town, and we just had a good time. We talked a lot, which we still do. It wasn’t anything fantastic.
Dalen: Don’t downplay our first date.
Then, walk me through your courtship. How did you get to the next level? What was that conversation like?
Stacey: I think he knew at age 43 or 44 I wasn’t playing around. But also, I think it just naturally progressed.
Dalen: Yeah, it just happened naturally. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think initially either one of us thought it would be as serious as it was. She thought I was too young and I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and all that. I think we both thought we were just hanging out. But after spending so much time together, a lot of stuff started happening. Like, she had to have surgery early on. It wasn’t just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That’s why we still don’t have an anniversary date because we never really asked.
"It wasn't just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That's why we still don't have an anniversary date because we never really asked."
What made you want to commit to each other?
Dalen: The moment I knew Stacey was for me was from a phone call. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I can be really blunt sometimes. But we were talking, and I said, ‘I don’t really feel like talking anymore.’ And she was just like, okay, and hung up. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and she understood that. It sounds bad, but that’s how I knew she just got me. I felt like she could get my random awkward moments, and she does to this day.
Stacey: For me, I liked him as a person. Even when times get rough and tough, I could still like him as a human. He is my best friend. We have time. We laugh until we cry, and it’s just always like that. Even when we get pissed at each other, something happens, and we fix it. Also, how he treats his mother. That’s a momma’s boy, but I’m a daddy’s girl – so I get it. I know how I want to be treated, and I see how he is with her and that’s beautiful.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through loving your partner in this relationship?
Dalen: I grew up an only child and she grew up with siblings. So, when you have someone who is used to doing things by themselves, there is definitely a learning curve when you get into a serious relationship. It’s funny now, but it was definitely a process.
Stacey: I agree – definitely the only child thing. There’s times I look at him like, did you ever live with anyone else? That comes from being momma's baby, too. I have to say, my “mother-in-love” spoiled him. But also with Axel (their daughter), that brings another level of patience.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Dalen: We’ve gone through a lot within the years we’ve been together. We suffered two miscarriages – I’d say that’s the biggest.
Stacey: Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me. I was wondering if I can’t carry [a child] what that looks like for us. We had very real conversations pretty early in our relationship.
"Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me."
What do you fight the most about?
Dalen: Nagging. Stacey nags; she’s a complainer. She’s that momma that will look in a room and just hunt for something to complain about. Like, I’m worried for Axel when she's in high school.
Stacey: It’s because I like things to be in place. He leaves stuff all over the place. I can tell where he’s been in the house because something is left around. So he says I’m nagging – but it’s like, just get your stuff.
What are your love languages?
Dalen: Stacey is gifts all day.
Dalen: We’ve talked about this. xoNecole is about to cause problems in our home (laughs).
Stacey: Obviously I love you. *thinks again* It’s words of affirmation.
Dalen: That’s it.
What’s your favorite thing about each other?
Dalen: I’ve always respected her business-mindedness. That may sound superficial, but it’s not because I’ve never been with someone who thinks like me. It’s one of my most treasured things about her. I remember one day, I was just running through ideas with her, and each time Stacey had a suggestion on how I could make it better. It’s just very comforting. She takes whatever I’m doing and elevates it – including me.
Stacey: I love Dalen’s hustle and creativity. He’s been on multiple shows, and he continues to create, produce, and reinvent himself and the product he’s putting out. I love that we can create together and bounce things off each other. Even though we may be in different arenas, there’s nothing he can’t offer me great advice about. I love that drive.
Finally, how did you know it was love?
Dalen: Well – she said it – first. (laughs)
Stacey: And he looked at me and smiled! He didn’t say it back. We were on a trip, out of the country.
Dalen: We were arguing when she said it, and she just threw it out.
Stacey: But we continue to do that. We’ve spent holidays and everything outside of the country.
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Nothing beats the “Sunday Scaries” quite like a Sunday reset tailored to your needs. While the weekend never quite feels long enough to recoup from all of life's demands and responsibilities, making the most of the 48 hours we have to gear up for the week ahead is a self-care practice that every woman can benefit from.
How To Do a Sunday Reset Routine
The beauty of a Sunday reset is that it’s something you can define for yourself. On a personal level, only we know the tasks, projects, workload, and duties that demanded our attention during the week prior, so how we choose to recharge may look different for everyone. Some may feel the need to tackle weekend chores or run a few errands, while others could find that an hours-long binging spree of their favorite TV show or simply doing nothing, can do the heart some good.
Resetting your time, space, and mind over the weekend is all about listening to your body and honoring your needs. When you pause and reflect on what will make you feel the most productive, you gradually discover what a successful Sunday reset looks and feels like for you. By taking some time to plan and reflect, you allow yourself to approach the new week from a place of ease.
How To Build the Best Sunday Reset Routine
But what kind of reset could be right for you? Let’s consider the following: are there things you could scratch off your to-do list to put your mind at ease? Did this week drain you and now you need to catch up on rest? Are you looking to get ahead of a demanding week? If you’ve found yourself agreeing with at least one of these scenarios, we’ve put together a couple of tips to inspire your next Sunday reset routine needs.
The Sunday reset routine for the woman who thrives on productivity:
Hey goal-getter! For you, a typical Sunday reset looks like planning and execution. The weekend is a chance for you to catch up on all the chores and tasks that your hectic weekday schedule didn’t allow for. When planning your Sunday reset, to-do lists are your best friend. Lean on your list to stay organized and keep track of the stores you need to visit, meals to prep, and house chores to tidy up in order for you to feel like your most accomplished and productive self.
Be sure to give yourself some grace if you don’t hit everything on your list, and be sure to reward yourself for what you were able to carry out — because either way, you deserve it.
The Sunday reset routine for the woman who needs some TLC:
David Espejo/Getty Images
Self-care queens, we see you. And we know that your Sundays are sacred. You are intentional about your Sunday resets because you know that you can’t pour from an empty cup. In your case, resets are all about taking time to reflect and set your intentions for the week ahead — which can show up in many forms. From journaling and reading a new book to taking a long walk and ordering in your favorite meal, you don’t play when it comes to the power of self-nourishment.
Take a few minutes to look back on the previous week and reflect on what went well and what didn't. Think about what you accomplished, what you could have done better, and what you learned so you can approach the week with a clear mind and heart.
The Sunday reset routine for the woman who desires to do absolutely nothing:
I know you’re used to high-achieving and tackling your goals, but let me tell you something: rest is productive. You’ve spent the last five days hustling, killing your projects, and showing up for the people in your life, but now it’s time to take a moment to simply be. No to-do lists, no errands to run, no socializing — you deserve time to zone out and reconnect with yourself in solitude.
Sleep in. Watch scandalous reality TV. Get lost in your thoughts. You’re not lazy for spending time alone and letting the laundry pile up; we know you’ll get to that later. This Sunday reset is about taking time to center yourself in the present moment, you’ll be back on the grind on Monday, but Sunday is all about you.
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Featured image by Delmaine Donson/Getty Images
Originally published on March 4, 2023