She Got Game: ESPN’s Maria Taylor Is Changing The Face Of Sports Broadcasting

"That's the power of being a woman."


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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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