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
Kiah McBride writes technical content by day and uses storytelling to pen real and raw personal development pieces on her blog Write On Kiah. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @writeonkiah.
This New Scalp Care Line Is Exactly What Your Wash Days Need
This post is in partnership with SheaMoisture.
When it comes to healthy hair care, there are a few things that will help you achieve healthy strands: a healthy hair care regime, hydration, consistent treatments, and scalp care. While scalp care is one of the most neglected practices, it is also one of the most important. Why? Because it helps promote healthy hair growth, clear hair follicles, and remove build-up.
When it comes to creating a healthy scalp routine, it helps to know exactly what you’re up against so you know how to specifically treat it. Two of the most common concerns are dandruff and dry scalp. It can be tough to decipher which is which, but here’s a quick breakdown: dry scalp is caused by a lack of moisture in the skin, while dandruff is caused by an excess of oil and yeast buildup on the scalp. Knowing that both of these are big concerns, SheaMoisture released two separate product lines to address both issues: the Scalp Moisture collection and the Anti-Dandruff collection.
Needless to say, if you tend to experience dandruff then I’d recommend you try the Anti-Dandruff collection. However, my biggest concern has always been dry scalp. A lack of moisture on the scalp can be caused by several factors like weather, age, and hair products to name a few. I’ve noticed that when I use certain gels or skip out on a deep scalp cleanse, my roots feel itchy and dry nonstop, which is uncomfortable.
The only way to relieve the discomfort is to properly wash and moisturize my roots, so I tried the Scalp Moisture collection and this is what I thought.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
First, What’s In The Collection?
The Scalp Moisture collection is a four-product line that includes a pre-wash masque, a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, and a moisturizing scalp cream. Each product uses moisturizing and strengthening ingredients like aloe butter and vitamin B3 as active ingredients to provide eight times the moisture. Together, aloe butter and vitamin B3 work to restore dry and brittle hair, as well as add relief to the scalp.
Now, let’s break down each product…
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Pre-Wash Masque
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Pre-Wash Masque may actually be the all-star of the collection. Using this deep conditioning masque is one of the best ways to target your dry scalp, restore hydration, and nourish your strands before shampooing.
I started by completely saturating my hair and scalp with water, then making small sections to apply the masque directly to the root. For my girls who have experience with relaxers and perms, it helps to apply the masque to your roots just like you would do with a relaxer. This way you can make sure you’ve covered as much of your scalp as possible while minimizing any breakage.
Pro tip: you can also use a color application brush to make this step easier.
After I completely covered my scalp, I massaged the product into my roots, used any excess on my strands, then left the masque in for 30 minutes. I was shocked by how moisturizing and clarifying my scalp and hair felt. One of the things that I love about the masque is the slip and how much softer it made my hair. While this is marketed as a scalp care product, it can completely transform your hair from dry and parched to completely hydrated.
In my opinion, the downside of this masque is that the quantity is too small for my liking. Truth be told, naturals go through deep conditioners faster than any other product (especially when it’s this good.) So SheaMoisture, if you’re reading this, we’d love a bigger jar.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Shampoo
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Shampoo is a gentle cleanser packed with the same moisture as the masque. The pearl-colored shampoo is lightweight with a serum-like consistency and a light and clean scent. The smell is pleasant, subtle, and not overbearing. When I applied the shampoo, I noticed immediately that it foams and lathers up very quickly, so less is more.
After applying the shampoo, I parted my hair and started at the roots to target as much of my scalp as possible. I recommend really taking the time to work the product and massage your scalp as much as possible.
Pro tip: using a scalp massager makes it easier and it feels amazing.
Once you start to massage your hair you’ll feel the product start to work. There’s a tingling sensation that might catch you off guard if you’re not used to it, but it’s not nearly as strong as other scalp products I’ve tried. I know some may not appreciate the sensation, but I loved it! My scalp felt clean, light, and breathable.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Conditioner
Like the shampoo, the SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Conditioner shares that pearly color and serum-like feel. It applies very easily while softening and moisturizing your hair. When I applied it to my hand, it gave my hands a lotion-like feel, which speaks volumes about its hydration capabilities. I also loved that the conditioner comes with a pump, instead of having to squeeze the product out – to me, it makes application easier.
I typically apply my conditioner to the ends first but because this is a scalp care product I started at the root and worked my way down to my ends. I did leave the conditioner in for ten minutes, although the bottle recommends leaving it in for three. The conditioner also provides that same breathable feel to your scalp. I honestly loved the relief.
Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Scalp Moisture Cream
The SheaMoisture Scalp Moisture Cream is more of a daily relief product for your roots rather than your overall hair. It’s great for providing moisture and immediate relief to a dry and itchy scalp. Just like most of the collection, it gives a light and breathable feel – without the tingle. The applicator bottle targets specific parts of your scalp and makes applying easier.
Pro tip: I typically just squeeze the bottle to wherever I need the relief and use the tip to massage it into my scalp so it doesn’t mess up the hairstyle.
Overall, SheaMoisture’s scalp care line lives up to its claims – it moisturizes, strengthens, and provides immediate scalp relief. I definitely recommend trying the Scalp Moisture collection for an affordable way to treat itchy and dry scalp.
Featured image by Krissy Lewis for xoNecole
Chilli's Reason For Severing All Ties With Usher In 2019 Is A Lesson We All Can Learn
Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas, a member of the iconic girl group TLC, exemplifies the importance of cutting all ties with an ex in order to find true love as she shares valuable insights about her past relationship with R&B singer Usher.
For context, the pair dated for three years, from 2001 to 2004, despite meeting nearly a decade before when Usher joined LaFace Records, the same label Chilli and her group were signed to. During that period, Usher and Chilli's union was widely admired by fans because of the couple's attractiveness and chemistry, which was shown in various music videos.
In 2004, following their split, limited details about why Usher and Chilli broke up were released to the public. But as the years progressed, social media users developed their own assumptions because, coincidently, around the time Usher and Chilli went their separate ways, he had released his hit album Confessions, and the lead single with the same name talks about a man admitting to possibly fathering a child outside of his relationship.
Due to conflicting reports from past interviews and Usher's song, many believed that infidelity on the "Yeah" singer's part could have led to the demise of his union with Chilli. In a recent interview with People magazine, Chilli --who is currently dating actor Matthew Lawrence-- opened up about her ex, how their relationship didn't necessarily end in 2004 despite it being announced to the public, and why she officially severed ties with him in 2019.
Chilli (L) and Usher (R)
Photo by KMazur/WireImage
Chilli On Her Past Relationship With Usher
During the discussion that took place earlier this month, the 52-year-old revealed that she and Usher were initially attracted to each other because of their intense chemistry.
But over the years, as their union evolved, Chilli realized that the pair was "different" and that the initial chemistry they once shared only occurred when they were working.
"We definitely had some chemistry. But working chemistry does not mean it works in your personal life. If we were working, it was great. But outside of that, we're so different," she said.
Chilli would add that even though her relationship with Usher looked great to the public, it didn't work the first time around because the "Burn" vocalist failed to meet certain requirements.
"It looked great, but in real life ... he knew he had to be a certain way with me, and he couldn't," she continued.
Chilli also disclosed that Usher's album Confessions wasn't about her and that their split in 2004 was due to opposing values and trust issues.
Still, Usher and Chilli would rekindle their union privately on and off for years when they weren't exclusively seeing other people. The "Unpretty" songstress explained the reason behind it was because they couldn't "get over" each other.
"I love hard. I was like, 'God, why can't I get over this?' He couldn't either," she stated.
Chilli On Why She Cut Contact With Usher In 2019
But all that would change in 2019 when Chilli, guided by her faith, cut off all contact with Usher because she wanted to "focus on" herself.
In addition to no longer speaking to the "Glu" singer, the mother of one decided not to date temporarily because she didn't want her past relationship with Usher to ruin her chances with a potential suitor.
"I even stopped dating. Because before that I thought if I met the right guy during that time that I wasn't over [Usher] it wouldn't work. I would never want to straddle the fence, " she said.
Toward the end of the conversation, Chilli shares that she had "no hard feelings" against Usher, who is now with Jenn Goicoechea, a senior vice president of A&R and Epic Records.
Chilli's recent admission about Usher and having to cut ties with an ex to find her significant other could motivate others to follow the same steps or at least re-evaluate the situation.
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Feature image by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images