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
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
I’ve always enjoyed movies. Since forever, I used to really like going to the movie theater, yet maybe it’s just me, but since the pandemic, it seems like the quality of films has gone down. That’s why, these days, I watch a lot of indie stuff at home. Not too long ago, I checked out this movie called She’s Lost Control; between it and a conversation that I had with a friend of mine, who also works in the mental health field, I was inspired to pen this piece.
There are a few reasons why I thought it was important to tackle this topic. One is because, as a life coach, I think it’s important that people learn about as many avenues as possible that are available to them when it comes to professional support for their overall mental (and emotional) health and well-being. Two, if you hang out on this side of cyberspace on a fairly consistent basis, you know that I talk about sex quite often. And three, lawd, if there is one thing that I think a lot of people have a TOTAL MISCONCEPTION about, it’s sex therapy.
So, if sex therapy is something that you’ve always been curious about and/or you’re wondering if it’s something that could benefit you and/or your partner, I’m going to try and share some facts and also debunk a few myths about it, so that you can gain about more clarity about an ever-evolving form of sex-and-relationship-related treatment.
Let’s Talk About What a Sex Therapist ACTUALLY Does
So, let’s jump right on in. Before getting into the actual “sex” part, it should go on record that, like any other therapist, a sex therapist is someone who is a licensed healthcare provider. The thing that sets them apart is they specialize in the mental and emotional aspects as they directly relate to sex. What does that mean exactly? Well, say, for example, that you’re currently in a sexless marriage and, even though you and your spouse have been seeing a marriage therapist, counselor, or even a marriage counselor, it doesn’t seem like your sex life is improving — that is when a sex therapist might be able to be of assistance to you. That’s because they are specially trained to deal with things like:
- Sexual trauma
- Sexual incompatibility
- Poor sexual communication surrounding sex
- Religious and cultural differences about sex
- Poor body image issues (as they directly relate to your sexuality)
- Sexual anxiety
- Sexual orientation and gender identity
A sex therapist is also trained in how to help you connect any “blocks” that you may have as it relates to how your mental and emotional state may be directly affecting your sexual appetite or even your ability (or inability) to have an orgasm or when it comes to your partner, his ability to get or maintain an erection.
When it comes to that last part, does that mean that sex therapists get sexually involved with their clients in any way? Ah, I’m so glad that you asked.
What People Oftentimes Mistake a Sex Therapist for Is a Sex Surrogate
One day, while I was talking to a friend of mine (the one whom I referred to in the intro), the topic of sex therapy came up. He asked me if I would ever consider becoming a sex life coach since sex is something that I talk about so often/much. When I told him that it was certainly something worth considering, his immediate response was, “How are you gonna do that if you’re abstinent?” Dude what? At first, I didn’t get where he was going with that; then, I realized that he thought a sex therapist and a sex surrogate were the same thing. In fact, he argued me down about it for about 15 minutes (SMDH). I came to realize that a lot of people confuse the two. If you’re one of them, here’s the deal about sexual surrogacy.
Okay, so the movie that I also talked about in the intro? It’s about a woman who was a sex surrogate. Long story short, she ended up getting emotionally caught up in one of her clients, and that caused things to get…strange. And yes, she was someone who slept with those she worked with (at least, some of them).
Why would she do that?
Well, a sex surrogate is someone who works alongside a licensed sex therapist to assist a client with certain types of sex-related issues.
For instance, if the therapist thought that talking wasn’t enough for someone, they might bring a surrogate in to assist in the realm of things like:
- Body mapping (check out “Why 'Vaginal Mapping' Needs To Be Part Of Your Healing Journey”)
- Sex-related mediation (check out “What Exactly Is 'Orgasmic Meditation'?”)
- Senate focusing (which is an intensified form of sexual communication)
- Elevated sex education
- One-way or mutual nudity
- One-way or mutual touching
- Genital-genital contact — which, yes, can involve sex
Typically, what happens is a client will meet with a sex therapist for an hour and then their assigned sex surrogate for 1-2 hours following that session (sometimes the same day or later in the same week). That way, the therapist can help to monitor the progress between the client and the surrogate.
And who does sex surrogacy benefit the most? While there is still quite a bit of research that’s being conducted to thoroughly answer that question, those who are unable to climax, who deal with erectile dysfunction, or those who experience some sort of discomfort during sex (that isn’t health-related), especially if they are sexual trauma survivors, they all tend to top the list.
Now, something else that should go on record is sexual surrogacy is still a pretty controversial form of therapy and is currently considered to be unethical for those who are psychotherapists to practice. However, since a lot of sex surrogates aren’t actually licensed therapists (again, they are people who work with those who are professionals in the field of therapy), that tends to be their “workaround."
Anyway, if sex surrogacy is something that you would be interested in learning even more about or exploring at some point, speak with a sex therapist. If they are reputable, this is a topic that they should be pretty well-versed in.
What You Should Strongly Consider Before Seeing a Sex Therapist
Now that, hopefully, you know the very clear differences between a sex therapist and a sex surrogate, if a sex therapist is something that you would like to invest in, you might be wondering if there are any additional things that you should know before actually booking an appointment.
I’ll say this — as a marriage life coach, sex comes up quite a bit in my sessions. If you’re someone who is shy around the topic of sex, although a sex therapist is trained in how to make you feel more comfortable, you should know upfront that you’re going to have to be prepared to be very open when it comes to things like your childhood; first sexual experience; any sex-related trauma that may have transpired; some of your deepest/hidden sexual thoughts; your sex partners (both past and present); your sex habits, and sex-related goals.
Yep, they are gonna be all up in your business, so if that’s not something that you’re even the least bit cool with, it’s probably best that you go with a relationship therapist/counselor/life coach — at least initially, to see if your issues can be resolved in that type of setting or so they can “ease you into” seeing a sex therapist.
It's also important to keep in mind that you don’t have to be in a relationship to see a sex therapist — they are equipped to work with you by yourself or with your partner (or both at some point). And if you’re wondering if something “deep” or “super complex” has to be happening for you to see a sex therapist, absolutely not. The main thing to keep in mind is if you want to see someone who deals in the realms of all things sex, a sex therapist is what you’re looking for.
So, how do you go about finding a sex therapist? Good question. If you are already in relationship-related counseling, your therapist/counselor/life coach may be able to refer you. Or you can check out the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) database.
At the end of the day, sex therapy is like any other form of therapy — you’re just honing in on your sex life. That’s it.
I hope you can breathe easy now. Oh, and please spread the word.
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Featured image by Tim Macpherson/Getty Images