Right now it may be difficult to avoid thinking about how racism and sexism continue to permeate American society. But in the midst of political and social upheaval, it’s so very important that we also focus our energy on women and people of color who are winning in spite of powers hell-bent of their suppression. So today we bring you the story of and interview with LaChina Robinson. LaChina is a former standout Wake Forest basketball player. After a successful career in college basketball, LaChina transitioned into sports broadcasting. With a laser focus on expanding the coverage of and respect for women’s basketball, LaChina has firmly cemented herself as a force to be reckoned with. She is a reporter and analyst for NCAA and WNBA basketball with the ESPN family, FOX Sports and NBA TV; and she hosts espnW’s “Around the Rim” podcast. Beyond talk of women’s basketball, LaChina is a woman of substance. As she grows her brand she is careful to offer a helping hand to those who come after her and quick to credit her success to a higher power. Meet LaChina Robinson.
Thanks for being with us LaChina. Can you tell us about your journey from college athlete to successful sports broadcaster?
You know, my journey from college athletics to my professional career is actually what inspired me to start my company, Stretch Beyond, in 2008. When I graduated I realized that I was not as prepared as I would have liked to be in three specific areas: career, community and character development. So the work I do with my company is centered on those three things. But during my transition I learned a lot. As a student-athlete you learn how to communicate, set goals and manage time; and all of those things help you in the real world, but there were still a lot of lessons to be learned about personal branding and professionalism. I was very fortunate to have played a sport and to have some of those intangibles to translate, but I still had a lot of growing to do in terms of learning how to be a professional.
So what advice do you have for current student-athletes who find themselves in that same position: preparing for life after college sports?
First, I would say, don’t take for granted the support system you have around you. As a student-athlete you have more people invested in your success than you ever will. You have professors, coaches and academic advisors; lean heavily on those people for advice and build positive relationships with them so that you have a good reputation with them.
Second, I would tell my young self to start my own company, LaChinaRobinson.com, in college. It’s not a real company, but it represents my brand. I would tell myself to start defining my values and my brand, identify my strengths, take better advantage of networking opportunities and get involved in non-athletic experiences on campus. I would challenge myself to build my company and start thinking about life after the game sooner than I did.
Well even you found some deficiencies with your preparation, you’ve obviously made up for that. You have established a great career in sports. How has your faith impacted that?
It has impacted it in a major way. As I transitioned into television it was a field that I never had interest in, but I was going through a very challenging time in my life. I was trying to find myself. I was discouraged and depressed. It was during this time that my faith grew stronger than ever. I really felt like it was God who picked me up during this challenging time. Through the process, He revealed some things about me that I did not know. He showed me some of my strengths and His purpose for me. It was while I was in the trenches, in this difficult time that God got me into a field that I didn’t major in and never saw myself getting into. So at the end of the day I can say that the doors that have been opened for me, my journey into broadcasting, would not have been possible without my faith and all he showed me along the way.
That’s a beautiful testimony. Now that you’re deep in the game, what’s the biggest that you face as a woman in the industry?
I think that the choice I’ve made to cover women’s sports has made my job a constant fight. I have to go into rooms where the overall passion is not women’s basketball. So I have to challenge people to raise their level of expectation and to treat women’s sports the way they deserve to be treated. That’s the constant battle; the fight for equality.
Through that fight for equality what impact do you hope to have?
I would like to inspire more people to want to cover and watch women’s basketball; to treat it like a big deal because it is a big deal. When I first got into covering women’s basketball, a lot of people I worked with would say, “Oh no, we have to cover a women’s basketball game.” I want to change that way of thinking. I want people to be excited to cover the game, to fall in love with the players and coaches at the collegiate and professional levels the way I have; to want to close the gap in coverage between women’s and men’s sports.
Pat Summitt did that for me. Watching her break down barriers in basketball and sports as a coach and athlete was incredible. Watching her made me want to cover women’s basketball. She had this captivating way of making the sport seem like the most important thing in the world. I watched her and said, I want to do that; raise the value we place on the sport, to show people what a great sport women’s basketball is and share the impact its had on my life.
There are a lot of young women who want to do just that. What advice do you have for them?
As far as sports broadcasting goes, I would say, start getting on-camera experience as soon as possible. Start doing the little things like web interviews at school and covering high school sports at your local station so that you can get some on-camera experience. When you try to get into this field, the biggest question employers ask is: What on-camera experience do you have? So you have to find creative ways to get that on-camera experience. Find a friend who has a camera and stage your own post-game wrap-ups and add those to your reels.
For women who want to work in sports in general, work on your presence. Be confident, knowledgeable and be able to look people in the eye and have difficult conversations. I find that whenever I’m in a room of young men and women, sometimes it is the women who are hesitant to make the personal connection. They may be more likely to send an email, but women should work on their ability to communicate, to demand and feel like you belong. Have a presence of confidence. Know your brand; know what you bring to the table.
Thank you LaChina for your invaluable advice, for working tirelessly to improve women’s sports and for being fearless in sharing your story.