Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A League of Her Own: Talking with Sportscaster Mia Gordon

Former tennis pro-turned-sportscaster, Mia Gordon, knows all about the agony of defeat, but her sheer determination is keeping her in the broadcasting game. After the Hamilton Ti-Cats cut her from their host roster, CBC signed the Toronto native as an Associate Producer for their Olympics coverage. Now she is the new lead reporter for the National Lacrosse League and is savouring the thrill of victory like a true champion.

Gordon recently took a time out to talk to me about her tumultuous journey, sexism in sports and shamed US swimmer Ryan Lochte.

TorontoVerve: You were a pro-tennis player at 15. You trained with tennis legend Chris Evert, but a torn ligament in your shoulder unfortunately ended it all. What did you learn most about yourself when you realized that you weren’t going to fulfill your dream of playing tennis? 

Mia Gordon: At first, it was devastating for me. You dedicate so much time and effort into this dream. I moved away from home when I was 14 years old. I began practising at 4:30 in the morning until 6 o’clock at night. I was doing high school online to be able to travel to tournaments around the world and get my ranking up. It honestly felt like my world was falling apart and for a little while I was very lost, but it was my family and friends’ incredible support that helped me get through the dark times. For the first time in my life, I got to experience a world outside of tennis. I had weekends off and I got to travel for myself. I realized that I could have a life outside of tennis and transfer the skills that I learned as a tennis player to my current career. So now I’m following a different kind of dream. I think the biggest lesson that I've learned is that things happen in life. You’re going to be thrown curve balls. There are no straight roads — there’s always going to be twists and turns. You can get really down on yourself and say, “Oh woe is me.” Or you can find a way around your obstacles. If you work hard and don’t ever give up, something great will happen.

TV: I was moved by your honesty on your blog. You shared about the trials and tribulations of working freelance — including losing your job as host with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Why be so personal with your fans? 

MG: I feel like we’re in a day and age where people are sharing a lot about themselves on the internet. I do have my own personal life that I like to keep personal, but at the same time, I understand how hard this industry is. If I’m able to help one person who is fighting for their dream, then that would be amazing. A lot of people come up to me and say how much they want to be a sportscaster. What they need to know the most is that it doesn’t just happen overnight. This industry is changing where there are very few opportunities. I think it’s important for people to understand that, but also to understand that if you really want this, then go after it and give it your all. Here’s my personal experience — I was in a situation where the Sun News had shut down [and I lost my reporting job], then I lost my dream job with the Ti-Cats. I could have given up, and I thought about giving up. I was looking at careers in different industries, but this is what I want to do. I just hope that some people will take this message and realize if they have a passion and a dream, it’s worth fighting that extra mile for.

TV: What has the response been like from your followers? 

MG: It’s been amazing. They thank me for my honesty and sharing my story. You see these reporters and personalities on TV and you really don’t get the opportunity to know them, but I will respond to every Tweet, every Facebook message and every email because I want them to know how much I appreciate their support. I want them to know me not just as "Mia Gordon: the sports reporter" but "Mia Gordon: the person."

TV: You always manage to persevere. You recently got a new job as host and reporter for the new National Lacrosse Network. Where do you find the strength to never quit? 

MG: I think it’s the professional athlete in me. I’ll never forget the time I broke my foot a week before nationals, but I was going to nationals no matter what. I played with a big boot on my ankle. There were mornings where it was minus twenty outside and I could have stayed in my warm bed, but I got up and practised because I always had this dream of being a professional tennis player. I think it was instilled in me at a very young age. If you want your dreams, you have to work for them. They’re not just going to be handed to you. I will never quit. In fact, my middle name is Wyn [laughs].

TV: You covered the Olympics for the CBC both in English and French. What was that experience like? 

MG: I loved it. When I was playing competitive tennis, it was always my dream and passion to play in the Olympics. Having had the opportunity to play for my country and as an individual, there’s just something so patriotic and rewarding when you get to wear the Canadian flag and represent the millions of people who live in this amazing country that has given me so many opportunities. Unfortunately, I never got to play as an athlete in the Olympics, but ever since I got into sports broadcasting, my dream was to cover the Olympics for the CBC because there are so many incredible athletes with incredible stories, and I feel that the CBC does such a great job in telling those stories. They bring them to life. They told us how Andre De Grasse and Penny Oleksiak became superstar athletes. So when they called me to work the Olympics, I didn’t hesitate. I took the job right away. It was 21 days straight with no days off, ten-hour days with few breaks, but it was so worth it. As a sports reporter, you have to be unbiased, but I think during the Olympics, you’re allowed to cheer on your country.

TV: Of course, the biggest news to come out of Rio was Ryan Lochte lying about being robbed at gun point. He’s lost 4 endorsements and Rio authorities recently charged him for submitting a false robbery report. What do you think the US swim team and Ryan Lochte should do to make things right? 

MG: I’m not going to lie, of course I’ve made mistakes and I’ve done things in the past that I’m not very proud of, but I was representing myself and I could come out and apologize and it usually gets forgotten about, but when you’re representing a country on a bigger scale, it is a big deal. I believe that Ryan needs to come out and make a sincere apology. Not one that his publicist writes for him. He needs to speak from the heart and maybe make a charitable donation to Rio for what he’s done. It would be nice to see him give back. Will he do it? I don’t know, but I think it’s up to him to make it right. He can’t hide behind the US swim team. He has to step up and make things right.

TV: Despite losing his endorsements, Lochte will be on Dancing with the Stars. Will you be watching? 

MG: I can’t say I’ve ever watched an episode of Dancing with the Stars [laughs]. I’m not a big reality show fan, but all the best to Ryan. I’m sure he’ll do very well.

TV: One of the unfortunate realities of the Olympics coverage was the blatant sexist reporting of female athletes. Specifically, Katinka HosszĂș's husband getting credit for her Gold, the ridiculous commentary about whether female athletes should wear make-up or not, and women being constantly compared to men. In 2016, why do you think this kind of sexism is still happening? 

MG: I hate to admit it, but my industry is still very male dominated. Trying to break into sports broadcasting as a female has had its fair share of challenges — people thinking that you’re not qualified because you never played the sport, but it’s changing. It’s great seeing so many dominating female sports reporters and lead female anchors on TSN and Sportsnet. So I can very much relate to what we saw in Rio. I think women just have to keep fighting and keep proving themselves. Men may be physically stronger, but we have so many incredible female athletes and they need to be recognized as incredible athletes and not just incredible female athletes. The fact that we’re seeing more women in sportscasting is going to help a lot and having more women speak out [against sexism] is going to help too. And kudos to Andy Murray for speaking up for female tennis players. The more conversations that we can get going from all aspects is going to make it better.

TV: What are some of your personal experiences with sexism in the industry? 

MG: I vividly remember Don Cherry saying that women reporters don’t belong in male locker rooms for interviews. Women are definitely treated differently working in that environment. I’ve spoken to a few female broadcasters and they told me that the industry will start to change. Instead of having locker room interviews, they’ll put us in a more comfortable environment to speak to players. When I do have to go into a locker room, I’m in there to just do my job, but sometimes you run into individuals who try to make it uncomfortable for you.

TV: How so? 

MG: [Laughs] I don’t want to get anyone in trouble here, but there have been instances where players have asked for my phone number or asked to hang out outside of work. That’s not who I am. I'll tell them, "I’m here to do my job and you’re here to do your job and we’re here to be professionals. Let’s keep it to answering my questions as opposed to asking me out." That happens, but there are also athletes who are so respectful and support your career.

TV: Speaking of sexism, the first thing that comes up when I Google your name is a blog post that inappropriately asks, “Why is Mia Gordon on the radio when she looks like this?” Do you know about that? 

MG: Yeah, the Chive. I took that with a grain of salt and laughed a bit about it. I love doing TV and radio because I just love telling the stories. Whether you’re female or male in this industry, you are always trying to get on air. [Stations] are looking for a certain look. I understand that being on TV does come with its superficial factors and that’s just part of the job. I hope that people think that I should be on TV because I’m great at telling stories and not just what I look like on camera, but as they say, “No publicity is bad publicity.” [Laughs]

TV: Let’s talk tennis. Genie Bouchard has had a rough year. Not just on the court, but off. She has an ongoing lawsuit against the USTA and is criticized by her hometown press for not embracing her French culture. How much of that is to blame for her inconsistent performance? 

MG: I think maybe a small portion will play into that just because Genie is still very young. I think she’s only 22 years old. As a professional athlete, I learned that you have to grow up very quickly — especially in tennis because there’s no team to hide behind. If you're having a bad day, there’s no one to sub in for you. Genie is very mature for her age, but I don’t think that anyone in their right mind can completely ignore bad press, especially when you’re having a bad year. It’s hard to get back on track, but do I think that’s a main factor in what’s going on with her on-court game? No. I think it’s a very small factor of what’s been happening. I’ve had this conversation with Chris Evert about what’s it going to take for Genie to get back to where she was and I think it’s just a confidence thing right now. Genie came out onto the tour and she had this incredible game. No one knew who she was so there were no expectations. She was playing aggressive and wasn’t afraid, but when you make it to the semi-finals and finals of Grand Slams, there will be expectations placed on you. Players will know who you are, know your game and know how to play against you. I don’t think Genie was able to adjust to that. I think it’s great that she’s back with her old coach, Nick Saviano, because he’s really helped her. She needs to realize how to block out those outside factors and regain her confidence.

TV: What do you think her chances are in the US Open? 

MG: Genie has got a game that’s really good for the US Open. We’ve seen a couple of injuries. Serena Williams has been injured and there’s a lot of question marks surrounding some of the top players. This is a court that suits her game style. She looked really good at the Olympics despite her early exit, but it’s always tough when you have to play a player that’s ranked top three in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her in the second week of the tournament.

[Edit: Genie Bouchard was defeated yesterday by Katerina Siniakova in the first round of the US Open]

TV: You’re childhood friends with Milos Raonic. He’s having a banner year after reaching the finals at Wimbledon and the semis at the Australian Open. You likely know him better than any other commentator. What do you think his strategy will be going into the US Open? 

MG: I just think that he needs to believe in himself. In my opinion, he’s got a game that can beat any player on the tour right now. So he just needs to believe in it and be able to execute it. Seeing him volleying more, using that big serve and coming to net — that’s how you beat the top players in the world. Novak Djokovic is the most consistent player in the world. No one is going to beat him by trying to rally with him on the baseline. The only way you’re going to beat him is if you’re aggressive and you’re forcing him into an uncomfortable situation. So what we’re seeing from Milos when he’s coming to net and not giving players enough time to recover after a big serve or the big forehand, that’s going to make Djokovic very uncomfortable. And again, there are a lot of question marks with the top players. This will be Rafael Nadal’s first Grand Slam since the French Open where he had to pull out because of his wrist. Federer won’t be playing so Milos doesn’t have to play a seed until the fourth round I believe. He just needs to slowly build up that confidence and if he plays the game that we’ve seen earlier this year, he could go all the way.

TV: What can we look forward to with the new National Lacrosse Network? 

MG: It’s a very exciting time. I fell in love with lacrosse a couple of years ago when I was working for the Toronto Rock. I had never seen a lacrosse game before. It’s just so intense and exhilarating. You’re actually on the edge of your seat for every second. What’s amazing is that a lot of the players have full-time jobs and they just play the sport because they love it. I think with sports like hockey and basketball, where you have all these multi-million dollar contracts, you sometimes lose the passion of why you got into the sport in the first place. With lacrosse, you can really feel the athletes’ passion. There are so many incredible stories and we want to bring them to life in a world that does revolve around hockey. So what the NLL productions is going to do is create a network where we’re going to broadcast the stories of these amazing players and share this great sport with fans and hopefully get more people interested. We’ll be posting tons of content about the players’ journey on and we hope to grow the sport on a grassroots level.

TV: Describe the average lacrosse fan? 

MG: The fans that show up to every game are real fans who love the sport. They’re loud and excited. I was just at the lacrosse junior tournament that happened this past weekend and there were so many fans there. There were about 400 kids taking part and it was great to see the pros coming out to coach these young kids. You don’t see that in hockey or baseball. You don’t see juniors getting coached by professional players at a weekend-long tournament. It just shows how much players care about the sport.

TV: What are you most happy about in life right now? 

MG: I am spoiled right now. I am very fortunate that I have been given an opportunity to follow my dreams. I am happy that I decided to continue on this journey and that I didn’t give up. It’s also great to live in a city like Toronto where I have incredible friends and family who will always have my back. I know I won’t have to go on this journey alone. Everything is looking positive now. I have nothing to complain about.

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