Latinas at ESPN Gracing the Network Airwaves
By Nilda Melissa Diaz
For over 40 years, ESPN has been synonymous with sports. The network, reaching 71 countries on the seven continents never stops.
In this male-dominated industry, three Latinas have been forging their path on ESPN’s regular programming: Toni Collins as an anchor at SportsCenter; Alexis Nunes as a Europe-based soccer and cricket reporter, and Marly Rivera, as baseball fixture in broadcast and radio.
Their approach has been simple: be more knowledgeable, always be prepared, and never forget to have fun. They’ve earned the respect of their counterparts and athletes. Though the road has not been without obstacles, Toni, Alexis, and Marly continue to leave their mark on the network and beyond. And through new assignments and contract extensions, these three Latinas continue to hold the door open for the next generation.
Toni Collins SportsCenter Anchor, ESPN
If you love sports, chances are you’ve watched Toni Collins anchoring ESPN’s SportsCenter morning edition. “Being a journalist, having the privilege to tell someone’s story, especialmente las historias de nuestra gente, is an honor,” says Collins.
Daughter to Mexican journalist Maria Antonietta Collins, her parents and her moved from Mexico to the United States when she was nine years old. She began playing soccer at age 10 and was asked to join Mexico’s National team, in the Sub 19 division.
While growing up in Miami, Collins along with her mother searched for better opportunities in a new country. Today both mother and daughter share a love for storytelling.
“I grew up in the newsroom,” she shares. “I watched her work in English and Spanish.”
A graduate of Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, with a Bachelor of Science in Communications, with an emphasis on Sports Management, Collins faced a harsh reality after graduating: “No one wanted to hire me,” she shares.
She was able to find an unpaid internship, and eventually landed at CBS Sports Radio affiliate in Florida where she worked midnight to 7 a.m. she shares. “There’s a responsibility to represent us. I believe in using my platform for something bigger.”
But Collins still had her broadcast ambitions.
“I made a demo and a [Univision Noticias 48/Fox2 news dual] station in McAllen, Texas responded. It was the only station that reached back,” she shares. From there, her career grew until she made it to Bristol.
For Collins, her impact as a Latina sportscaster is very humbling. “I’ve been [at ESPN headquarters] for seven years and It puts everything in perspective,”
Collins runs marathons to raise funds for communities in need. Her love for animals has brought a new opportunity as well. With ESPN partnering with the American Kennel Club, Collins will host a segment on AKC competitions throughout the year. With this, she believes she is providing dogs a chance to showcase their agility.
And to young Latinas who want to showcase their skills, her advice is simple: “believe in yourself. Believe that you belong in that seat,” she says. “And, remember, try to have fun.”
Alexis Nunes, Soccer Reporter, Co-Host, ESPN, ESPN+
If ESPN’s Alexis Nunes ever needed to describe herself in food terms, she would be an arroz con jerk chicken. “I like to tell people that that’s how I identify.” The Salvadorean-Jamaican is ESPN’s lead and only soccer and cricket reporter based in London, another combination of her heritage. She also co-hosts ESPN FC, ESPN’s soccer news and information program, which streams in English on ESPN+ in the U.S.
Nunes’ career started at the Caribbean network, SportsMax TV. “I landed the part because, they said, ‘you were the only one that said [NORCECA] right,” she shares. She started with 3-minute segments working her way up to full-time co-host. An interview with retired footballer Robbie Earle, who was working with ESPN at the time, changed her career.
“I interviewed him and he said, I like your vibe,” she shares. “He connected me on to his agent and I flew out to audition in Bristol, two months later I got the call.”
Proud of her heritage, Nunes faced something she had never experienced before when she moved to the States, “people would ask me “which one are you really?” Well, why can’t I be both.” She has used this cultural embrace to bring forth conversations on race, sports and culture. In February she co-hosted the special, ESPN’s Somos Afro-Latinos. “They don’t know that they can be black and be Latino and celebrate both cultures,” she shares.
And Nunes celebrates both cultures in her career, covering cricket and being bilingual. “We would speak Spanish among us all the time” she shares. It came natural to us.”
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To young Latinas, Nunes advises to be prepared.
“There’s something about being a woman in this business and showing that you can handle it,” she shares. “As my mama says, things get harder when something good is coming your way.”
Major League Baseball National Reporter, ESPN
Marly Rivera has been with ESPN for a decade reporting, mostly on, baseball. It’s not a surprise considering baseball and boxing are the most-watched sports in her native Puerto Rico.
A multi-platform and bilingual writer and reporter, providing in-depth coverage of all major sports in New York for over 15 years, with a focus on Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees, her path to broadcasting was surprising as she not did follow a typical career path. She was teaching when it dawned on her that she was miserable and took off on a year-long backpacking trip in South America. After her “soul searching” journey, Rivera worked as a translator for a specialized company in New York City.
From there she freelanced until she eventually worked at Univisión; then, Major League Baseball Advanced Media; finally, ESPN, where she has become a fixture in both English and Spanish programming.
“It’s a very small world,” she shares of the sports journalism industry. Of the athletes and teams about whom she writes, Rivera says, “I am there to tell the story and tell the truth, I’m not telling you what you want to hear. I’m committed to great stories.”
With two decades in the game, Rivera has earned the respect of many in the industry, even being named one of ‘The 30 Most Influential Hispanics in Sports’ by Sports Illustrated. But, she doesn’t see herself as a Latina trailblazer. “I’m not trying to diminish my value. The women that came before me…they were trailblazers. They couldn’t even go in the clubhouse” she shares.
Outside of the newsroom, Rivera uses her experience to help those starting out. “I love talking to young journalists,” she says. “A lot of the people I started with are now professors. I’ve been invited to speak to many places, like Columbia University and Bronx College. It’s the teacher in me, I love getting to talk to young people.”
And to young people, she says, “Embrace everything that you are, not some expectation of you.”