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NDSU Magazine logoS - Fall 2004

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Fall 2004

Vol. 05, No. 1


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Robin Roberts

There are at least two famous Robin Roberts in America. One is a Hall of Fame pitcher from the '50s. The other played some college basketball in the early '80s, made history in 1990 when she joined the broadcast staff at ESPN sports network and now anchors the hourly newscasts for ABC's Good Morning America. This Robin Roberts remains as a contributor at ESPN, where she hosted SportsCenter and contributed to NFL PrimeTime from 1990 to 1994.

Her schedule allows for few appearances, but Roberts made time for the athletics program at North Dakota State University she holds in high regard. She was charming and generous as the keynote speaker for a women's athletics reunion, and stuck around for an hour after the event while hundreds of people had pictures taken with her, a thrill for each one.

She did sign one baseball while she was in town, but the autograph seeker knew which Roberts he was hounding.

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I don't think of myself as being famous -- recognizable because of I'm on television so much and my sports background and now Good Morning America.

We're grumpy sometimes in the morning.

My mother swears that I told her at a very young age 'I'm going to be famous.'

In all honesty I wanted to be a professional athlete. I knew that I always wanted to do something on a grand stage. I didn't know exactly what it was. At first I thought it was going to be athletics but then there's something about talent you gotta have.

I knew I wanted to be in broadcasting and I knew I wanted to be in sports broadcasting which is going to be very limited as a woman of color. I knew there weren't going to be that many opportunities.

I wanted practical experience so I went to the local radio station. You haven't lived till you scratch a little Merle Haggard on a Saturday night.

I was more worried about the first job than anything else. I really truly believed everything could fall into place from there so I went to a small station in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, making $5.50 an hour , then went to a bigger station in Mississippi, which is my home state, and then Nashville, Tennessee, then Atlanta, Georgia, and then ESPN.

I was always asked to do news everywhere I went. I'm like 'Oh you think because I'm a girl I can't do it.' So it became this badge of honor that I was advanced at ESPN. Plus sports was just like breathing to me.

I talked to Billy Jean King about leaving ESPN and I thought for sure that she'd say 'Oh, you're crazy, you gotta stay,' and she's like 'What are you, an idiot? Go.'

You have to see the big picture. I'm a big dreamer, but you have to focus small. That is what I learned through sports.

Fun. Hmmmmm. I knew there was something I was missing.

I'm a Pilates fiend.

I didn't have anyone who looked like me, who was in the field that I dreamed of being in.

My father was a pioneer. He was a Tuskegee airman. That's a pioneer. My mother being the first in her family to go to college and then to go on to be -- she was the first woman to serve on the Federal Reserve Board and she was the chair of the Mississippi State Board of Education. So I came from a long line of firsts. So when I said I wanted to be a sportscaster, no one blinked an eye.

ESPN tried to hire me earlier before, like in '87, and I turned them down because I didn't feel I was ready and then I went to a major market in Atlanta and then they asked me again and I happily took the position and that was a first time I was like, hmmm, first black woman hired at ESPN. If I don't do well, they're not going to hire another black woman for a long time and that was the first time I felt a little bit like okay, it's not just about me, I have to do a good job for myself and my family but for others who would want to work here one day -- if I don't they would use me as an example so we tried but it didn't work.

There was a lot of press about being the first African American woman and that was pressure. That was the first time I ever felt pressure in my job.

Fortunately we do have a wardrobe consultant. In the morning I bring one thing in and Diane is very good because she has her dressing room full of clothes and so she'll dress around what I bring in.


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