Female Frontier pt 2: Jenna Wolfe of NBC – Further with Ford
In part 2, we hear from Jenna Wolfe – a corespondent of NBC. She is a gay woman in the workforce. Her goal – just try to do the job she loves.
Jenna talks about the first time she had to interview in the men’s lockeroom. An experience that she will never forget, but can really put a lesson learned twist to it. In any male sport, having a female invading could be intimidating. But Wolfe purveyed.
She also talks about getting pregnant and having a baby with her spouse. The trials of pregnancy and staying in the workforce.
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Check out Part 1 with Chantel Lenard from Ford here.
I am going to start with a little story to give you an idea where I came from and how I get here. I graduated in collage in, uhh, let’s see, nineteen God knows what, and I was offered a sports casting jobs in Binghamton New York, where basically they cover girls softball and the girls softball, and in the weekends they also cover girls softball, so they got a lot going on there. The near Mets had a double eighteen, the Binghamton Mets, if you know anything about them, maybe a player or two gets called up to the big leagues, if you don’t know anything about them it wasn’t exactly hard to get a ticket to this game, just to give you an idea how popular they were.
One night mid-July Binghamton Mets had a game, game just ended. I was standing on line waiting to go and get post game reactions, it was my first time doing this, right. I stood outside the locker room with all the other media, who, though I didn’t notice at the time, they were all men. I was the only girl, but when you are so nervous and stressed out about something you don’t notice anything else around you, right, game ends, clubhouse opens, the PR comes out and he says we can all go in, everyone except for me, literally holds me back, tells me that I have to wait a few minutes until the players were dressed.
I told him I had no interest in seeing “we-wees”, the only thing that I wanted to do was get my interviews and then proceed back to the TV station and file for the eleven o’clock news. Finally, five minutes later, he walks me in announcing, in an unreasonably loud voice, that there was a lady in the locker room. Now, I don’t know if was more put off that this required an announcement or that he used the word “lady”, I just turned 21, “lady” was not a word in my vocabulary, during your twenties nobody wants to be called “lady”, right…
Ah, so, I did my interviews, I clearly missed the first wave of players who did not stick around for the “lady” in the locker room and I went back to the TV station, if you know anything about me, you know, I complained just a little bit. It was my first time in my life anything like that have ever happened to me, ever. Why couldn’t I do something that everyone else could do?
I just didn’t even understand it, it was never even a possibility. I was a sportscaster, they were sportscasters and I’m not sure I understand. But it happened, it was done, I wouldn’t think about it again for a couple of years. After Binghamton, I got a job in Rochester also doing sports, from there I got a job in Philadelphia also doing sports, and I was given the assignment to cover the NBA championships, Lakers vs. Sixers, ok, I sat to the game , it came time for postgame, walked down to the lock room with all the other media, once again I found myself standing outside the locker room with all the other media, doors open, massive flow of reporters go flying in to it, shoe box of a locker room, this time then instead being held back because I was the lady. I was held back for a credential check, it’s like I had no luck with postgame reaction. Sure enough everyone passed me, I was ones again in jeopardy and missing the first wave of players, right, but I’m like 5 years prior, there was no way I was gonna miss out.
So as soon as I was clear, I run into the locker room, and I run over to the Dikembe Mutombo’s locker. He was like a 9 foot 7 senior player for the Sixers at the time, he had a pretty big game. That was the guy we had to get. But there was this massive crowd of people around him, if anyone’s ever seen what this locker room look like, it was like nineteen players deep and as much as I popped the microphone in and on top, I was not getting it, I was not penetrating this mob outside and he was already starting to do his interviews. So I came up with an idea, I told my camera men, you shoot, I’m going to get my mike in there, he is like how, I’m like it doesn’t matter, hoister the camera up and you shoot.
I got down on my hands and knees and I was going to crawl to the front of the [Inaudible], no joke if by some chance you were covering the game with me that day, you know I actually did this, so I got down on my hands as I mean, I was probably wearing a dress just like this one and I’m crawling through legs, it was dark just moving past people it, was like what, what… No one care, went to the front, all of a sudden, I saw a little bit of daylight, right, I figure I was there, I just finally got into Dikembe Mutombo.
And in my head, this is how I saw this playing out, I was going to sneak through, stand up, ask my questions, ride off into the sunset with my interview. I had not for one second considered any other possibilities, until another possibility came on the line.
So I saw the daylight I nudged my way up in kneeling position right in front, and as I brought my head up to look straight ahead there was Dikembe Mutombo seating on a low bench, in a towel with nothing underneath him, legs spread wide open, comfortably taking questions form the media.
Did I get to the front? You’re damn right I got in to the front. Was I now face to face to Dikembe Mutombo? I was face to something …right.
So what’s the moral of the story, besides don’t go crawling around places where well endowed men sit around in just a towel. Be aggressive, right. Fight your right to be where you want to be, when you want to be there, and don’t take any other answer besides “yes” for an answer. Well I mean yes. So that was just a cute story about perseverance working out in a weird way. I can tell you a million stories of what I had to do get from A to B just to be able to keep up with the guys that did it right next to me. The career detour, skirting office politics, the long hours, but the take away is that I couldn’t have done any of that without the people who did it before me and in the sportscasting business it was the women who did it before me, and pay this amazing path for me to do so.
They were the trail blazers. Times are changing, yes, we are doing it differently now in the sportscasting world. Will they ever change fast enough for everyone? Of course not. Are they perfect? Of course not, we wouldn’t be here today if they were. I’ve met amazing women in this industry, amazing women who were so much more creative than getting down on their hands and their knees to try to get up close and personal with Dikembe Mutombo.
Strong, smart, fearless women, who know no other way than their way, like this woman Annie Griffiths, the first female photographer in National Geographic. I met her last year, it was a throw way assignment going down to Washington to interview Annie Griffiths. Turned out to be one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met in my entire life. She is incredible, she is sweet and she is down earth and she is kind and she is fierce behind her lands. She traveled the world when most women just weren’t doing that. She didn’t want to choose between her children and her career, so she packed up her children, small children, and she took them with her, on every continent in the world so she could work and have her kids with her at the same time.
She let me join her for a shoot, ah, for the [Inaudible] piece I was telling you about. Five minutes with her, I wanted to run for president, I wanted to save an endangered species, I wanted to do a thousand push-ups, it was just one of those things that when you are around someone amazing like that, it is sort of, the via-osmosis kind of pours of on you. Sort of like Jennifer Singer, who’s going to be coming up talking after me.
Can I get an extra 8 seconds back ‘cause I just did something on Jennifer. Ah, other women I’ve interviewed that have really changed my life, now women you probably never heard of. You guys know Jennifer Kaylor, of course you probably don’t. She was walking with her one and year and half old, ah, in California, ah, in to a grocery store. A car backed out and her one and a half year old pulled way and the car ran over little Patrick’s neck, he was instantly paralyzed neck down. She found out she was pregnant at the time her husband left her because they couldn’t afford the medical bills, and her son at one and half was suddenly quadriplegic.
We’ve featured her son Patrick, who is now sixteen, a few times on the show who walk across stage for graduation , walk across stage somehow for in four years he managed to get himself onto crotches and wheels and he walked across stage , it was the most amazing thing, Google it, I promise you it’s worth it. She did it on her own, as a single mom made a life for her and her son, and her daughter with nothing more than heart and confidence. She was one of this people just like any that I absolutely respect.
You cannot help to be inspired by women like this. They didn’t not listen to society say “I’m not sure the timing is right”, they just did it anyway. So it’s no surprise that me, personally, I, Jenna Wolf, ended up in a male dominated field my first couple of years. I’ve bucked the system from an early age, my parents unknowingly guided my brother and me towards specific gender roles, right, my dad will build Lego toys and fix things with my brother, my mom pushed me to pink, the tea sets and the games and the toys and everything pink.
I ahmm … I liked some of it, but I didn’t like all of it, you know, I wanted to do other things. I didn’t love the cars and destruction and their playings, but I did love running around and I certainly wasn’t afraid to skin my knees, I mean, I was basically plain in a, I will call it male dominated field before I was working on one, and I loved P.E., I was the only girl who love P.E. I was the only girl on the soccer field during recess. I was the only girl playing tag after school, and as a kid living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where I grew up, it was no big deal.
Interestingly enough, when I moved in the United States, it became a big deal because, as a freshmen in high school, the girls didn’t think it was cool that I was playing sports and we all have high school horror stories, but I lived threw one. I was teased and taunted and I didn’t get spoken to or invited to a single thing, my freshman year of highs school, because I loved playing volleyball or basketball. It was unheard of. But, we all have a high school horror stories so I’m not gonna get into mine.
I covered sports twelve years before I came to the Today Show in 2007. There have been a ton of hiccups along the way, right, when I was doing sports I was constantly having the following conversation with guys , constantly, when they were trying to treat me up by pretending to be casual and asking me how I’m doing , so this is how it went, me “Hey Jerry, how are you feeling, I heard you were out sick last week”, Jerry: “Hey, Jenna do you know the last time the Yankees beat the tigers when more and more players were out sick” “Hey Bob, what’s new”. “Hey, Jenna can you name three new MLS teams”. Constantly, this is what it was all about, it was I say “Hi” and you say, well let me ask you a trivia question that you probably can’t answer.
But that was ok, all it did was made me work harder, so minus having to work harder to cross my teeth’s and dot the eyes, I had no complaints really, I mean, it took me a turn or two after runway but I’ve accepted it, I’ve been accepted and I think the that’s the most part as a women’s covering sports, I’ve been accepted as a dare-double at the “Today Show”. I mean I love doing things that were once years and years and years and years and years and years ago reserved for the boys. It keeps me on my toes, it keeps me focused and it keeps me challenged, most importantly.
I mean, I was more well-read, well prepared, well studied, when I was covering sports than I ever was at any point in my entire life. And I loved it, I really did. You know, there is something I always tell people, I’m a personal trainer, I say this to people all the time. I say “Do one thing every single day that scares you, one thing that scares you, I don’t care what it is, say “Hi” to a stranger, take a Zumba class, ask for a raise, break up with the jerk you’ve been dating, give a speech, stop smoking, jump of a high dive, walk into a locker room full of hardened males sportscasters and go ask questions, do something today you would never in millions years have dreamt of doing yesterday. And then watch growth happen.
Because that’s how it happens, it happens when you step right outside of your comfort zone and you try to play in that space right there. Of all the things I’ve done in my life, the scariest things I ever did came last year, when I went on national television and announced to the world that I was pregnant, that my partner and I were expecting a baby. It was a far cry from any other sand box of fear I had ever played in, this was lightly chartered territory, I was trailed for the most part, no one at “Today show”, at the “Today Show” has ever done this before, some thought I was nuts, my parents asked me, why in the world did I ever wanted to do something like that, why would I open myself up to hatred and criticism, for what, what was the takeaway.
But the “Today Show” believed in me, and Stephany believed in me, and most importantly, I believed in me, so here is how it went. But let me just take one quick step back and be very clear about something we are absolutely not, not, not, not, the first same sex couple to live together and raise a child, thousands and thousands of brave man and women have done it before us, we were just gonna do it in kind of scary way, I’m never gonna forget that day, I was sitting next to Matt Lauer right on the couch and he said something like, if I can remember, he said “So, Jenna Wolf is here and she has an announcement to make” and he looked to me, and the camera faced me, and the crew stared at me, and I thought to myself, “so this is it”.
This is me standing in the edge of a cliff overlooking my last thirty-nine years about to sore or about to sink, about to either make the best decision I’ve ever made in my life or the worst decision, here I am, I am acknowledging my own crossroads, I am right here, I am about to do it. I have come out to national television, do I forget the whole thing and just announce that I am pregnant and leave the rest out of it?
Do I just sit here and keep asking myself questions while dead air fills the open room? I’ve opened my mouth, and out came my truth. And I owned it, and it scared the shit out of me, trust me, but it turned out to be the best thing I have ever done in my entire life, right. I got more emails of support, more stories from other people of contemplating doing the same thing, more letter from folks who are going to start putting up pictures of their partners that work now. I’m not trying to change your mind to do something that you don’t what to do or you are not ready to do, I am certainly not standing on a soap box up here, I don’t walk around holding a flag or tell you you need to be certain person.
I’m not preaching. But I will tell you that made me feel good. And I know exactly who I am and I feel fantastic about it. I’m not there yet, right, we’re all a work in progress. And if someone tells you that they are there, that they’ve arrived, well, they haven’t, ok? But I know this, I know every little move I’ve made along my windy way, running around with boys at the grade school, playing sports in high school, covering sports when a few women were doing it, and finally announcing my pregnancy and coming out on national TV, all of that, all of that, has been my way of saying, what gender roles?
I am who I am today, I am where I am today because I ignored all of them, because I watched the brave women who did before me. We’ve made a lot of progress, we’ve come very far away but we aren’t there yet, otherwise again we wouldn’t be here today. And I´d like to think that every fight we wage, large or small, makes it a little easier for those who come after us, and gets us a little, little just a little bit closer to the common goal. Other way, I wouldn’t want any sports reporter to get any closer to Dikembe Mutombo.