Cornell Athlete Ally hosted ESPN’s Sarah Spain ’02 and Kate Fagan Wednesday evening in Statler Auditorium, where they answered questions and spoke about their current projects and personal histories, including the barriers they have faced as women in a field dominated by men.
The event took place in the midst of Cornell’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week — the perspectives of Spain and Fagan giving insight into related issues they have encountered in the sports industry.
Spain was an English major in the College of Arts and Sciences and a heptathlete and co-captain of the women’s varsity track and field team. She was also a member of the 400 Club, which honors athletes who earn a 4.0 semester GPA, the Golden Key National Honor Society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
Spain has gone on to become a prominent personality and sports analyst for ESPN, well-known for her work on the Chicago beat, ESPN’s Around the Horn, His & Hers on ESPN 2, as well as time with ESPN Radio, Outside the Lines and more.
Fagan, now a columnist and feature-writer for ESPN, was also a star collegiate athlete. She played basketball at Colorado Boulder from 1999-2004 before turning pro. Fagan published her first book in 2014, a memoir, “The Reappearing Act: Coming out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians,” and will release her second, “What Made Maddy Run,” this summer.
Fagan’s upcoming novel deals with the suicide of Madison Holleran, a track athlete at Penn, and issues of mental illness amongst college athletes. Fagan is further renowned as a feature writer and columnist for ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine, and espnW — a platform dedicated to the engagement of women in sports — as well as her work alongside Spain on First Take and His & Hers.
Fagan and Spain discussed their respective paths from the world of collegiate athletics to that of sports media. Spain spoke in depth about the double-standards she faced entering the industry as a woman, finding that she must out-perform the men around her in order to be taken seriously by both her co-workers and the public audience.
Spain also addressed the issues of body image she has dealt with as a woman in the spotlight, as well as her personal experiences with both virtual and sexual harassment.
“I know personally, my issues with having been sexually harassed, I was incredibly ashamed as if somehow it was my fault,” Spain said. “Now I realize that that was just a terrible person who was trying to take advantage of someone who was in a place of weakness, compared to his relative place of power within that company.”
Spain emphasized the importance of vocalizing one’s experiences, rather than internalizing them.
Fagan spoke to the difficulties she has faced as a prominent gay and female member of the sporting community, relating the ways in which these identities have shaped her experiences as a successful athlete and a well-known sports personality.
“I think for me the toughest issue is that I’m seen as an activist because I want to talk about female athletes and women’s sports and because I identify as gay,” said Fagan. “The words ‘activist’ and ‘agenda’ tend to seem like dirty words. But what people don’t realize is that, like, I might be seen as an activist for introducing more female athletes and talking about LGBT issues and how they relate to sports—but, you’re an activist for the status quo.”
Spain and Fagan, two of the most prominent female faces in sports media, continuously push the boundaries of the status quo in an industry of undeniable gender disparity. The duo, along with co-host Jane McManus, can be heard weekly on espnW’s podcast, “The Trifecta” — ESPN’s first radio show hosted exclusively by women.