Written by Mesha O'Neal
My introduction into the sports industry came on my 21st birthday in the pressbox of Neyland Stadium. One week prior, I emailed every public relations professional in the city of Knoxville and only one replied. Tom Satkowiak of the University of Tennessee’s Media Relations department replied and offered me a position to volunteer within the department to gain experience in the sports industry. I quit my paying job and began working for free in hopes that the outcome would pay me more than money. I knew nothing about sports communications but what I did know was how to listen and work hard.
Tom gave me access to work; he gave me material to learn and I soaked every bit of it up. I learned transcribing, press release writing, Adobe software, sports statistics, baseball scoring, developing web pages, led media availabilities, credentials, basketball scoring, HTML coding and so much more that I can’t even name. I learned skills within the Media Relations department that I couldn’t receive in the classroom.
I worked to learn all of these skills while balancing college academics and a reward came about six months later. Tom gave me the role of being the Sports Information Director over the men’s golf program. With this responsibility, I have learned even more. I used everything that Tennessee taught me to gain access to different events throughout the rest of the year.
I had the opportunity to work the SEC Women’s Basketball Championship in Jacksonville, Fla. I traveled to Florida and spent a week working the event. I applied all of the knowledge that I learned at Tennessee to this grand platform. I was granted the opportunity to sit down with the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, Greg Sankey, who gave me tons of advice on how to further my career in sports. While in Jacksonville, I paid the Jaguars a visit and was able hear how some of their communication staff paved their way into the professional league.
In the last days of the tournament, I met now SEC Nation co-host Maria Taylor. Tom previously mentioned that she was the co-founder of the Winning Edge so when we initially met at the tournament, that was the topic of discussion. I kept in touch with both Maria and co-founder Corinne Milien to stay up-dated on openings within the program.
The next event I worked was the SEC Baseball Championship in Hoover, Ala. While working the tournament, I used every skill that I had learned previously but I applied it to the game of baseball. I soaked up as much information as I could so that I would be equally knowable in baseball as I was in every other sport. I picked up more knowledge by conversing with assistant commissioners of the SEC, which has helped me navigate through the sports industry.
I went on to work the biggest game in college football history, the Battle at Bristol. I traveled to Bristol, Tenn. and worked a full 24 hours where 156,990 fans were in attendance. The experience was priceless and being under so much pressure definitely prepared me for the future.
Next, I got on the road to Georgia and arrived at Sanford Stadium. The University of Georgia hosted the matchup against Tennessee and I was able to take a seat in the pressbox. This was one of my favorite events to work because very seldom do students get to travel to away games. This gave me a different perspective and taught me the different ways that media relations is handled throughout the collegiate sports world.
Without access to these events I would not have met such influential people. I have networked with so many individuals and those casual conversations turned into great relationships. Working all of these events showed me so many different pathways that I could steer my career. I decided that I would continue to work in communications but that I wanted to pursue a career as an on-air talent. With encouragement from the Winning Edge, I’ve took on another job with Tennessee’s athletic broadcasting department, VFL Films. The film department has granted me the opportunity to develop my skills at their facility to help me secure a job as an on-air talent after I graduate in May. This would not be possible if it weren’t for the many hands that I’ve shook at the events that I’ve worked.