Woman of Influence: Samantha Ponder

UPDATED: May 22, 2024
PUBLISHED: August 17, 2020
Woman of Influence: Samantha Ponder

As told to Kindra Hall

Host of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown

It was probably in third grade when I first processed that becoming a sports broadcaster was my dream. I’d always loved sports but was self-aware enough to realize that I probably wasn’t going to make a living off playing sports. However, I used to watch a show called NBA Inside Stuff. Every Saturday morning, before big NBA games I would watch how the broadcaster, Ahmad Rashad, interacted with the players. He genuinely wanted to know the players’ stories and even as a child, I knew that’s what I wanted to do

What do you do to make a dream come true? You say yes! To all of it. The entire first decade of my career, I said yes to everything. Every appearance, opportunity, every chance at exposure. I was on a show called College Gameday, then I did college basketball and the NBA Playoffs. I was on the road all the time. Never home. I married my husband who was playing in the NFL and only had Tuesdays off, so we saw each other once a week the first two years of our marriage. Then I had my daughter and decided, “I’ll just bring her with me!” My daughter was on a hundred flights before she turned one. When I had my second child, tried to bring them both. Looking back, it was a disaster.

I started talking to experienced women in the industry—the ones who had kids like me, and every one of them said: “I have so many regrets.” Not one of them said, “I wish I would have said ‘yes’ more.” So I started saying No to the things that didn’t matter and Yes only to the things that did.

I’ll never forget the day, not too long ago, when my huband and I had a scheduling conflict and I had to take my then 5-year-old daughter with me to Connecticut for NFL Countdown at the last second. I set my daughter, Scout, on the side of the set with headphones and video and told her, “No matter what, don’t come on the set.” It was live TV.

At one point Randy Moss, who is an NFL Hall of Famer, one of the biggest personalities you’ll ever meet and is on the show, walked off the set during a commercial break. I didn’t think anything of it. It was only afterward, when my daughter kept talking about Mr. Randy hanging out with her to talk about Paw Patrol, that I realized where he went.

That might not be a big deal to people, but it mattered so much to me. It showed that my work family cared about my real family, which is my ultimate desire: to be seen as a whole person and not just a broadcaster. That is the real dream.

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This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by © Allen Kee / ESPN Images

Kindra Hall

Kindra Hall is the bestselling author of Stories That Stick and a sought-after keynote speaker. She is the president of Steller Collective, a marketing agency focused on the power of storytelling to overcome communication challenges.