Amina Smith

The latest ESPN rookie has reached The Show. Amina Smith made her SportsCenter debut on April 5 after working three years at NBC Sports Boston. She experienced some “nervous energy,” but as a former track athlete for the University of South Carolina, Smith is used to performing quickly on her feet.

We caught up with Smith to talk about landing her dream job. 

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: When did you find out ESPN wanted to hire you? 

Amina Smith: “I found out maybe two weeks after the Super Bowl. I was at my best friend’s bachelorette weekend. We had just landed in Houston and got to the Airbnb. My phone was ringing. My agent is calling and anytime my agent calls it’s important because he could text me. I remember getting that call and screaming. My agent knows that this is something we’ve been working towards, a goal I’ve had throughout my career. So, it was an exciting moment.”

Did it seem like you stole the spotlight from your friend?

“A little. I tried not to, but my best friend is so amazing and she was so happy for me. I took the call upstairs where no one was and came downstairs screaming. They knew something was going on because they could hear me screaming upstairs. I told them the news, and everyone was super excited. We went out for dinner and drinks and all that. We’ve never been shy, at least in my friend group, to not only celebrate someone getting married, but a particular event or something as big as me getting the job as an anchor on SportsCenter.”

What was it like having 48 hours to prepare for your SportsCenter debut?

“Usually, I’m guessing, a while back, it used to be two weeks before you get on air. But I was speaking to our executive producer and they felt I was ready. The big thing was logistics and learning workflow. But I’ve been talking about sports for years. I’ve been talking about the NBA for years, the NFL, college football. For me, it was just trying to wrap my head around the operation and how they go about creating the show so that way I feel comfortable and prepared.”

How did your first show go?

“It was a little bit nerve-racking. I had some good nervous energy for my first show. Luckily, a lot of people and my producers said I looked as cool as a cucumber. So no one could tell that I had any of that nervous energy. But it was great that first show. My producers, staff, everybody who works behind the scenes, and also my co-anchor Shae Cornette, they made me feel as comfortable as possible going out there.”

How did you feel when it was over? 

“My emotions were really high. I remember feeling like that was the quickest hour of my life and that’s probably because I was running off of pure adrenaline. The crazy part is before the show I wasn’t nervous. But then you start to hear the countdown to the show open. And my brain is like: ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it. I’m anchoring SportsCenter.'”

How many people did you hear from?

“I probably had 50 to 80 text messages. A lot of DMs on Instagram. A lot of people taking videos of seeing me on SportsCenter and posting it and tagging me in tweets. And other talent at ESPN as well, like Elle Duncan tweeting about it and reaching out to me. Jemele Hill, who was once at ESPN, watching the show and reaching out via social media. It was just a cool moment.”

Who were some of your ESPN role models growing up?

“I would say coming up through college, I watched a lot of Maria Taylor, Laura Rutledge. I watched a lot of them because at that point they were entrenched in college football. I was at South Carolina and then I went to the University of Miami. The football culture there is huge. Laura is somebody I get to speak to every day at work and she’s been super supportive of my transition to ESPN. As I’ve gotten older, Lisa Salters is somebody that I’ve looked at. I admire the way that she goes about doing her job and telling stories. Michele Tafoya as well is someone that I’ve looked at throughout my career.”

When did you realize you wanted to be a sports broadcaster?

“I ran track from the age of five, so sports have always been a part of my life. My grandmother was a high jumper. My mom ran track. She was a hurdler. My brother (Tai Brown) also runs track for the University of Arkansas. He went to the Olympic trials. Sports has always been in my life. I first realized that journalism and broadcasting could be a thing in high school at Townsend Harris (in New York City). I was trying to figure out what my major would be. I sat with my counselor, and she talked about being a good writer. She introduced me to the idea of communications. I just thought it was so much fun just in terms of broadcasting, being able to show my personality and tell great stories.”

Is it your mother’s dream to see you interview your brother on SportsCenter?

“We’re waiting for that crossover to happen. My mom is probably the one person who constantly talks about that. And now that I’m at ESPN, she’s head over heels. She’s like, ‘I know it’s going to happen. You’re going to interview him.’ When that day comes, my mom is probably going to burst into tears. That would be exciting.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.