25 Mar 2004
By Patrick Laverty
As the days leading up the Dream Job grand finale tick away, Maggie Haskins is juggling being a student at an Ivy League university and trying to prepare for quite possibly the biggest job interview of her life.
After 10,000 tried out, 250 made the first cut, 12 survived to actually be on TV, ESPN's Dream Job has pared the contest down to its final four, and there's only one woman left standing. Maggie Haskins.
Asked if it's an advantage or disadvantage to be a woman in this competition, Haskins felt "It's a little bit of both. The advantage is there aren't a lot of women in the field so you get a second look. The disadvantage is there are a lot of people who don't respect a woman's opinion on sports. So its 50-50. I feel the pressure and I don't want to screw up, but I'm working on the stereotype that women don't know anything about sports."
Haskins is a 21-year-old senior at Brown University who hails from the Windy City of Chicago. She's an American History major who'd always loved sports but didn't realize that she wanted to go into sports broadcasting until the end of her freshman year in college. "Sports was something that I'd always loved, but then you realize that this is something that you can actually do." As if trying to finish up a senior thesis and studying for midterms, as well as preparing for the Dream Job competition wasn't enough to fill whatever free time she may have had, Haskins also had to get ready for her fantasy baseball draft right in the middle of all this attention and excitement. She has listed baseball as her favorite sport to watch.
"Studies have shown that nailbiting is a sign of genius."
She's willing to pay her dues whether that means being a production assistant and doing duties such as fetching coffee for a current SportsCenter anchor or taking a job on the sports desk in Peoria, or in the best of worlds, winning her Dream Job and getting the one-year contract to be a SportsCenter anchor for at least the next year. She doesn't have an in with Brown alumnus Chris Berman, though she hopes he is secretly pulling for her.
As for the judges, Haskins said she's really happy with the feedback she's gotten. She's been repeatedly praised for her writing skills and as far as respecting the judges go, "Obviously you have to respect Al Jaffe. If you don't respect him, I don't know why you'd want to even work for ESPN. When he speaks, you want to listen. Whether its now or 5 years from now, if you want to work at ESPN, he's the one you have to interview with." Maggie said she's also been really pleased with the feedback she's received from judge Kit Hoover. "People are so focused on the whole cut aspect of the show, but if you really listen to the judges, there is a lot of good, positive feedback there."
How Haskins even found out about the opportunity of a lifetime is a little bit of luck and a little bit of shrewd attention to spam mail. She's an ESPN insider, which means "you pay like 5 bucks a month and you get access to articles and of course you get emails from ESPN. Normally you just delete them, but I opened this one that said 'You could be the next SportsCenter anchor', so I was like 'Why not?'"
|"We only had 30 minutes to write our 'My SportsCenter'. We didn't even rehearse it once"|
Though she's now in the final round, Haskins almost didn't made it on the show. The original intent was to have only eleven competitors and she was invited to be the alternate. A few weeks later, the network called back and told her she'd be on the show since they were going with twelve. "It could have been like 'Hey, an even number is better', I don't want to sound so vain like 'Of course it was because of me' but I don't think they would have extended it to me unless they thought I'd be great."
The competitors don't have any access to the hallways or control rooms in Bristol, Conn., the home of ESPN, so practice time has meant reading things, anything, into a mirror and pretending it was a SportsCenter highlight. As for her first showing on Dream Job, Haskins said "We only had 30 minutes to write our 'My SportsCenter'. We didn't even rehearse it once. When I did it Sunday night that was the first time I'd done it with a teleprompter. You basically wrote it and were like 'ok, let's see if this sticks'."
As for the criticism when the contestants have stumbled through their copy or reading off the teleprompter, Haskins said "There's so much room in the sportscaster business to criticize and that's valid. If people don't like the results or the process of this, that's their opinion. And that's fine. Stuart Scott is one of the best in the business and he receives a whole lot of criticism as well. It's part of the business."
Haskins also listed Dan Patrick as one of her favorite sports broadcasters, but gushed a bit more when it came to describing the successful career of Hannah Storm and all she has done for gaining credibility for women in the field. She added that she can't really see herself trying to emulate anyone currently working, though she would aim to find that bridge between humor and seriousness. She said that Bob Ley (ESPN's Outside the Lines) does a great job of being able to transition between the two. He does a great job of interviewing a wide array of athletes and intertwining other reports into his show. She is looking forward to being a "Renaissance woman" in the job.
In the world of sports, some fans are amazed at how an athlete can remain calm in the clutch, when its all on the line. Haskins and other competitors have shown a similar trait. Asked how she deals with the pressure of millions of Americans watching this job interview, how she deals with the judges, and deals with seeing her competitors take their turn and do a great job, she responded, "You can't worry too much about what other people are doing because then you're not focusing on yourself enough. You just gotta focus on yourself. You can only control yourself."
Maggie also said that her favorite part of the whole experience so far has been the great camaraderie among the competitors. During the preparation for the competition, ESPN had one of their broadcast coaches give a three-hour presentation to the group, which Haskins termed "fabulous" and that the production crew noted that those three hours were the quietest that they'd seen this chatty group. They were too busy soaking it all in to worry about much else.
A really big help to her so far is all the support that she's gotten from her friends, family and professors. The best advice she's gotten so far is to just "Be yourself. It sounds cheesy, but it really is true. If you try to come across with some persona, it will look fake. You really do just have to be yourself."
We here at Football Outsiders, most of which have some affilitation to Brown University, whether its alumni or staff, will be pulling for Maggie this coming Sunday. Go Bears!