Fox Sports’ Laura Okmin teaches women how to navigate the playing field.
Rachael Lackner was at a crossroads in her career. Should she stay in her online job or follow her dream of becoming a sports reporter? A graduate of the University of South Carolina, the 23-year-old needed guidance, “I was looking for some direction to practice my on-camera skills,” Lackner says.
Then she saw an online post for Galvanize, which billed itself as a training camp for young women in sports journalism. She had heard of these boot camps before, but it was the endorsement of a friend that convinced Lackner to decide to give it a try.
“One of my coworkers participated in one of the very first Galvanize boot camps and she really encouraged me to go for it,” Lackner says.
Soon after, she attended a two-day Galvanize boot camp held at the Los Angeles Rams training camp. The experience changed Lackner’s path, and she now works as a reporter and producer for Padres Radio Network. “I wanted to become a sports reporter, but I wanted to do it the right way,” Lackner says, crediting Galvanize in helping her make that transition.
That is the goal of Laura Okmin, an Emmy-award-winning sports journalist, who started Galvanize with that mission in mind: to guide the next generation of young female sports reporters.
“It can be brutal out there without the right support,” she says.
Galvanize attendees at the Atlanta Falcons training facility. Photo courtesy of Galvanize.
Fueled by her own personal experiences of sexism and ageism in the industry, Okmin saw where she could use her own journey to help others. Since founding Galvanize in 2012, she has poured herself into it, building a community of young women eager to make their mark in the sports world.
Growing up in Chicago, where everyone is arguably a sports fan, Okmin never saw her love of sports as gendered. She received her journalism degree from the University of Kansas and began working her way up the ranks as a sports reporter in Montgomery, Alabama. Eventually, she landed with Fox Sports, where she has served as a sideline reporter, anchor, and host.
As one of the few women in sports journalism at the time, Okmin admitted to feeling as though it was her versus the other women. Then, her boss sat her down and said, “I don’t compare you to the other women sports broadcasters or other men sports broadcasters. You’re terrific on your own.”
This conversation transformed how she would move forward in her career. “I don't want to be considered good for a woman. I just want to be good,” she says.
Her career blossomed and with that came the responsibility of being a mentor to young women. Through mentoring, she saw an opportunity to help even more by creating a curriculum that could serve as guidelines.
“[Our industry] is not black and white. We live in the gray,” she says. “And as a young woman, that can be difficult when you feel like you're not prepared, especially if you don’t have a great network of other women.”
Okmin sees camaraderie as one of the biggest benefits for participants of Galvanize. Last year in Boston, five women from the Galvanize camps all showed up to interview for the same job. Okmin received a call and said, “All of a sudden I'm on speaker and they’re all saying, ‘We all just did the audition and we're all sitting here having a drink together and laughing and supporting each other!’”
“I'm not a mom but I assume this is what moms feel like when you're just so proud,” she says. “The fact that they could all compete with each other, knowing only one of them or somebody else was going to get that job, but still support each other, that was huge.”
Laura Okim helps an attendee at a Galvanize seminar. Photo courtesy of Galvanize.
While the Galvanizers often walk away with new friends, Okmin also hopes each participant leaves equipped to navigate the world of sports journalism.
Catherine Bogart, 25, first learned of Galvanize in 2015 when she reached out to Okmin via Twitter. “I was going through a lot and needed some advice from someone who had already experienced what I was going through,” Bogart recalls. After reaching out, they connected via phone where Okmin told Bogart about her boot camps. Bogart signed up that day.
Now, after working as a reporter for USA Hockey and currently doing on-camera work for Boston University’s men’s hockey games, Bogart feels Galvanize helped her prepare for her life in sports journalism, particularly when faced with gender bias. “I feel that I now trust who I am, my skills and my experience more than I did in the past, allowing me to be bold and stand up for myself especially when facing sexism,” Bogart says.
When the camp was designed, the main person Okmin had in mind was the young woman, focusing on what she would gain from the experience. These days, women aren’t the only ones who benefit from Galvanize.
Tad Dickman, senior manager of public relations for the Jacksonville Jaguars, saw a special opportunity to work with Okmin on her camp to support incoming rookies. Since Galvanize would take place during training camp for the rookies, Dickman said the camp gave the newly minted players a chance to hone their media skills by participating in mock interviews with the women.
“We brought in 23 rookies, and these guys are now spokesmen for our team, for the NFL, for their families, and their universities,” he said. “This was a good time for them to get practice to tell their story on camera.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars used Galvanize attendees to train rookies for media interviews. Photo courtesy of Galvanize.
Dawuane Smoot, a defensive end for the Jaguars said of the experience, “I learned to just be able to breathe and to be able to talk about your story. [And also] just really being able to elaborate on your background and to also trust the reporters who will be handling the stories.”
The players also learned the importance of building a rapport with reporters, according to Dickman, “For our staff, we have to make sure we educate our players that they know how to act professionally, and learn how to manage these relationships with the reporters, both men and women,” he said.
With six camps lined up for the next off-season, Okmin will have plenty of chances to help shape the future of young lives and also help athletes feel comfortable with being in the spotlight. Until then, Okmin is still reporting on the sidelines and preparing to report from the 2018 Winter Olympics. Even with her busy schedule, she finds time to give support when needed.
“I have faced a lot of challenging situations throughout my personal life and career and at first I allowed myself to blame others for my failures or shortcomings,” Catherine Bogart says. “With Laura's help, I've learned how to accept my own fault, and with that, I’ve learned how I can be better and move forward.”