By Brett Ford
Katie Gaus ’15 and Christine Popolizio Lisi ’91 graduated a generation apart, but they both knew exactly where they wanted to do after Geneseo — work in professional sports.
“Part of my wonderful experience at Geneseo was the opportunity to work at the TV and radio stations,” says Lisi. “Being able to go to hockey and basketball games and cover those teams really helped develop my love for sports.”
Gaus knew from the moment she joined the WGSU broadcast of a Geneseo ice hockey game that she had found her calling as well. “I had a moment where I knew that was exactly what I was meant to be doing and where I was supposed to be,” says Gaus.
They each found their niche within the sports media industry.
Lisi is a radio anchor at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., and Gaus is a sideline reporter for the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League (NHL), broadcasting on the team’s home network, Bally Sports.
While their experiences have been positive, women in sports were not always welcomed.
In 1977, Melissa Ludtke, a female sports reporter for Sports Illustrated, was denied access to the New York Yankees locker room for post-game interviews at the World Series. The next year, she won a civil lawsuit against Major League Baseball (MLB) and the New York Yankees, helping to open the door and level the playing field for women working in sports. Since then, more and more women, including Lisi and Gaus, have pursued careers in sports and sports media.
In an industry traditionally dominated by men, Lisi has broken the mold, working alongside some of the biggest television and radio personalities in the sports media industry, including Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic Jr. and Chiney Ogwumike. She credits her work ethic for her success. “I worked really hard to get here. I put in my time,” she says. “And I continue to work hard because there will be somebody to replace you if you don’t.”
Lisi has worked at ESPN, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports, since 2000. She began as a part-time radio production assistant and carved out her role at the company for more than 20 years.
“ESPN builds that culture of work hard, play hard, but there’s a big reward for being here,” says Lisi. “We get to talk about sports. I can’t imagine anything better! I’ve always been able to feel like I belong. No one ever makes me feel like I don’t.”
Gaus was a pioneer in sports media, becoming the first female sports anchor in the Erie, Pa. market before joining the Florida Panthers, and she has flourished in every role along the way. “There was never a moment where as a woman, I felt like it was unexpected or unwelcome,” says Gaus. “It’s such a professional level at this point, and it’s been established that we’re here to do our jobs, tell the stories of the team and players and do it well.”
Both Gaus and Lisi understand the importance of their prominence in athletics, and each actively works to empower other women within the industry.
“I believe in paying it forward, and I think that’s really important,” says Lisi. “I’ve had a lot of girls and women reach out to me and ask for advice (about entering the sports media industry). It’s a really neat thing to watch how it’s grown.”
Gaus has built relationships with young women who entered the industry and gotten jobs at various local networks. “That’s been the best part,” she says, “because you feel like you’re really making a difference as a woman in sports by helping other women in sports grow.”
In addition to her role as the Panthers’ sideline reporter, Gaus provides play-by-play on ESPN broadcasts of the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), a professional women’s hockey league.
“Having this league air on ESPN is just another way that women are put into a position to succeed and be on the stage that they deserve,” says Gaus. “I’m so happy to be a part of it.”
Lisi also admires the growth in opportunity for women in sports.
“I see how the NFL and the NBA and MLB are getting more women involved, and it’s fantastic, so exciting,” she says. “There’s enough room for everybody in sports.”