From roaring crowds in electric arenas to record-shattering moments and legends that capture the hearts of millions, sports are full of drama. With narratives of heartbreak, triumph and perseverance, stories about sports are some of the most captivating of any genre.
The ability to use storytelling, media and statistics is key to sharing these breathtaking moments to the world, relaying information to the public and helping them engage with their favorite players and teams.
These Western Washington University journalism alumni understood that and pursued their careers in sports media as a way to both indulge in their love of sports and contribute to the communities that tune in. Despite their different careers, there are common factors that led to their success.
The first is to separate yourself from the competition.
Femi Abebefe, a former Western public relations student and now a host for Vegas Stats & Information Network - The Sports Betting Network, saw an opportunity in 2018 when the United States Supreme Court repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Act, allowing states other than Nevada to legalize sports betting.
To stand out, he decided to focus on becoming an expert in the field. Due to a lack of experts in states other than Nevada, he knew that the industry would be headed in this direction and would likely be legal in Washington soon.
“In this industry, it’s very competitive. You need to look for ways to separate yourself from the pack,” Abebefe said.
Prior to the Sports Betting Network, Abebefe worked as a sports anchor for KOMO TV in Seattle. He researched and read all that he could about sports betting. He also incorporated knowledge from Vegas oddsmakers into his stories, giving him a unique perspective.
When he was laid off from KOMO TV in 2021, he decided to “push all his chips into the middle of the table” for sports betting – pun intended.
Abebefe turned to Twitter to post about sports betting, leading to an invitation from VSiN to do shows for their network. He now hosts multiple shows, including the GM Shuffle and the Lombardi Line, alongside NFL executive Michael Lombardi.
Abebefe stresses finding a unique opportunity and seizing it. He put in hard work and research to learn something that others did not know about yet, and that is what put him ahead.
Making sure to get ahead is something that Ben Bagley also knows all about. He is another Western public relations alumnus, now working for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. His philosophy is similar to Abebefe’s and teaches the importance of extracurricular experience.
While he was at Western, he did just about everything. He color commentated for a variety of sports, worked as a statistics specialist and athletics broadcaster, had a statistics podcast and started interning for the Bellingham Bells immediately after graduating high school. There was a point when he was working at the Bells that he would work 75 hours a week because he was doing their communications as well as statistics.
“The best way to succeed in this field is to be better than your peers and the only way to be better than your peers is to work harder, and try harder and get better,” Bagley said. “In and out of the classroom every day I would think OK — there's 30 of the kids in this room. How can I be better than them? I'm not trying to put them down, but if I'm finding a job with 30 other people what's going to set me apart?”
It is all the things that he did outside of the classroom that set him ahead and gave him the opportunities and experience that others may not have gotten.
After graduating in June 2022, he applied to over 40 positions before getting an internship with the Amarillo Sod Poodles in Texas as a communications coordinator. After his time with them ended, he applied for more jobs and eventually heard back from the Pistons.
In his current role, he takes game notes, runs the Pistons PR Twitter account and serves as the main contact for media credentials and the main stat person for the social media team.
“Every day, I'm with the coaching staff and the players helping make sure that anything media-wise is taken care of,” Bagley said. “So that was also a really cool part of the job as well, to wake up and realize that my coworkers are NBA players.”
As fun as it is, the sports industry can be grueling. Depending on your position, workers and interns are often underpaid and overworked. Bagley described the line of work as a “love for what you’re doing rather than a love of dollar signs.”
Dante Koplowitz-Fleming, an editorial research analyst for the NFL and Western journalism alumnus, also mentioned that the industry can be tough.
“You get to do something that you are passionate about, but you work a lot. You work nights, you work weekends and the work-life balance is poor,” Koplowitz-Fleming said.
Although it can be time-consuming, he still finds his job fulfilling because of the passion that he had for sports growing up. He gets to work alongside industry professionals, work at the Super Bowl and produce graphics for the NFL Draft and its scouting combine.
“It’s been really rewarding to contribute to something that I’m passionate about and cared about before working in the NFL,” he said.
For people who like sports, there’s nothing like working alongside the players that you watched growing up.
This is something that Jordan Stone, Seattle Mariners baseball information coordinator, gets to do. He has been a lifelong Mariners fan and now works alongside some of his favorite players.
“The Mariners have always been a huge part of my life, and I always hoped I would be with the Mariners – as a kid I hoped as a player,” Stone said. “But that obviously couldn’t happen so this is the next best thing.”
One of his favorite moments on the team so far was working the press box mic and watching M’s catcher Cal Raleigh hit a home run, ending the Mariners’ 21-year playoff drought on September 30, 2022.
“I can still remember how loud it was and how crazy it was when that happened. Couldn’t even hear myself think, and that was something I’ll never forget,” Stone said.
Stone was interested in Western because he knew that they had an impressive journalism department as well as because he knew that he would have a mentor– Jeff Evans, director of athletic communications.
“I knew coming in that Jeff Evans was a contact of mine and my dad’s because he used to work for the Mariners. I knew I could go to Western and learn from him in the athletic department,” Stone said.
Jeff Evans is consistently highlighted as being key in the development of young professionals. There is no way to define Evans' job other than that he does just about everything when it comes to Western athletics.
Connor Benintendi, the sports editor and reporter for Cascadia Daily News and Western news/editorial journalism alumnus, also credits Evans as being a mentor and helping him get experience. Benintendi worked directly alongside Evans in the athletic department for his internship as a feature reporter.
“Even getting a glimpse of what he does on a day-to-day basis was incredible. That man is a madman in the best way possible,” Benintendi said.
At his current job at CDN, Benintendi does what the heart of sports reporting is meant to do: impact communities. Much of his coverage includes high school sports at Lynden High School, which is renowned for having powerhouse athletic programs and an impressive amount of state titles.
One of Benintendi’s favorite aspects of his job is the connections he makes with the kids — seeing their journey and getting to know them.
Sports media has its challenges, but with the right mentors, opportunities, experiences and passion, you can make it. All of these alumni worked their way from Western's journalism program to move on to work in rewarding positions in the sports industry.
Genesi Funston is a sports reporter for The Front. She is working towards a degree in public relations journalism. In her free, time she loves to run, read, play basketball and listen to rap music. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.