rules to live by

Sportscaster Monica McNutt Always Shows Up As Herself

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: MSG Networks

Whether she’s dropping a “bing bong” for her fellow Knicks fans or rocking vibrant pantsuits, sportscaster Monica McNutt knows how to get the crowd’s attention during basketball season. Self-described as a “tall and gangly” kid, she fell in love with the sport thanks to her dad, who refereed high-school games throughout her childhood. “I remember watching the WNBA in 1996,” she says. “I was in love with the Houston Comets. These women were powerful and strong and playing basketball — I was obsessed. I remember being like, ‘Dad, we have to get home, the Sparks play the Liberty, we have to get home!’”

McNutt went on to play through college, serving as a guard for Georgetown’s Hoyas. She’s been a sports analyst since 2013, and joined ESPN’s Atlantic Coast Conference Network as an analyst in 2019. From there, she expanded her professional scope to include reporting on the WNBA and women’s college basketball, as well as in-studio analysis for the Knicks’ pre- and post-game coverage on MSG Networks. She’s also their radio host for the 2023–24 season, and even finds time for podcasting. “Early in my career, I remember getting told ‘pick one thing,’ and bristling at that,” she says. “I feel I’m better because I’ve sat in different chairs in this industry. I think we are at a really cool place where you don’t have to be put into a single box, if that’s not what you want.”

McNutt loves her job but says she’s thinking about how to expand her impact as her professional life evolves. She’s been working with coach Chiene Joy Jones, founder of Grow Our Game, a nonprofit that helps girls build confidence through basketball. When McNutt thinks about eventual next steps, she explains, “I don’t know that it will have to do with broadcasting; it may be expanding how we can keep girls in sports and continue to encourage coaches at the youth level,” she says. “I’m building a life and not just a career.”

Here, McNutt spoke with the Cut about her path to sports broadcasting, her rituals, and finding a niche in media without compromising on who she is.

Did you always intend to pivot from basketball to journalism after college?

Barbara Barnes [associate director of athletics for communications at Georgetown University] was the first person to tell me that I should get into the media. I was always the one speaking on behalf of our team during interviews. She put that bug in my ear, and I took a journalism course and I did really fall for it.

My basketball IQ and my acumen for defense helped with my career in communications. The way I see the game now is heavily rooted in my experience at Georgetown. That was where I became keenly aware of the qualities that make an excellent communicator and a leader.

Which sports journalists do you admire?

As an analyst, Doris Burke is my muse. It’s amazing to be able to call her a colleague and a friend. [Journalist] Jemele Hill was huge for me, for two reasons. She was a woman giving her opinion with natural hair showing up as herself, and when I had an opportunity to meet her, she called me by name. Being seen by someone I admired was huge and so encouraging.

I think there’s a real sense of sisterhood among Black women in this industry. I’m not going to say that everybody is best friends, but I’ve been fortunate to come across more women who are rooting for one another rather than competing without compassion. Their success is also my success, impacting me in a positive way.

You often wear your natural hair on television — have you always embraced your natural hair? 

I’m 34 and I’ve never had a perm. Growing up, I wore twists and braids, but I always wanted to cut my hair. My mom finally let me do it during my sophomore year [of college]. When I decided to get into the media, someone asked, “What are we doing about your hair?” It was someone of a certain age, who had honest concerns and who wanted to see me succeed, but that didn’t even register to me. I was always in environments where I was celebrated, so this idea of “You might not fit, you need to conform” was foreign to me. I thought, This is my hair, they can take it or leave it.

I can’t say with certainty that it took longer for me to find my place in media because of my look. But I can say with certainty that I would apply for local jobs and not get them. When I’d see who was hired, they didn’t look like me. But I was clear early on that my short hair, nail polish, lipstick — that’s how I’m going to show up and if it doesn’t work out, it’s not worth it. Ultimately it did work out, and I’m very grateful, even if it took me a little longer to land.

How do you ensure self-care during the demanding season?

At a minimum, I try to get in a dirty 30 — that’s 30 minutes of some sort of sweat. A workout class is a love language, in my opinion, so that’s great when I’m in a city where my friends live. It’s a fun way to explore.

Outside of working out, quiet time is my jam. When we’re at games, it’s loud, people are in your ear. I’ll be in my room getting ready to go on air, and I turn everything off. It’s like a sensory-deprivation method.

Good sleep, that’s important. And routines: I put on the same playlist when I get on the plane. I light the same candle when I get home every evening, which my aesthetician put me on to. For me, repetition has been hugely important in training my mind, body, and spirit.

Your on-court fashion is always on point. Can you share your tips for getting ready for games?

When I was starting at ESPN, I was on the phone with my former agent and she said to me, “Mon, you don’t have to dress like a middle-aged woman.” I was kind of hurt, but I was navigating this balance of being true to who I am and the profession that I was pursuing.

In 2022, I teamed up with stylist Sydnee Paige, who’s been incredible. She has allowed me to stand confidently in who I am and in my clothes. When we first started working together, it was slightly intimidating: Here I am, a Black woman working in sports, we know the stereotypes that come with that. For a while, Sydnee and I did this dance. I went back and forth between this is too much, and, nah, forget that, I know my stuff. I felt amazing in the clothes she was picking for me. She’s helped me elevate and polish. We are intentional about who we work with; we love working with Black designers. Beyond helping me look good and feel good, she’s saved me so much time. I’m able to focus on my craft.

If someone new to basketball wanted to get into watching the sport, where should they start?

If you want to see the beauty of the game, and teams playing the right way and passing the ball, start with women’s basketball. Not that they can’t break ankles or cross each other up, and not that the men’s game isn’t spectacular, but there’s something different about the women’s game. And if you’re in a town that has great high-school basketball, go to the game and feel the enthusiasm. Pick a city and pull up.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Sportscaster Monica McNutt Always Shows Up As Herself