So Much More - Savanna Hamilton
"It was only when I saw a woman who looked like myself,
did I realize that a career in sports media and journalism was obtainable"
Savanna Hamilton is a Producer and Host with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. She graduated from Ryerson University's Sports Media program and is now responsible for a wide arrange of content with the Toronto Raptors organization. Her commitment to her craft and her extensive knowledge of not just sports culture, but her own, play a huge part in how we as fans view and engage with the teams we root for.
When did you first make the decision to get into sports journalism? What drove you to do so?
SH: It was only when I saw a woman who looked like myself, did I realize that a career in sports media and journalism was obtainable. I was watching the NBA finals when I saw Sage Steele both sideline report and host on the broadcast. What struck me the most wasn't her dress, or how nice her make-up was done. Honestly, it wasn't even really about what she was saying at the time. It was her hair. She wore it out naturally and it was big and curly like mine.
Growing up getting teased for hair similar to hers, watching her was a symbolic to me. I realized that Black women can express themselves and be accepted in media. I realized then that I too can belong in that space. A space that I already loved as a basketball player myself.
At the time I was messing around with video editing softwares and filming techniques. Once I saw that it was possible to combine my two passions of storytelling and basketball while also being culturally accepted in a broadcast - I was hooked. I knew I had to pursue a career in sports media.
Is there a particular journalist that has influenced you in your career?
SH: Sage Steele inspired me to pursue a career in sports media but it was later on watching Ros-Gold Onwude that really influenced me. I admired her on-air presence in how she made sideline hits fun and even creative. She embraced her Nigerian nationality and wasn't afraid to express it in the clothing and hairstyles she wore. Ros-Gold Onwude is shamelessly herself and makes broadcasting "cool" in my opinion. I reference a lot of her work when looking for ways to improve my own on-air presence.
What did 2020 mean to you personally/professionally? Positives? Negatives?
SH: 2020 meant change. Let’s face the fact, growth is uncomfortable. That’s why it’s called ‘growing pains’.
Personally, the time I had spent quarantined alone meant I had a chance to reflect and process different aspects of my life. Where I used to be, where I am and where I am going. Like many others, the uncertainty of the future and the feeling of lost opportunities had me depressed in the beginning of the pandemic.
As time went on I forced myself to change my perspective of the pandemic from a negative one to a positive one. Quite frankly I needed a break. I was working both days and nights more often than not for over two years straight. Whether I wanted it or not, the pandemic forced me to slow down.
Professionally, being a freelancer in media this meant that my job was at risk. I didn't have any “real work” for almost two months when the NBA first shut down. One of the biggest positives to come out of the pandemic for me was being offered a full-time job with the Toronto Raptors as a Producer and Host. I’m very fortunate for that as I understand how many jobs have been lost this past year.
As a Black sports journalist, do you feel pressure to pitch stories that focus on race?
SH: I do not feel that it is a pressure but rather a responsibility. For everyone in this industry. I believe that it's important to change the narrative that's been told about the Black community to include stories that many have not heard before.
One of my recent favorite quotes (credited to Plato) has been "those who tell the stories rule society." I considered myself a storyteller and although I definitely do not rule society I do think that media has a lot of power in influencing others in what they see, hear, think and ultimately believe. Therefore I feel as though I am only doing my due diligence in making sure that the stories I tell are accurate, diverse, and inclusive to all voices and perspectives. Social media can be an echo chamber. My intention is not to contribute to misleading narratives but to provide truthful information with unheard perspectives. This is a part of the job I signed up for.
What are your thoughts on how the media, as a whole, currently covers Black athletes/coaches/executives?
SH: The media as a whole needs to do a better job at capturing people -regardless of title- as human beings. We have to understand that there are still people out there that think it's okay to tell a Black athlete to "shut up and dribble." As media professionals, we have to show that Black athletes, coaches, and execs are multi-faceted and capable of much more than what they’ve accomplished on the court, sidelines or front office. Each of them has overcome obstacles and discrimination in some form, seen or unseen, to get to where they are today.
Some athletes, coaches and front office staff have made significant societal and communal contributions. From providing their local high school basketball team new shoes to opening a school, they’ve proven how much more they can offer off the court as well.
The effects race has on the daily interactions in our lives can be very damaging; how do you take care of yourself?
SH: I always fall back on my friends, family and community. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by such amazing people in my life. I know that when I feel overwhelmed I can text, call, or go for a socially distant walk with them. I’m truly blessed this way and I don’t take having these people in my life for granted.
In your words, why is it so important to have diverse voices and viewpoints in media?
SH: When you change who the storyteller is, naturally, you change the story. Having diverse voices allows people to hear from new perspectives others maybe have never heard from before.
I think stories have the power to change the world. They inspire people. They can call people to action. They can change a community overnight. We’ve seen this before. When you have diverse voices telling stories, it allows for different perspectives to be heard.
Has your view of what Black history means now, compared to what it meant in previous years, changed?
SH: Yes. In the past I’ve really focused on the literal term “Black History.” I thought of our ancestors, what they did and how they helped lead us to where we are now.
Now I view Black History month as not just our past but our present history makers. Who is blazing a trail now? Who is leading the way today? We have to celebrate their accomplishments and give them their flowers now. That way others can be inspired and encouraged by actions happening in real time.
How do you think we can make Canadians more aware of the ‘history’ in BHM?
SH: By letting Canadians know that Black History Month isn’t just for Black people. It is for everyone. There are incredible Black inventors of our past that have made everyday items we use today, one being air conditioning.
By also understanding that, you don’t know what you don’t know. How can I expect people to know about the depth of Black history when they don’t teach it in schools? And when they do it’s an elective or optional course. Many don’t know about the Underground Railroad in Canada.
We can’t wait for institutions to incorporate Black history into their curriculum. A part of journalism is educating the public on what they need to know. This is why incorporating diverse voices is so important. They can provide a new light and educate others on what they don’t see due to their own blind spots.
It's also the responsibility of Canadians to educate themselves. If someone is telling you something is wrong, it’s best that you find out for yourself what exactly is happening. After that you can figure out how to get involved but first is being aware and educating yourself on what is happening in your own community and globally.
What lessons from 2020 will you take with you into this year and beyond?
SH: When the chips are down, who is by your side? I learned about how strong my support system around me really is. I also learned that it’s okay to not carry all the weight alone.
I learned how strong I am emotionally. I surprised myself with how I’ve handled certain situations. As a result I started to find my voice personally and professionally.
What advice would you give to your younger self when you first started?
SH: Stay stubborn. It’s a beautiful trait to have. It’s one that never lets you give up. Don’t let people projecting their own insecurities on to you affect you. It’s a long road ahead but you’ll encounter some incredible experiences you’ve never dreamed of along the way. And when you do feel down, just remember, you are stronger than you think. You got this.