Keri Potts – Part 1
Keri Potts is the Sr. Director of Communications for ESPN. Keri has been named one of PR Week’s 40 under 40, Presidential Volunteer Service Awardee, and ESPN’s Volunteer of the Year. She is the driving force behind ESPN hits such as the 30 for 30 films, College Gameday, and the SEC Network. A Scholastic All-American from Syracuse where she played volleyball, she graduated with both her undergrad and master’s degrees in only 5 years. Keri is on the Atlanta Hawks’ diversity council and she serves on the board of Pathways to Safety International. She is also a sexual assault survivor, certified crisis counselor, and advocate. In Part 1 of this interview, Bobbi-Sue and Keri discuss Keri’s career and life generally. In Part 2, Keri shares the story about her assault and the work she does now to help others who fall victim to sexualized violence.
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Additional Show Notes:
- Keri was that kid that was always climbing around – so they put her in acrobatics.
- Was in gymnastics and was all consumed by it until she got too tall. She ended up trying out and being really good at volleyball.
- Bobbi-Sue and Keri discuss their inability to understand “plays.” [BSDH note: seriously, I do not understand.]
- From a young age, she always liked writing, even wrote a “book” about whales and poetry. She has a rare, used poetry collection.
- Looked to college based on how good the team was and felt pressure to get a full scholarship because Dad lost his job.
- She missed a lot of the drama of high school/college because of sports.
- Graduated and worked with NCAA. Keri talks about how horrified she was at the thought of living in Indiana. Her friends sent her bereavement cards. [BSDH note: this is amazingly hilarious. Great friends!]
- While there she wrote the first volleyball rule book, it was groundbreaking at the time.
- It was a very restrictive place and with heavy guards around hierarchy. She didn’t feel like she fit.
- Has been with ESPN ever since.
- Keri dislikes events like the ESPYs, the “celebrity” portion because it’s so different than dealing with athletes. She tells a story about Justin Timberlake.
- Listener question: How did you build ethos in an industry dominated by men?
- Her elementary school gym teacher, Mr. Ketchum, realized that the girls’ presidential fitness challenge was not actually a challenge for her so put her with the boys.
- Got in fist fights and always won. Her recess teacher would let her finish the fights because she knew Keri would win and it was an important lesson.
- Had all these people around her who never made her feel uncomfortable in that world – which she knows was rare.
- Keri never had shame around sexual harassment. While she doesn’t think she was harassed often and when it did happen she was able to look at the aggressor like they were the problem. She never blamed herself and just always knew it wasn’t her fault.
- Establishing boundaries – #MeToo – Fake it ’til you make it is the motto. Need to sometimes have an armored exterior, hold your own in confrontation and then go in bathroom and cry.
- How do we change the culture? We get more women in leadership.
- Dating is difficult. Men are not used to women like us.
- “When I go in on something, I am all consumed by it.”
- “I describe this time as my being an athletic diletant” – trying to find a sport she liked
- “It was like Goldilocks”
- “I’m the one kid… I have a bag of substitute chocolate carob…” – regarding her allergies
- “I always from a very young age did not fit in, in a lot of ways.”
- “I never felt normal.”
- “OMG I get to wipe____’s sweat!”
- “College was about what team is best.”
- “I was gonna have to get a handle on how I was using my time. And so, that was a really important lesson.” – on being a college athlete
- “Never in my dreams or nightmares, had I imagined that I would live in the middle of Indiana for my first job.” [No one does, Keri… no one.]
- “I had to go to the SAG awards.” [BSDH note – oooooh… “had” to…]
- “At the end of the day we’re people and people make mistakes”
- “Clearly I’m aware of the power differential between me and Justin Timberlake.”
- “As long as you go in there strong and confident…. there’s no issue.” – regarding dealing with celebrities
- “If you act like you belong, and you really feel it, you exude it.”
- “Confidence of owning your space. Hey, you may be great at that but I’m really good at this.”
- “Usually what happens is, is that you have a few bad experiences and they teach YOU what the boundary is.” – regarding what behavior is acceptable
- “The world is rotting, we’re constantly at war. Who can make an argument that giving us the reigns and giving us a shot is gonna be worse?!” – [BSDH note: GIVE WOMEN THE REIGNS!!]
- “It hurts men on the backside because they aren’t used to women like us in their space. And they miss out” – regarding strong women
- “I may have a certain way I need to act. With my team, though, they get the real me.” – leadership
Follow the Leader:
Extra Credit Reading/Watching:
- “How I Escaped My Rapist” (Marie Claire)
- “40 under 40 2016: Keri Potts” (PR Week)
- “Keri Potts, ESPN Sr. Director of Communications” (That’s What She Said with Sarah Spain- podcast)
- “Keri Potts” (17th South)
- Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media
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