NetWorks Sports Spotlight Interview with Curtis Symonds, CEO of The HBCU Network (@HBCUNetwork)

NetWorks Sports Spotlight Interview with….Curtis Symonds, CEO – The HBCU Network
By Tracey Savell Reavis

Curtis Symonds (foreground), CEO of The HBCU Network

Are you ready for some football? SWAC or MEAC Conference football? Then get ready for blanketed coverage, as the new HBCU Network, set to launch later this month, will air a full slate of games such as the Howard vs. Morehouse rivalry, and more. And we have network CEO Curtis Symonds to thank for it.

Symonds is a cable-broadcasting and marketing veteran, who has been an executive producer, a VP and a COO for such companies as BET, ESPN and the WNBA, in a career that spans more than 25 years. He wants to bring attention to the 105 historically Black colleges and universities situated in 20 states mostly across the mid-Atlantic and south. He’s hoping to capitalize on the fact that no one else is providing programming on HBCUs for an HBCU audience. Aimed at African American students, young adults and HBCU alumni, the 24-hour cable channel will provide sports, entertainment and original programming, and help create awareness of the culture of HBCUs. In addition, the schools themselves will hold a 20 percent interest in the channel, providing incentive for its success. Symonds, an Oberlin, Ohio, native hopes with this month’s ‘soft launch’, and some much-needed grassroots support and word of mouth, the channel can count 10 million subscribers by the Feb. 2012 official launch.

We caught up with the busy executive, who’s been collecting a ton of frequent-flyer miles traveling between his home in Fairfax, Va., and Atlanta, Ga. where the cable channel is based. Symonds talked about how passion, sweat equity and confidence led him to this opportunity at this point of his career.

What are we going to see when the HBCU Network launches?
Sports will make up about 28 percent, with live game coverage. But it won’t be just sports. There will also be entertainment programs, lifestyle programming. We want to create more exposure for historical Black colleges. We want a platform of programming that really focuses on the history, the legacy, the lifestyle, the culture of historically Black colleges. We want to be authentic, we want to be aggressive, and we want to be audacious in our programming.

Why is it so important that there be an HBCU Network?
Because there is a lot of heritage there. This is our heritage. We feel that the fact that no one is really doing anything on historically Black colleges and universities, that we have a big window here.

And would you say not enough is being shown now, or is it that it’s not being shown in the right way?
I don’t think it’s being done at all. Right now ESPN does some Black college football and basketball games. But sports is only one element of historical Black colleges. There’s so much more than that. With this network and the programming, we want to expose why it makes sense to go to a North Carolina A&T, which has one of the best engineering divisions, or a Hampton, which has one of the best NASA programs in the country. We want people to become more aware of how great these places really are.

So your research has showed there is an audience for this?
No question. I think what is overlooked is how really big that audience is. The cable operators don’t understand how big the alumni base is across the country. I think this channel has the opportunity to be one of the biggest history makers in cable television that there has ever been.

What’s the vision of the HBCU Network, and what do you want to accomplish with the channel?
Really, we want to create more exposure for historical Black colleges. We want to showcase the 174-year history and heritage of HBCUs. We want to increase distribution, and drive more revenue to the colleges.

You sound pretty passionate about what you’re doing? Why do you believe so strongly in this channel, and why this project now?
The reason I believe in it is because I’m a baby of HBCUs. My mother taught at Central State University for 40 years, I graduated from Central State.  I’ve always believed in historically Black colleges.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in trying to launch this and how have you been successful in overcoming them?
The challenges have really been educating white cable operators on the value of this network and why this product makes sense. Many of them are not willing to take a chance, or they’re not willing to put themselves out there politically. It amazes me that in today’s world of cable television, no one has a problem with multiple Hispanic channels. And yet they want to limit the African-American channels to single digits.

What, if anything, would you say has been a key to your successful career?
There’s one thing that I can point to over my lifetime, one thing that has driven me. Back when I was in high school, I didn’t make the basketball team. And I told the coach then that was not going to stop me from playing college basketball. And it didn’t. I played four years. And that just told me that if I really want to do something, if I really put my mind to it, I can do it. That’s the same objective that I have for my life. I don’t stop striving because no one can tell me no.

What advice do you give young people starting out about how to reach their career goals?
First of all, today’s kids feel a certain sense of entitlement. They don’t understand sweat equity. But that’s what it’s about. I worked my ass off to be where I am today. No one gave me anything. I had to earn it. Today’s kids think, “I got a four-year degree, you owe it to me.” No I don’t. I don’t owe you shit. At the end of the day, you have to show me why I should hire you.

What do you think young people needed to focus on most starting out in their careers?
I tell kids to connect with people who can help you down the road on your career path. And sometimes that means stepping out of your comfort zone. Building your network is key. And investment. At the end of day it’s about ownership. Instead of dumping a million dollars on that house, invest in our community. We have to start thinking ownership.

You’ve worked for BET, ESPN, the WNBA, and I’m sure had a number of accomplishments along the way that you are proud of. What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
Well a highlight certainly was what I was able to do at BET. But I’d have to say this is it. This is what I’m proud of. To be able to run my own cable network … this is lager than life. I don’t think there’s a better opportunity out there. This is history making.

Daily Newspaper: Washington Post & USA Today
Top Vacation Spot: Hawaii
Favorite Place to Visit: Chicago
Favorite Sport(s): Football and Basketball
Favorite Type of Music: Jazz
Favorite Musician: Grover Washington, Jr.
Favorite Movie: Remember the Titans

Follow The HBCU Network on Twitter @HBCUNetwork and find out more about what he’s doing on his website You can show your support for The HBCU Network by Signing the Roll!

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Let us know what you think of this NetWorks Sports Spotlight Interview with The HBCU Network CEO, Curtis Symonds, in the Comment section below!

My Top 15 WNBA Players of All-Time

By Angela Taylor

After spending the last 48 hours in San Antonio in anticipation of Saturday afternoon’s WNBA All-Star Game, which promises to be a wonderful celebration of 15 Tremendous years of the WNBA, many have asked me to share my Top 15 WNBA Players of All-Time.

Tomorrow at half-time the WNBA will recognize the 15 individuals who fans voted from a pool of 30 candidates.  While there are some very obvious choices, many have found it very difficult to identify their list of 15 simply because there truly are so many different individuals who have played a huge role in the league’s success over the last 1.5 decades.

A few of these individuals were left off the list, but that does not (and will not) diminish the impact that they have had on the league, its fans, its staff, and the young women who are the future of the game.  There are names like Andrea Stinson (aka Lady Jordan) who thrilled fans in Charlotte for years and on numerous occasions had fans in the Mecca of Basketball, Madison Square Garden, on their feet as she went coast to coast between defenders and finished with highlight reel flare.  Others who could easily have been placed on the list are Michelle Timms, Vickie Johnson, Michelle Edwards, Jennifer Gillom, Eva Nemcova, etc.

For your reference, here is the press release with the list of the 30 players nominated for this recognition.

But let’s not dwell on who wasn’t on the list and instead celebrate these 15 players who have been pioneers for the league and who have represented the league with such class and grace both on & off the court.  While the list won’t be revealed until tomorrow, I would like to share those who I feel should be on the list.  Four experts from ESPN shared their lists as well in this article.

Here’s my list of 15 in no particular order (but I took the liberty of listed a couple of additional honorable mentions):

  • Cynthia Cooper
  • Lisa Leslie
  • Sheryl Swoopes
  • Tina Thompson
  • Tamika Catchings
  • Diana Taurasi
  • Sue Bird
  • Dawn Staley
  • Nykesha Sales
  • Lauren Jackson
  • Yolanda Griffith
  • Katie Smith
  • Deanna Nolan
  • Ticha Penicheiro
  • Becky Hammon
  • Others:  Teresa Weatherspoon, Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw, Swin Cash, Delisha Milton-Jones, Tangela Smith, Penny Taylor, Cappie Pondexter…

Whoever the 15 players are when they are unveiled on Saturday are very deserving of this honor.  It has been a pleasure for all of us to be a part of this journey we call the WNBA.  The best part of the league is its players. These very dynamic women who are so much more than just how many points they score or games they help their teams win.

The debate will rage on & new players will step up and challenge for the right to be considered the best that has ever played the game.  Names may fall off the list as new names are added, but the impact that EVERY player who has donned a WNBA uniform has had on people around the globe will never be forgotten.  The future is very bright for the WNBA thanks to those who have blazed the trails.

Tune in on Saturday to find out who will have the honor of being recognized as the Top 15 WNBA Players of All-Time!  Also stay tuned for some of my favorite moments from the 15 seasons of the WNBA

Poll of the Day: Will Women’s Pro Soccer see a boost in support?

Millions of Americans tuned to ESPN this morning to catch semifinal action in the Women’s World Cup from Germany.  Inspired from an improbable U.S. comeback victory in the previous quarterfinal round game versus Brazil, men & women went to Twitter to provide their personal commentary on the game’s wall to wall action.

Immediately following the game, Women’s World Cup and Abby Wambach (albeit a misspelled “Wombach”) became Worldwide trending topics on Twitter.

Athletes and celebrities like LeBron James and Gabrielle Union tuned in, took to Twitter (click on their names to check out their tweets), and offered their support of the team.  More nationwide support will continue to build as everyone awaits the Championship game on Sunday.

Read more about the game in an ESPN article here.

In the 1996 Summer Olympic Games held in Atlanta, women’s team sports thrived and used the momentum they received to start professional leagues here in the United States.  After winning the gold medal in women’s basketball, two leagues were formed.  The ABL, which folded in December 1999 and the WNBA, which is celebrating its 15th Anniversary this summer.

Soccer also saw a league formed when the WUSA became a reality.  Unfortunately, with no big brother league to fund its start-up, the league eventually folded in the Fall of 2003 as well.  Only to see a similar league, Women’s Pro Soccer – WPS, revitalized in recent years as it started in March of 2009.

The percentages of young girls who would go on to participate in basketball & soccer soared in the subsequent years and will, undoubtedly, do the same as a result of the exciting & inspiring performance from sheroes like Abby Wambach & Hope Solo.

As we wait for the U.S. team to challenge for its 1st World Cup Championship in 12 years on Sunday against the winner of the Japan vs Sweden semifinal, NetWorks Sports wants to get your opinion on the impact the U.S. Women’s National Team’s performance in Germany will have on the future of WPS.

Tell us what you think by voting in our NetWorks Sports Poll of the Day:

[polldaddy poll=5231469]


Thanks for taking the NetWorks Sports Poll of the Day!

NetWorks Spotlight Interview with Reneé Brown

NetWorks Spotlight Interview withReneé Brown, Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations, WNBA

By Tracey Savell Reavis

Renee Brown announces players selected in the 2011 WNBA Draft in April (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser)

The calendar indicates that the WNBA season officially spans approximately 4 months. The work, however, especially for Reneé Brown, Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations for the league, is in reality more of a 12-month, all-inclusive, lifestyle. So it helps that Reneé, a Henderson, Nevada native, a former UNLV player, an ex-college basketball coach, and a former US Olympic team assistant coach, loves her job.

As Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations, Reneé directs scouting for all players and manages personnel policies and programs.  She joined the WNBA in September 1996, right after winning a Gold Medal at the Centennial Olympic Games as an assistant coach of the US Women’s Basketball team.

We caught up with Reneé, during a late lunch hour, from her New York office, talking everything WNBA, dishing success tips for women looking to get into the sports industry and letting on that’s she’s a really big fan of a certain ‘Funny Girl.’

The league has just announced a new president, Laurel Richie, and is about to tip off Season 15.  What can you tell us about the expectations for this season?
I think things will go well. Val [Ackerman] and Donna [Orender] worked hard so that we are going in the right direction. With Laurel, I think we have a chance to take things to another level. The game is in good shape. We have great players, who are fine citizens. The games are full of versatility, precision and great execution. We are 15 years young and I think we’ll do great. recently ran a piece when the writer listed 15 things he was looking forward to in the WNBA this year. How would you finish this sentence: The thing I’m looking forward to in the WNBA’s 15th season is ___________.
The competition. There’s not a team out there that can take a night off. Everyone has to come ready to play. There’s a lot of parity in the league and the competition is going to be great.

What are you most proud of in your role at the league?
Probably that if any of our players has an issue, that they know they can call me, and I will help them to the best of my ability. That I have a good, working relationship with the players.

What challenges do you face in your work?
I can’t think of any challenges. When you have a passion for what you do, you wake up every day, ready to go. I’m grateful to be able to do this. The WNBA has given me an opportunity of a lifetime and I’m fortunate to be a part of it.

When you look back over the past 15 seasons, what stands out as your most cherished moment?
Oh, wow, there are so many. I’d have to say, the Opening Tip-Off. The very first game, it was the Liberty vs. the Sparks. I just remember looking at Val [Ackerman] and we both were like we couldn’t believe, after all the work, it was finally happening. And we cried. I’ll never forget it.

It’s no surprise there are not many African American women in decision-making positions within the sports industry. Do you see that improving?
I think it’s getting better. I think women of color have to raise their hands and say, this is what I want to do, then go after it. If you’ve got the knowledge, put yourself out there. Gone are the days where you wait for someone to notice your talents. You have to step up and make it happen.

Your career has been mostly teaching and leadership roles. Has there been the secret to your success, examples that you could pass on?
It starts with confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself, know what you want and be willing to do the hard work to get it. Dawn Staley used to say, you have to do the things you don’t want to do to get to where you want to be.

I believe it’s important to have mentors. I stand on a lot of people’s shoulders. Find a mentor who is willing to tell you the truth, and who’s willing to help you as you develop.

And in my career, I learned something at every step along the way. It is important when you enter any field to learn as much as you can. Learn the business side. Open yourself up to learning about every area. Learn as much as you can. Be hungry.

Are you comfortable being labeled a role model?
It is the ultimate compliment. I embrace being a teacher. I take it very seriously. I believe each one should teach one, and that it is my responsibility to give back.

What do you think will be the legacy of the WNBA?
That young girls can have their dream of playing professional basketball, with elite players, here in their own home. Before young girls would say, ‘I want to be like Mike, or Magic, or Larry.’ And they were forced to play overseas.

Now they can say, ‘I want to be like Diana Taurasi’ Now they have the same opportunity as the men. They have female role models. Knowing that they’ve been watching since they were 5, or 6, or 7, and that they can have their dreams come true, to play the game they love, at home, in front of their family and friends, just makes me so happy. It warms my heart.

Get to Know Reneé

In her music library: Barbra Streisand; Gospel tunes

On her nightstand: The poetry of Maya Angelou

In her Netflix queue: Black and White classics – especially films starring Katharine Hepburn or Dorothy Dandridge

Her top travel destination: Anywhere in Italy

Workout: The elliptical machine

Favorite Quote: Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding

Find out more about the WNBA at