unnamed-2Current Location: Washington, D.C.

Occupation / Current Title & Organization you represent: Editor, USA TODAY’s For The Win

Why did you choose to have a career in the sports industry? 

I’ve had a long and varied career in media and did not follow the traditional path into journalism.  I got a media arts degree first, along with an english degree, and worked several jobs on the digital side before I got into journalism. I got my start at DCist, a local news site, blogging for free, and that lead to other opportunities.  I was at POLITICO doing digital strategy and just really needed something different. I missed doing editorial work and I have always loved sports. I saw this opportunity and USA TODAY Sports and it just felt like the right fit at the right time. I started doing mostly social media stuff and have worked my way up to managing social, video and podcasting as well as writing and reporting.

How has being a South Asian impacted your career in sports?

I’m sure there are lots of little ways, but mostly it hasn’t been a huge deal.  When I first got this job, I was very lucky that I had a great boss who was very invested in my success and she made sure I had access to opportunities so that I could grow.

I mostly cover the NHL and that space is very white and very male, and so they don’t expect to see people like me (a south asian woman) in the press box. I’ve had people (nicely) ask me, “oh, what you do?” assuming I’m in PR for the team or the league, and they seem a little surprised when I tell them I’m there to cover the game.

What advice would you give to the next generation of South Asian sports industry professionals or those trying to break into the industry?  

My No. 1 piece of advice comes from Mike Allen, who always said be nice to people when you don’t need something from them.  Don’t just hit people up to network, but take a sincere interest in them.

Also, just be willing to take a risk sometimes. When I took this job, it was a step down from what I had been doing previously but I really wanted to make the switch into sports, so I sacrificed a fancy title and took a (small) pay cut to pursue this opportunity. But that paid off in the long run.  So, don’t immediately dismiss an opportunity to get your foot in the door because it isn’t exactly what you want to be doing. Instead, look at the job and see if there’s potential in it for you to grow. This industry is changing so rapidly, anything can happen.

You can find Hemal on Twitter at @hemjhaveri.