EDINA, MN — While research shows that women who work in male-dominated industries are more likely to exhibit stress, more women are succeeding in top-ranking positions in the NFL. Over the past decade, the number of full-time female employees at the NFL has grown by 30 percent, according to the league.
As part of a campaign to celebrate women in the football industry who are breaking barriers, antiperspirant company Secret is collaborating with five women around the NFL to tell their stories. Among them is NBC Sports sideline reporter and Edina resident Michele Tafoya, who’s lived in the Twin Cities since she moved here in the early 1990s to work in radio before her career reached stratospheric heights.
Tafoya has worked alongside NBC’s Sunday Night Football colleagues Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth for the past seven years. In 2011, she became the first woman to be nominated and win a Sports Emmy.
"When I was breaking in, there weren’t very many women in sports broadcasting at all," Tafoya told Patch. "There was this sense that if you were a women, you couldn’t possibly know about sports as much as a man could. Sometimes you got direct feedback telling you that."
"You always had to work harder. Which I’m really glad about because it’s prepared me far more. I think that extra push of having to work harder — be better prepared — and make sure that you proved yourself, that’s helped me throughout my career."
Tafoya credits much of her success in the sports world to the years she spent at Minnesota’s leading sports radio station, KFAN. "It really opened so many doors for me," she said. "There were so many things I learned doing radio."
But even as she moved on to TV, the California native decided to stay in Minnesota. She says the Land of 10,000 Lakes is a hidden gem with much to offer. When Sunday Night Football is in Minnesota, Tafoya takes the NBC crew out to her favorite restaurants.
"Two that come to mind right away are Bar La Grassa and Manny’s," she said. "Al and Cris are regulars at Manny’s. I think they know they whole entire staff there." She’s convinced them Minneapolis is "a great restaurant town."
Tafoya says the sports industry has improved for women over the course of her career. "People don’t just naturally assume that you don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re a female," she said.
She cites the recent achievements of sports reporters Beth Mowins and Doris Burke as signs of improvement.
In September, Mowins became the first woman in three decades to call an NFL game for Monday Night Football. That same month, Burke became the first woman to work as a regular NBA game analyst.
"Those are all really good developments," Tafoya said.
But despite major strides, negative assumptions made about women in sports haven’t gone away entirely.
In a discussion prompted by Cam Newtown’s infamous comment at a 2017 press conference — "It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes" — ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown host Samantha Ponder said she is regularly asked if she actually likes football and if her husband, former Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, got her the job at the sports network.
One irksome question Tafoya often gets is, "What’s it like being a women in a man’s world?"
"My response is always, I don’t look at it that way. I look at myself as a reporter in a journalistic world."
Minnesota’s Super Bowl
On Sunday, NBC will broadcast the 2018 Super Bowl from U.S. Bank Stadium, and Tafoya will enjoy home field advantage. No plane flights, no hotels, and she’ll be able to spend more time with her family. But that’s not the only positive; Tafoya is a big fan of the Vikings’ new home, and she’s excited to share it with the world. "I love bragging on Minnesota. I really do."
"I know I’m a little bit biased but it’s my favorite stadium in the NFL." She said Al and Cris weren’t sure what to expect when it opened, "but U.S. Bank Stadium blew them away."
Photo credit: Sideline reporter Michele Tafoya reports before an NFL football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)