ESPN Analyst Jessica Mendoza on How Working in the Male-Dominated Sports Industry Has Made Her a Better Mom to Her Sons
You won an Olympic gold in 2004 and silver in 2008 for softball and then became a baseball analyst. What appeals to you about sports journalism?
Every day is a different challenge, especially when it's breaking news. As with softball, my heart races and pounds before a big interview. The athlete in me still loves all those high-pressure moments. They keep me going.
What challenges have you faced as a female commentator?
Baseball is a culture that's sometimes rooted in stereotypes. My intellect and expertise should be the first things people see when I walk into a room—not my gender. But if I ask an interview subject, "Can I get your phone number to follow up?" some men assume I'm asking them out, even though we're on a baseball field and not in a bar. I wish they'd take me for who I am—a person doing a job.
How has that affected the way you parent your sons?
I believe it's just as crucial to raise boys who recognize, love, and respect strong women as it is with girls. I constantly challenge gender norms with my sons, Caleb, 12, and Caden, 8. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and when we talk about future careers, I always list that as a possibility alongside engineer or astronaut. And I bring my boys to work so they can see me in action.
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You've praised your dad for raising you and your sisters the same as your brother. How did he do that?
My dad was a sports coach and always talked about how his parents, immigrants from Chihuahua, Mexico, worked so hard. He'd stress brains and strength over beauty, and he saw us all as athletes. So we never felt constricted by gender boundaries. Instead of worrying about how I looked, I would think, "Can I hit the ball far?"
Your mom is Caucasian, but you talk about growing up in a "Mexican bubble." What was that like?
My dad's side of the family is huge, and my childhood in Southern California was filled with a lot of love, a lot of honesty. Whether with great-aunts or third cousins, no topic was off-limits. If I struck out on the field, they were the first to heckle me! It was good—I never had to worry about hiding anything. My family was going to see through me and love me no matter what. I try to foster the same environment for my sons.
How do you share your heritage with your kids?
Culture is in the food and the recipes, the kisses and the hugs. I talk about our family history all the time with my boys and also during Día de los Muertos. My abuelita was illegal in this country for so long, and she raised seven children. The day she got her citizenship, she cried. I remind my kids of that to make sure they recognize our past struggles and our resiliency too. Now they are starting to share our stories with their friends and classmates. It's the best feeling to know that they are so proud to be Mendoza.
This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's October/November 2021 issue as "All-Star Mami."