As the world gathers in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the host city of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, OutlooK-12 is pleased to present the inspirational story of Jessica Mendoza, an outstanding second-generation Mexican American whose gold and silver Olympic medals in 2004 and 2008 (respectively) laid the groundwork for additional honors and a glass ceiling shattering position at the ESPN Network.
Earlier this year, ESPN officially named Jessica Mendoza to the Sunday Night Baseball team as an analyst. The announcement was made after a historic 2015 for Mendoza who became the first female analyst for a nationally televised MLB Postseason game on October 6, 2015: AL Wild Card Game on ESPN. A few months prior, she became the first female ESPN MLB game analyst during the August 24, 2015 edition of “Monday Night Baseball.” She appeared on several “Sunday Night Baseball” telecasts during the stretch run of the season. Her groundbreaking 2015 also included the accolade of becoming the first female analyst for a Men’s College World Series telecast.
One of the most notable softball players in the last decade, Mendoza’s on-field experience has seamlessly translated to television. She joined ESPN in 2007, and in addition to her MLB contributions, she has served as an analyst and a reporter for the Men’s College World Series, the NCAA Women’s College World Series and is also a sideline reporter for college football. She has also contributed content to espn.
Mendoza is a two-time Olympian and was a member of the U.S. Women’s National team from 2001-10.Her team took home the GoldMedal in Athens, Greece (2004) and the Silver Medal in Beijing, China (2008). She is both a three-time World Champion (2002, 2006, 2010) and World Cup Champion (2006, 2007, 2010), in addition to being a two-time Pan American Gold Medalist (2003, 2007). In 2006, she was named the USA Softball Athlete of the Year and was also recognized in 2008 as the Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year.
Mendoza was a four-time first team All-American while playing outfield at Stanford University. She led the Cardinals to their first ever Women’s College World Series Appearance and finished her college career with school records that are still held today in: batting average (.475), hits (.94), stolen bases (31), runs (71) and career home runs (50). She was a three-time Stanford Female Athlete of the Year and a First Team Academic All-American in 2002.
Mendoza graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies in 2002 and a Masters in Social Sciences in Education in 2003. She is originally from Camarillo, California.
Prior to her work with ESPN, Mendoza was a field reporter for Yahoo! Sports at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and also served as the lead college softball analyst on FOX Sports.
In April of this year, Mendoza was selected to receive the 2016 Guiding Woman in Sport Award by SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators. Established in 1987, the award is given in recognition of extraordinary service, leadership and commitment to girls and women in sport.
In presenting this award, SHAPE America called Mendoza a courageous and tireless advocate, epitomizing the central tenets of the Guiding Woman in Sport Award. The long list of previous distinguished recipients include: Julie Foudy, Nancy Hogshead, Billie Jean King, Diana Nyad, Robin Roberts and C. Vivian Stringer. Prior to the luncheon, Dr. Darlene Kluka, dean of the School of Human Performance and Leisure Sciences at Barry University, will deliver the annual Rachel Bryant Lecture.
In presenting the award SHAPE America President Stephen C. Jefferies of Central Washington University said, “SHAPE America is thrilled to honor Jessica for her lifelong commitment to access and equality in athletics. Jessica advocated for girls and women in sport as the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation and is continuing to open doors for females now as a pioneer in sports broadcasting.”
As she told Aimee Crawford from ESPNHS during Hispanic Heritage month in 2011, there are unique challenges Hispanic female athletes face, and she encourages girls to spend their time trying to stand out rather than trying to fit in.
“When I speak to groups in predominantly Hispanic areas I find that there are still a lot of traditional cultural roles for females — a lot of pressure for young girls to be around the family, help with siblings, help with meals, be kind of the rock of the household rather than doing extracurricular activities like sports. But it’s definitely changing, and I’m an example of that,” Mendoza explained. “My dad was extremely supportive of me playing sports and going to college. My main goal when I talk to groups is to educate families on the physical and mental health benefits that playing sports provide young girls. It’s not just about going out there and having fun. That’s a part of playing sports, but a big chunk of it is all the other things that sports give you to help you become a much more whole, better person.”
Mendoza’s penchant for helping young women achieve their dreams is a recurring theme in her personal and professional life. In 2009, she participated in Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Play Positive™ Pledge, an opportunity for youth sports teams and organizations to earn $2,500 for pledging their commitment to sportsmanship. In one of six videos in which she appeared for Play Positive, Mendoza credits her parents’ support as contributing to her success. “During my youth softball experience my parents played a critical role in supporting me emotionally,” she said. “They were there in both ways. My father was one of the ones who just kept pushing me. I might have had a great game, but he was also there to remind me that there was more to playing than just today, whereas my mom was there emotionally just to be so positive and be so supportive. Between the two they were the perfect balance allowing me to have my game, but also the heart as well.”
The bottom line for women athletes, according to Mendoza, is not to reject their individuality. As she also told Crawford from ESPNHS, “My message is to worry less about trying to fit in and to concentrate more on standing out. Embrace the fact that you are different, that your differences are what’s going to make you great and your true friends are the ones who are going to love you for those differences.” •