Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
On-air analyst and multimedia sports personality Monica McNutt has a career that seems to have been laser-focused on success. But in reality, she has been flexible about where her professional path would take her.
“I don’t know if I have a goal,” McNutt says. “I think the destination is only half as beautiful as the journey. So I’m open.”
For now, McNutt stays busy with a weekly lineup of TV, radio and digital appearances that could put her in the running as one of the hardest-working women in sports media. Those appearances include doing college basketball commentary as an analyst for EPSN’s ACC Network as well as being a studio analyst for the Knicks on MSG Network.
“I think what’s unique for me about the Knicks experiences is that I’m on the pregame, halftime, and postgame show right next to these three guys [Bill Pidto, Alan Hahn, and Wally Szczerbiak],” she says.
Working at Madison Square Garden has been a blast for McNutt, and she recognizes the value in being one of the only Black women on set.
“I’m glad to be one of those diverse voices in that space,” McNutt says. “The Knicks brand is undeniable. The fans have welcomed me in such an incredible way. That’s super dope.”
McNutt’s versatility shines at ESPN, where she works as a sideline reporter and analyst on shows like Around the Horn and First Take. But her reach spans across media platforms: She co-hosts sports podcasts and works as an analyst for NBA Radio.
“I’m most proud to keep my foot in women’s basketball as a studio host this year,” McNutt says. “I got into this space because I love basketball.”
Part of what led McNutt to this point in her career was her own experience playing in the NCAA and making it to the Sweet Sixteen at Georgetown. As a young girl, McNutt fell in love with the sport while attending the high school basketball games that her father officiated in Prince George’s County, Md., which she described as a basketball epicenter. Often McNutt was amused at how gregarious and personable her father was.
“He would even chop it up with hecklers,” McNutt says, “Saying things like, ‘Oh, you’re mad? Well, guess what? I still got the whistle.’”
McNutt cherished that quality time she shared with her father, and in third grade she told him, “Dad, I want to play, and I want to be good.” However, her basketball participation came with one caveat: Her mother insisted that she continue ballet.
“In our household, that was the thing. ‘If you start something, you’re going to finish it,’” McNutt recalls. Thus Saturdays were filled with her father shuttling her between dance lessons and basketball practice.
Growing up attending Georgetown basketball games, McNutt was smitten when she met the university’s then legendary coach John Thompson. She recalls her conversation with him, when he asked which colleges piqued her interest, and she confided in him that her mother was pushing for her to go to Princeton.
“He was like, ‘She wants you to do that. You don’t want to do that,’” McNutt recalls.
McNutt says she wanted to get the best of both worlds: She knew the power that a degree from Georgetown could offer, and she also wanted to play basketball. As a Hoya, McNutt was able to do just that. She played on the university’s nationally ranked women’s basketball team and served as captain. But it also was at Georgetown where she says she was determined not to allow “six pounds of air to define her career,” she says.
“I wanted to be a chef, then a physical trainer,” McNutt says. “I was just all over the place.”
Halfway through her undergraduate studies in English literature, she began to rethink her plans. Her sports information director, Barbara Burns, pointed out that McNutt was great with interviews and encouraged her to pursue a career in sports media. Soon enough, McNutt had added journalism courses to her class schedule.
“I was like, ‘It would be cool to tell the stories of athletes because I know all that they go through,’” McNutt says. “This is definitely a way I can stay connected to sports and so something I love and I’m passionate about.”
After graduation, McNutt was being honored at an awards banquet. She was seated next to former Washington Post sports editor George Solomon, who was also the director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland. Solomon, who helped guide the likes of ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan throughout their careers, encouraged McNutt to check out the Maryland. She would later earn master’s degree in broadcast journalism there.
“I always call him my journalism fairy godfather,” McNutt says of Solomon. “He was someone who saw the potential early on.”
There were others who noticed McNutt had something special. One of her angels—a term McNutt reserves for her mentors—was Jasmine Ellis, who is now a producer at CNN. McNutt credits Ellis with being instrumental in ensuring that her clips were seen by the right people in the industry. Another angel was LaChina Robinson, who was working as a sports analyst and took McNutt under her wing as a college student. Years later, before Robinson left her position at Fox Sports 1, she contacted McNutt about the job opportunity.
“They’re going to need someone to take my spot,” Robinson told McNutt. “These are the people that you need to call.”
While McNutt understands the value of networking, she also stresses the value of self-awareness, and her message to women who want to follow in her footsteps is all knowing that.
“I don’t think self-awareness is asking you to dim; I think self-awareness is asking you to be deliberate,” McNutt says. “I preach to young women and just people in general to advocate for yourself because closed mouths don’t get fed.”
Being self-aware is a trait McNutt says she learned from basketball. Basketball was responsible for showing her what kind of leader she was, teaching her how to develop friendships and training her by measuring her hard work.
“Ultimately teamwork is self-awareness,” McNutt says. “There was no sacrifice that was too great while I was in pursuit of being the best I could be.”
When McNutt looks back at her journey, she says she wouldn’t change a thing. She’s open to all possibilities, in both her career and personal life.
“I’m going to enjoy the ride,” she says. “I think life will kind of dictate where I need to be when I need to be there professionally. Having been laid off, having been without this, and I still managed to find peace. … What I do is make sure that my soul is well.”
Bryna Jean-Marie is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.