Elle Duncan: “Learn the difference between contentment and complacency”

Learn the difference between contentment and complacency. One is grounded in an appreciation of the journey the other is rooted in resistance to inevitable change. As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Elle Duncan. Television sports veteran Elle Duncan joined ESPN as an anchor […]

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Learn the difference between contentment and complacency. One is grounded in an appreciation of the journey the other is rooted in resistance to inevitable change.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Elle Duncan.

Television sports veteran Elle Duncan joined ESPN as an anchor for SportsCenter, the network’s signature news and information program in May of 2016. In March of 2021, she moved to the 6 p.m. show with Kevin Negandhi.

In June of 2020, Duncan was named co-host with Clinton Yates of ESPN’s The Undefeated of a new weekly radio program The Intersection. The two-hour program featured in-depth discussions continuing the conversation around the impact of social justice on sports and society.

For two years prior to joining ESPN, Duncan was an anchor, host and reporter for the New England Sports Network (NESN) in Boston, most recently hosting the daily NESN Live and NESN Sports Today programs.

Prior to joining NESN in early 2014, the Atlanta native worked in a number of on-air positions in her home city on both television and radio, including as a sports anchor and reporter for WXIA-TV, Atlanta’s NBC-TV affiliate, from 2012–2014. She was a sideline reporter for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks for six years and a field reporter for Comcast Sports South on SEC and ACC football for two years.

Duncan started her broadcasting career in 2003 as an entertainment reporter for former Atlanta sports radio station 790 the Zone, then in 2005 began a seven-year career as an on-air personality with Atlanta hip-hop station V103 where she hosted a top-rated program. She expanded her radio work as co-host of pre-game, halftime and post-game shows for the Atlanta Falcons Radio Network in 2010–2011.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/772191e3df5ddbe1a9c0b79da2c59963

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Elle! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Marietta, Georgia after my parents and sister relocated from Denver, CO. I very quickly adopted and embraced being the only peach in my family! We were and remain a sports family! My earliest childhood memories are road trips all over the Southeast playing softball tournaments and if weren’t playing sports we were watching them!

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always knew I wanted to be in entertainment, but for a very long time, I thought that was as an actress. Moving to LA for a pilot season after high school was so revelatory for me as I concluded I was much more comfortable being myself than other people! That’s when I narrowed my focus to broadcasting and sports.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was at Super Bowl 49 between the Patriots and Seahawks. Before the game ended they usher media into the tunnel to prepare to hit the field postgame. I somehow, in all the chaos, wound up with the Patriots friends and family group that had field access. I was with them when they saw on a little 20 inch monitor the ridiculous Jermaine Kearse catch that looked to seal the deal. They were deflated. Unbeknownst to them, I was listening to the radio broadcast of the game that was ahead of the stadium delay. So, I hear “HE THROWS a PICK” in my ear and start yelling it and they’re all shouting at me because it hasn’t happened yet. I yell “LOOK” and point to the monitor as Malcolm Butler wins the game and everyone went wild and started hugging, including me and it was absolutely bonkers!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was overly confident about my first live hit for the 6 pm news from the Braves game when I was still green. It was my hometown team and was only going to be 90 seconds of scene-setting and talking. I was absolutely terrible at it. I stumbled, had no cogent thoughts, and it was a disaster. I learned right then that confidence can’t replace good old-fashioned preparation and humility. My goal since became to respect every role and opportunity no matter how seemingly simple or small.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

This has been a time of activism and aligning with people who support important causes and efforts. I have been intentional about making sure that companies who claim the importance of equality and inclusion are doing more than making Twitter statements. It was great to find out how long FedEx had been supporting HBCU’s through FedEx Cares and that they wanted to create the FedEx Career Insights Program with a measurable goal of career readiness and development for HBCU students who want inroads into sports through real experience. I’m a testament to needing investment, opportunity, and mentorship to reach my goals. FedEx is affording a new makeup of sports that more closely represents America!

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Figure out early in the process what you’re motivated by. I found out YEARS in it wasn’t a chip on my shoulder that was driving me or the prospect of money or popularity. My only goal is to work a job that fulfills me. That stokes creativity and curiosity. One where I can play. One that makes leaving a family that I love, very much, more palatable. My advice would be to find a purpose first and then narrow on roles that fit what’s foundationally important.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Entertainment is supposed to reflect real life. Diversity is the tentpole of this country, it’s what it was founded on. So…

1) Accuracy is why it’s important.

2.) Visibility. I grew up playing with dolls, rooting for superheroes on tv, watching love blossom and 90% of the time those people did not look like me. It should become just as status quo for mainstream America to see a person of color on screen without branding it as black entertainment. Where it’s not earth-shattering to have a black person in prominent, front-facing roles.

3.) Because differing backgrounds enhance almost any situation. A prime example of why FedEx is guiding young black students towards spaces they’ve had a hard time permeating.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Learn to identify if you’re valued or tolerated.
  • Be clear and vocal with your needs. People are incredibly busy and despite having best interests may not have time to read between lines.
  • Say you’re sorry when you’re wrong and find a way to work past it even if there’s no reciprocity in that belief.
  • Turn on all the filters on Twitter, even the most confident of us can wilt under a barrage of criticism and constant adulation is just as poisonous.
  • Learn the difference between contentment and complacency. One is grounded in an appreciation of the journey the other is rooted in resistance to inevitable change.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

De-program yourself from thinking you have to earn the day by working yourself to exhaustion. Limping to the finish line is not a badge of honor, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m not sure I’ll ever say anything again that will spark the kind of movement fathers created with #GirlDad, but it would be to trust women in your boardrooms, in your locker rooms, with their own bodies. Trust that we can and should have full agency of our lives and goals and dreams and that we in turn will continue to make life and work better for everyone around us. It’s what we do.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents. I have too many stories, of their sacrifice, the resources strains, driving me across the country for games or auditions or moves. But it was the constant encouragement from the time I was little that whatever wild ride I found myself in they’d be cheering from the stands with love and TONS of support; monetary and otherwise. I wouldn’t be here without them. Period.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My great aunt who is currently 97 told me the key to life is to think kindly of the past while living fully in the now. I embrace the joy and light in life every day no matter the difficulties around me.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Isn’t the answer always Oprah? I would line up my dolls at 4 pm when she came on and present the same subjects to my toys. I was absolutely influenced by her and would love to just hear how she’s remained decades of relevance. That’s the entertainment version of the white Whale — staying power.

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

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