The playbook for Murrells Inlet native Wendi Nix these days is a nonstop cross-country route to just about any football preseason training camp. That’s part of the job as an ESPN reporter on demand.
“You definitely have to be flexible,” laughs Nix. “This is not a job for someone looking to work Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, with holidays. But the tradeoff is doing something you’re passionate about and the flexibility changes over the years. You just think of it as a lifestyle, not a job, with unique demands.”
We were forced to reschedule our chat a few times because of last-minute changes to Nix’s flights and finally squeezed in a late-morning cell phone interview Nix balanced with busily driving to her next stop. How’s that for Southern hospitality?
Nix says, after all, despite her new northern headquarters in New England, she’s a Southern girl at heart. “The weather up here, I’m still not used to,” she says with a laugh. “When I do get back to visit Murrells Inlet, which is not often, it still definitely feels like home. It was a phenomenal place to grow up and had a great sense of community. I was always very much the beach girl – from sunup to sundown.”
Nix also grew up on Southern football; her father, Wayne Nix, was a successful high school and college football coach when she was very young. “Being at a stadium on a Friday night is part of my earliest, fondest memories,” she says. “It’s second nature to me and where I feel most comfortable.”
She also developed her comfort zone on the sidelines of a football field as a cheerleader for her alma mater, Socastee High School, where she was also a member of the track team. “I really loved Socastee,” says Nix. “I’m a big proponent of public schools and I got a good education here. I was always encouraged to try different things and I was always active. I mean, it’s a very active area! And living in the Myrtle Beach area exposes you to so many different types of people, whether they’re living there or just passing through, especially with the Air Force base there when I was growing up.”
Nix next bid farewell to the coast to attend Wofford College in Spartanburg, where she graduated with degrees in French and economics in 1996. She made quite an impression while on campus, serving as a two-year captain of the golf team and president of the Campus Union her senior year.
Because Nix exuded exemplary confidence and leadership at Wofford, both athletically and scholastically, she was encouraged to attend the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and go the extra yards for a master’s degree in sports management, which she received in 1997.
From her time at UMass, a whirlwind of connections and opportunities ultimately landed Nix on TV. She did an invaluable internship with New England Sports Network (NESN), put a resume tape together, and was hired by her hometown news station, WPDE-TV Myrtle Beach-Florence in 1999, covering news, high school sports and NASCAR. But this was only the stepping stone for Nix’s TV sports journalism career. She returned to NESN as a reporter and anchor in 2001, followed by a move to FOXSports as a national sports reporter and FOXSports New England as an anchor-reporter. In 2003, she began work with WHDH-TV in Boston as a sports anchor and reporter. And in August 2006, she was recruited by ESPN as a reporter and host covering the NFL and NCAA football.
Nowadays, however, she can be seen reporting from golf tournaments like the U.S. Open, the Masters and British Open, MLB baseball games and more. Nix hosts “NFL Live,” “College Football Live” and the “Monday Night Football Chalk Talk” lunch show, a combination focus on sports and local community leaders from the city hosting “Monday Night Football” each week. She’s also a regular contributor to “SportsCenter,” “College Game Day” and “Sunday NFL Countdown.”
So what’s it like organizing your life around year-round sports seasons and talking to professional athletes for a living? “You know, I just like telling someone’s story and meeting people,” says Nix. “And it’s awesome seeing someone succeed at the level at which they’re playing.”
Sometimes, she says, it’s the guys outside the spotlight and glory of a championship ring that are, unexpectedly, the most interesting to interview, like Clemson University’s Ray Ray McElrathbey, who raised his younger brother because of their mother’s drug addiction. “One thing I like about sports is that it’s a microcosm of its own,” she says. “It’s filled with real people with real issues, and sometimes that gets overlooked. Athletes and their families have sick kids, get a divorce and so on, but they do it all in the public eye.”
Nix also has to remain strong, steadfast and constantly on cue in a sports industry that’s, let’s face it, still dominated by males – both on the field and in front of the camera. “I think it’s getting better,” she says in reference to the respect of women in the sports journalism field. “I feel fortunate to have all the opportunities in the world and I think it’s mind over matter. I don’t see [a negative reaction] because I choose not to see it. Athletes in general are accustomed to women nowadays. I think, whether you’re male or female, they’re good at reading people, so if you prepare yourself and present yourself well, and you’re there for the right reasons, they’ll know it.”
Professionalism, Nix says, is the core of ESPN. And in a time of Twitter and cell phone cameras and YouTube downloads, that’s more demanding. “Over the past 11 years I’ve been doing this, the biggest difference is the media age we live in today,” she says. “We’re not only working to professionally cover a sport, but we have to adjust everything to get the news out there faster – the demands to get the news has increased tremendously.”
Hence, more time traveling on the road (or in the air) for Nix, and less days off at home. “I don’t have a husband or kids, but I have someone very important in my life right now and it just requires very good communication and trading calendars,” she says. “You have to be pretty organized and pretty creative. Family time might be breakfast instead of dinner.”
Luckily, Nix does get well-deserved downtime in February and March, when she spends time playing golf, doing yoga, running and, ironically, traveling. Nix has established a firm foothold in national football, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the community. In January 2009, she was first woman to serve as master of ceremonies at the Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America awards dinner, which honors the Division 1A College Football Player of the Year. And at press time, Nix was gearing up for her photo shoot for the cover of The Improper Bostonian, a popular Boston magazine.