February 15, 2023
Assembly Focuses on Leadership and Journalism
Vice President of Production at ESPN Antoine Lewis shared his life journey and experiences with the Middle School at an assembly. Lewis produces the number one ESPN show First Take, but before his position at the sports channel, his career spanned working in newspaper journalism and television news across the United States, a peripatetic career that led him to crisscross the nation covering news stories of chicken farms in Roanoke to working at the Today Show in New York City, managing stations in Indianapolis all the while learning his craft which led him to ESPN in 2003.
Lewis grew up on the south side of Chicago and always had big plans with education as his foundation. Since his neighborhood school was inadequate, he commuted two hours one way to school, taking three trains and two buses to arrive at Lincoln Park High School, an excellent school and football powerhouse. He excelled in his academics and was also a tremendous running back. He shared that his mother only attended one of his games since he was an only child, and she was nervous to see him injured in a game. Ironically, in the one game she attended in his senior year, Lewis broke his leg, and his football career was derailed. He didn’t have any letters of intent from colleges to play ball, but he did have solid academics, which led him to receive an academic scholarship from Northwestern, where he studied journalism. Eventually, he did play football at Northwestern.
By the time he graduated, NBC had offered to pay for his master’s at Northwestern, and he toured the country learning journalism in the cities as mentioned earlier. “Everything is an experience you can learn and build upon,” he said. “While I didn’t cover “sports” in these markets, sports became news like contract disputes, the court system, and arrests. While many of my colleagues could tell you the stats of a Super Bowl, I knew how the news system worked. I had a leg up.”
He became the first African American to manage Sports Center in 2005. After 2005, he went on to cover the NFL and college football simultaneously and then covered college basketball. He believes this versatility allowed him to be prepared for his shots when the time came. When First Take initially aired, they were on ESPN 2, eventually beating Sports Center in the ratings.
He stressed that success doesn’t come overnight. “Be ready for your chance, be ready for your shot,” he said. “People may doubt you. Get the noise out of your head and away from the bad influences, and know there is a path. Many people may say I’m only 10 years old or I’m only 14. I say you’re ready because someone your age is already doing something and pursuing their dreams. They have a vision of what they want to do.”
Following the sage advice from Lewis was an animated question and answer period from the audience who asked him about his sneaker collection, which is so large it now takes up all the room in his garage. He counts Shaq as his favorite athlete to work with because he is fun and coachable. The four-time Emmy award-winner shared that one of his coolest moments was doing a live show on a yacht on the Hudson River because he enjoys pushing the envelope and being creative. One student asked about pursuing a career in sports journalism, and Lewis was quick with his answer. ‘Whatever you do, learn how to write,” he said. “Scripts have to be written. You have to learn how to express yourself. Watch and consume everything that you can.”