As an award-winning sports reporter for ESPN, SEC Network and AL.com, Lauren Sisler is often compared to other women rising the ranks in this male-dominated field. But don’t call her the next Erin Andrews. “I’m the next Lauren Sisler,” she says.
A leader since her days as captain of the Rutgers University gymnastics team, Lauren is charting her own path in the sports broadcasting industry, driven by a passion for sharing people’s stories. And she’s not afraid to share her own, either. When she was a freshman in college, Lauren unexpectedly lost both of her parents to prescription drug overdoses. This tragedy has spurred her to serve as a board member for the Addiction Prevention Coalition in Birmingham, do continuous outreach for addiction awareness, and produce a documentary about her family’s journey through addiction called “Beyond the Shadows.” We’re honored to introduce our newest FACE of Birmingham, Lauren Sisler.
Did you always know you wanted to be a sports reporter?
I grew up wanting to be a sports doctor. I was around sports my entire life. My brother was a three-sport athlete, and I was a gymnast, and we were just a family that loved sports. College football, NFL, NASCAR — you name it. Sports was in my DNA, but I had aspirations of being a sports doctor. Being a gymnast and experiencing all the injuries that come with gymnastics, I thought it would be an awesome opportunity to help rehabilitate athletes and get them back out on the playing field. When both of my parents passed away, it forced me to take a step back and re-evaluate myself and re-evaluate the direction I was headed. It really helped me redefine what my passions were and what I felt my purpose could be in life.
How does sports reporting give you a sense of purpose?
I came to the realization that I had this gift to connect with people. I get to be a voice and a platform for these athletes, these coaches, these fans, the community, and I have this opportunity to be able to share their story in a positive way and to give people hope, and to give people something to root for and somebody to root for. I think that’s what makes sports so amazing.
How do you feel your own experience as a college athlete has helped you as a sports reporter?
Gymnastics is very much an individual sport. Growing up, I was always competing for myself, for my coaches, and my parents. Then I go to Rutgers and now I’m competing for my team. That was a wonderful experience — to be able to compete for something greater than myself and ultimately to earn that opportunity to be the captain of the gymnastics team. To be looked upon as a role model, as someone who could lead the team — not only in the gym but also outside the gym — it really was an honor.
In June of 2017, you were awarded a regional Emmy for producing what would become a wildly popular interview between Charles Barkley and Nick Saban. What do you think made that interview stand out?
Charles Barkley and Nick Saban are household names. You’re talking about two of the most prolific figures in sports but polar opposite personalities. So, I think that’s what was really intriguing about this. You’re talking about an Alabama guy and an Auburn guy. You’ve got football and basketball. And you’ve got two guys on opposite ends of the sphere as it pertains to their personalities, but both considered elites in their respective positions. It was just really special to see them interact and share stories and really hit on a variety of topics. They talked about second chances and the importance of Nick Saban giving these young men a place where they can become leaders and become better men, better future fathers, better future husbands, giving them all the tools they need to be successful in life and not just on the football field.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in a male-dominated field?
I graduated college in 2006, and obviously, it took quite a bit of time to build up to where I am today. There have always been challenges. Does she belong here? What’s her history? What does this tall blonde know about football? A lot of those questions come up, and I’ve had to deal with being labeled certain things on social media. But one thing I take great pride in is having integrity and knowing I did things the right way and I was never handed a hall pass. I had to work my butt off to get to where I am today. There were times when I wanted to wave the white flag and thought maybe this isn’t for me. What I realized is you’re going to get knocked down. You’re going to fail, but the key is being able to pick yourself back up and keep moving forward.
You first came to Birmingham for a post with the Birmingham CBS affiliate WIAT42. What do you love most about living in Birmingham?
You get the best of both worlds. You get the city feel, the culture, the food, the people and the atmosphere. But you also get that simple way of life. You can speed things up or you can slow things down. It’s sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure book.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love the outdoors. I love to exercise. There’s no pick-up game of gymnastics. So, I have to get in my Torque workouts. I’m definitely a socialite, so the pandemic has been difficult. I always enjoy doing backyard barbecues and ladies’ nights. I’m looking forward to getting back to those when things clear up.
Drawing from your own experience of losing your parents to drug overdoses, you do a lot of work around spreading awareness about addiction. What’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have about addiction?
The word “addiction” comes with such a negative connotation, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that addiction comes with a lot of side effects that impact the family. Whether it’s lying, cheating or stealing, it’s behaving in such ways that many people would deem a character flaw. But in reality, addiction consumes a person and forces them to act out in such a way that is uncharacteristic of that person. The labels force people into isolation and into silence. My goal is to be a platform for people to shatter the stigma and undo the shackles of shame, to give people hope in knowing there are resources and people out there who can help. We want to stand with you in this battle.
What advice would you give to other women working in male-dominated fields?
Be true to yourself. In my field, I’m under a microscope. I’m constantly being watched. I’m constantly being analyzed. And I think with social media, we’re all being analyzed. We’re sitting in this arena with everyone watching us, and it can be intimidating at times because there are people out there expecting you to fail. But they’re in the general admission seats. You’ve got to focus on the people who love you and support you and put those people in the box seats.
Name three things you can’t live without.
Snacks, my fancy sneakers, and a good bubble bath.
Meet more inspiring Birmingham women by visiting our archives!