FOX Sports is participating in the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) for the first time this year. The initiative, launched by the U.S. Department of State, organizes one-month mentorships for emerging women leaders from around the world each year in the hopes of empowering them to better serve their local communities through the power of sport. Through Women of FOX Sports, FOX Sports is hosting accomplished Nigerian sports journalist Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke, the first female anchor and sports analyst for SuperSport Nigeria.
One of this year’s 17 GSMP participants selected from a pool of about 100 women nominated by U.S. embassies located across the globe, Chisom has been spending time with Jennifer Pransky (Senior Coordinating Producer, Features, FOX Sports) and Lindsay Amstutz (SVP and General Manager of FOX Sports West and PrimeTicket, and FOX Sports San Diego). During her monthlong mentorship, Chisom is tasked with developing an action plan to address a specific challenge facing young women in Nigeria. While with the FOX Sports team, she will have opportunities to meet with executive leadership to gain new perspective that she can incorporate into both her action plan development and own career.
To kick off Chisom’s time with FOX Sports, the Women of FOX Sports hosted an event to showcase Chisom, alongside fellow GSMP Emerging Leader Carmen Pozo Rios (first female journalist in Bolivia), and Program Director Dr. Sarah Hillyer.
We recently spoke with Chisom to learn more about her journey, the role of sports in Nigeria’s culture and her action plan.
Chisom ran track in high school and knew at a young age that she wanted to work in the sports industry. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English, Chisom knew she had to find a way to get noticed in an industry that didn’t take women seriously. So she went online and found a FIFA agent licensing program, which no woman in Nigeria had yet passed.
While Chisom had no interest in becoming an agent, she thought if she did that, it would get her noticed. So she took the exam and passed, becoming the first female FIFA-licensed agent.
“Suffice it to say that it got me the attention that I wanted,” she said.
The head of SuperSport Nigeria, one of the country’s largest media outlets, was one of the many people who noticed Chisom’s achievement. After a successful audition, she became the first female soccer analyst on SuperSport and remains the only female anchor on the network.
In her 10 years at SuperSport, Chisom has covered some of the biggest sporting events in the world, including the World Cup and the Olympics. She has also started her own production company, Fortem Lens, which aims to give African women the opportunity to tell stories and cover sports.
Journey to the GSMP
About seven years ago, Chisom received a call from the U.S. Embassy of Nigeria, which was running a program to empower schoolgirls. They said they thought she was a role model who should participate as a mentor.
“I can’t really understand why, other than the fact that I seemed to be in a male-dominated world and doing OK,” Chisom said.
She took part in this program for two years and remained in contact with the U.S. Embassy. Then earlier this year, Chisom received another call – this time, the embassy nominated her to be mentored at the GSMP.
“It definitely fit into my plans, into my vision, into my goals in life.” Chisom said she took the nomination seriously and was “eternally grateful” when she was selected as a participant.
Sports in Nigeria
Nigeria is home to hundreds of tribes, languages and ethnic groups, and there are cultural divisions and issues among them. “The one time everybody comes together…is when the country is involved in a sporting competition,” Chisom said. “Once somebody puts on green and white, everyone comes together and we forget all the problems. Because of that, sports – especially football – is very massive in Nigeria.”
The Nigerian football team has 18 players from different parts of Nigeria, but when one of them makes a nice move on the pitch, everybody in the stadium cheers and chants his name. It’s these instances when Chisom realizes the power of sport in the nation.
Where some see a recreational activity, Chisom sees a unifying phenomenon that governments around the world should be tapping into. “We really need that right now.”
Action plan and personal takeaway
Chisom’s action plan, which has changed since she arrived at the GSMP, is to create a lasting positive impact in the lives of young girls in Nigeria. To do this, Chisom wants to bring a network of successful women from around the world to participate in a monthlong program, Fortem Inspire (“fortem” means brave in Latin), where they would spend two hours each Saturday and Sunday to mentor young women in Nigeria through the power of sport. She hopes mentees will learn how to overcome adversity, have self-respect, build leadership skills and embrace diversity in their home country.
“In the end, we want them to leave with a mind that has not been lost, to believe they can be whatever or whoever they want to be in life, without any hindrances,” Chisom said.
During her time with FOX Sports through the GSMP, Chisom said she’s noticed a common thread in everyone she’s met: a support system that helped them build plans at a very young age. She now carries a desire to ensure her children, nephews, nieces and others in Nigeria have that too.
“It’s a new burden for me now.”