My Internship at ESPN – RJ Nealon

 In News

Ever since I was young, it was always sports. I felt most comfortable in sports competition; it was my escape, my first love and a way to prove myself. 

For as long as I can remember, I could dissect sport, analyze it position by position and play by play. My family, friends and anyone that knew me always told me I was born to be a sports writer. 

I started competing in Special Olympics back in elementary school. When I decided to stop in college, I began advocating and sharing athletes’ stories. All my life, I was the athlete. Now I was on the other side of the business using my voice and my words to make a difference. 

Special Olympics isn’t just about sports; it’s a stepping stone to advance in the world. It gives those with intellectual disabilities a platform to share their stories, allows their voices to be heard and pushes the importance of inclusion. Without Special Olympics, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. 

I struggle with math and science, but I excel in all other courses. In December, I will graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in sports journalism with a minor in communication studies with a 3.4 GPA. 

Due to having a stroke at birth, I have Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy. However, that has not held me back. This past summer, I interned at ESPN in the programming department, but primarily with the X-Games. I am the digital reporter for WVUA 23, the news station for West Alabama. I also do freelance work for several publications. 

rj nealon interning at espn desk full shot

During the 10-week internship, I had the opportunity to travel to Minneapolis, where during the competition, I handled the Twitter content. I did the preview posts, live competition posts, and wrap up posts. Using Twitter that fast was a learning process, but those are skills we learn during the internship. Learning to step outside your comfort zone and expand your strengths and weaknesses is such a huge component to success.

I was lucky; my two worlds collided this past summer. My dream working with ESPN and my involvement with Special Olympics with a unified BMX race at the X-Games that I had the opportunity to take part in. In an organization where I was once an athlete, I am now helping with the efforts of inclusion.

Out of thousands of applications, I was one of 61 interns and the first Special Olympics athlete to earn a position in the program. That is something I take a lot of pride in because, with everything I overcame, the odds were always stacked against me. I earned one of the hardest internships in the industry because of hard work and opportunity. I stayed patient. I knew what I wanted and what it took to get there.  

Inclusion in the media is so important because being different isn’t a bad thing. Everyone has something going on in their life, whatever it may be, no one person has a perfect life. The media allows every member to express themselves, to show their style and it gives people the platform to make a difference. 

With that, I believe everyone deserves an opportunity, in whatever they want to do, but more specifically with the media. I think if people just got the chance, then they could do a lot of good. Good, that would change the world. My good friend and mentor Kevin Negandhi, once said: “All I wanted was a chance.” I am so thankful ESPN gave me that chance. I went into the internship with an open mind and a desire to learn new things. After 10 weeks, I gained a whole new skill set and a wealth of knowledge from different areas of the company. What I take from this experience will not just help me moving forward with my career, but it will help in life.  

It has also inspired me to get into modeling, helping build a platform for individuals with disabilities. With the work I do, I dress up a lot which means looking your best. Sometimes, that is hard when I do not have assistance. With the world becoming more inclusive, so are fashion companies promoting adaptive clothes. Being a journalist—somebody that is in the public eye a lot—I would love to be someone that helps push adaptive clothing and helps get more fashion companies a part of the movement. 

Together we can change the world. I can do things you cannot; you can do things I cannot; when we put those things together, extraordinary things happen. We just need to take that step forward.

RJ Nealon

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