Monica McNutt on Women's Sports, The 'Get Up' Team, and Announcing Opportunities

2023 espnW Summit NYC
2023 espnW Summit NYC / Arturo Holmes/GettyImages

Monica McNutt is a rising star at ESPN. Just tune into any ESPN show that has anything to do with basketball and you're likely to see her stealing the show for one reason or another. From Get Up to First Take to live coverage of the NBA or women's college basketball, McNutt knows hoops and ESPN is clearly comfortable letting her cook.

This is not the first profile of McNutt and it certainly won't be the last. She comes off as the consummate teammate, genuine, funny and grateful. "I'm in a really dope position where ESPN has given me a chance to kind of try some different things," McNutt told The Big Lead in an interview last week. "Basketball is definitely my first love and I think that there's tons of runway there for getting creative and having a lot of fun."

At 33, her career has taken her to the Olympics, NBA Finals, and the NBA Draft so far. The Draft was a surprise highlight as she got to be part what she called a special night for the draftees and their families. While she continues to take advantage of these opportunities, along with her daily duties on studio shows, she has an eye on something bigger. McNutt has worked WNBA games for ESPN and has plans for even more announcing. "I hope that I'm on more game calls," she said. "That's the part of the business that I was most attracted to. It's the biggest reason that I got into the space."

Between the WNBA, women's college hoops and the NBA, there will be opportunities and there's no reason to doubt she'll get there. About a decade ago she was working as a kindergarten aide and if she hadn't followed this dream, that's where she'd still be. "The time I spent in the classroom between undergrad and grad schools, for me it was incredibly meaningful because I love being in the classroom," said McNutt. "I really did enjoy those kids. My mom and my cousin are career teachers. My sister's an administrator. So there's lots of educators in my family. I believe in our youth in terms of obviously being our future. i think they could be meaningful work."

That meaningful work has continued at ESPN with a program called Grow Our Game. "I love that and I think it's so important for young girls to have examples and be tangible," she said. "My career is dope and I'm very thankful. I thank God regularly, but I'm also not a person that believes that we're here just for ourselves. That would be an isolated and boring life. I think it's important that we are mindful of our impact on others."

That impact is something she takes seriously. McNutt wants to share her experiences with the next generation. Even the bad experiences, which she's noticing more on social media as her career continues to progress. "I'm now in a place where I can encourage young women differently now that it's starting to happen more," McNutt said. "I think it's so important that you are clear on who you are and what your goal is. This idea that we're going to be liked by everybody, first you've gotta throw that out because that's just not real. Whether you're on television or you're just a regular person. I think you've gotta be mindful of how to protect yourself and you've gotta understand what social media is. That's something that's sort of new and developing for me."

"I think I'm just starting to get to that place in my career where I wonder about the intent of some of the negative feedback. For the most part I've been really fortunate that I didn't get a bunch of go back to the kitchen and you don't know what you're talking about because you're a woman stuff. I've been really fortunate. I think a lot of that is because I was working on local television and people did know me. Even when I got ACC Network, it's not as wide reaching as the main four letters. So that's starting to happen."

She says the most important thing to remember is that by engaging, you're amplifying the haters. Luckily, that's just a small part of what she repeatedly calls a great job. She's mindful of where she is at in her career. "It's funny because I sometimes would get frustrated when folks would look at me and think I'm younger than I am," said McNutt. "I'll be 34 in October and I'm very proud of that. So I think as I was trying to make my way there was a question about experience and I'm like, no, I'm not 27 or 26. I've been at this for a while, so I think the arc is really cool and I'm just thankful for every step of my journey."

On a daily basis she gets to mix it up with some of the biggest names at ESPN. Asked to pick a dream panel for a show, she just went down the call sheet. "Windy has his ear to the streets," she said. "Alan Hahn is my guy from MSG. I think we have a lot of fun together, have really good chemistry. We're picking on each other. I love when Swagu [Marcus Spears] and Ryan Clark are on. Dominique Foxworth too. Greeny is just so excellent in terms of keeping the energy, keeping the conversation moving. I think JWill is great when he comes in with his segments and we can have fun hoop conversations. It's a loaded question. Because I think all of us that do Get Up have a ton of fun and bring a fun perspective to the show."

As a former college player who works women's basketball games, she hopes it can become a bigger part of the daily conversation, and has seen positive momentum recently. "I think partnerships have to be sincere and like we saw this year, it was a really dope culmination of marketing dollars and support from corporate America talent and a climate that is more and more and more excited about women's sports," McNutt said. And the ratings back it up.

"When women's basketball truly becomes water cooler clatter, then we'll know that we're making notable progress," she continued. "And that is not to dismiss the numbers, the gaudy, fantastic numbers. So many folks were proud of this year's women's basketball tournament and that is an example of exactly what I'm talking about now. Unfortunately, it wasn't just because of basketball that it became water cooler material and led First Take the following Monday, but it was an example of the star power. If Angel or Caitlin were both average players, there's no way that conversation starts, right? So the fact that there is so much excellent talent in the league, to me, buoys that conversation forward."

While she watches - and helps - women's basketball grow, she'll continue giving her takes on whatever ESPN asks her to. And when she eventually does move on to more announcing work - which she will - remember, she was never out to get anyone. "It's not personal," McNutt emphasized. "You can only pick one team. Sometimes you're on the right side, which to me is so funny and I get it. Fans are passionate. They're incredible. They're gonna hold onto your take. I haven't batted a thousand on every take but I just sort of giggle like ya'll it's not personal. I'm gonna get up and say something different probably tomorrow."