When Rachel Micali was a little girl, she would frequently accompany her father to the Meadowlands on Sundays to cheer on his beloved New York Jets. Since dad—Bill Vazquez—was a season ticket holder, come rain or shine—it evolved into a ritual for the father/daughter duo. And although the New Jersey born Micali moved with her family to Wyncote, PA, when she was 7—where she quickly became a fan of Philly sports teams—the two continued making the hour and a half trek to the stadium while bonding over the sport.
“I grew up loving football,” said Micali who would often plant herself on the couch next to her father during Sunday televised games. He explained every detail, play and nuance to his daughter.
Fast-forward more than two decades. It comes as no surprise that Micali, 33, a booking producer at Comcast SportsNet (CSN Philadelphia) primarily for Philly Sports Talk hosted by Michael Barkann, remains enthralled with not just football, but all sports, and the accompanying adrenaline rush that competition brings.
In March, the tables were turned as Micali appeared on the other side of the camera. She and her dad were among the featured guests in a father/daughter segment of the TOMBOY series that aired on Philly Sports Talk. Other guests included Team Broadcast Member and Former Philadelphia Flyer Chris Therien, with two of his daughters—both South Jersey high school basketball players.
The TOMBOY documentary, produced by CSN in the San Francisco Bay area, debuted March 13 in Philadelphia and seven other network markets nationwide. Programming leading up to the feature took place throughout February. It also aired on the NBC Sports Network and several NBC stations. (CSN Philadelphia is part of the NBC Sports Group).
The goal of the series is to elevate the conversation of women in sports. In fact, CSN aims to reinvent the word tomboy. “That’s why the TOMBOY logo has a line through it,” said Micali. She cites herself as a prime example: “I’m still very girly in my appearance and a lot of aspects of my life, but I also have a quote, unquote, tomboy side. I have a huge passion for sports, which is a male-dominated field.”
“TOMBOY is a multiplatform series,” continued Micali, who booked guests for the local shows, produced content and helped organize a CSN symposium with a panel of women, hosted by Drexel University’s School of Sports Management.
To date, Micali explains, content for the series has encompassed on-air segments, podcasts and an array of articles highlighting inspiring stories which are posted on CSN Philadelphia’s website. Micali also wrote a blog about her experience in 2010, meeting Billie Jean King, whom she describes as an inspiration.
When Micali, who resides in Philadelphia’s Fairmount section, joined the CSN staff nine years ago, she kept King’s autographed tennis ball on her desk. It was given to her by her mom as a daily reminder of why she’s had the opportunity to fulfill her dream of working in the sports world. Her mother’s words still ring clearly in her ears: “’You wouldn’t be able to do what you do in sports if it weren’t for her.’”
Today, Micali’s job entails wearing many hats, including booking talent and guests for all CSN shows, working in the field interviewing athletes and “line producing” the sports talk show, to name a few. She attributes the opportunity to live out her dream to female trailblazers, particularly tennis icon Billie Jean King, who led the way.
“I love sports and I love working in sports,” said Micali, who is quick to point out that she is not an athlete. “Every day is different.”
Micali initially wanted to pursue a career in sports psychology, but shifted her focus shortly after graduating from the University of Maryland in 2006. She obtained an internship with the Philadelphia Eagles and was hooked. “It was awesome,” recalled Micali, who is pleased with the community’s positive response to the TOMBOY series.
The documentary, which aired throughout March, coincided with Women’s History Month, and featured prominent female athletes such as world-champion skier Lindsey Vonn, former Little League World Series pitcher Mo’ne Davis, Basketball Hall of Famer Ann Meyers Drysdale, champion for gender equality Billie Jean King, and a host of others. It also cast a spotlight on female broadcasters and sports executives—decision makers in a male-dominated arena.
A number of powerful women in the sports world spoke openly about their intensely personal experiences growing up as “tomboys.” The documentary, explains Micali, was also a call to action for more discussion and opportunities for women in sports, as participants as well as executives.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, in the last 40 years, the number of girls participating in sports has nearly doubled with two out of five choosing to play a sport.
The documentary was the brainchild of Sean Maddison, a producer with the NBC Sports Group in the San Francisco Bay area, formerly CSN Bay Area. “He had an idea; he wanted to raise awareness and engagement with women in sports,” explained Brian Monihan, president and general manager of CSN Philadelphia and the Comcast Network (TCN). Shortly after Maddison began work on the project, network management took notice of the critical issues being examined. The series soon took flight on a national level.
Monihan was on board with “elevating the conversation about gender in sports” from the beginning. “Women in sports deserve to have the same attention as men,” he said, adding that it’s not just athletes that should be spotlighted, but the multidisciplinary, behind-the-scenes team that make things happen. This includes supporters of athletes, reporters, producers, team managers, coaches, executives and more. Monihan calls sports the glue that pulls us all together.
“We need to take a closer look at how women in sports are treated,” said Monihan. As a father of four, with two daughters—ages 23 and 15—who participate in sports, he understands the topic on a personal level. Younger daughter, Kate, an ice hockey player, was interviewed in a series segment posted on CSN’s website.
“There’s so much of a light shed on boy’s and men’s sports,” observed Monihan, “and there wasn’t enough exposure or commitment to making sure that was done with women’s sports. We realized that this is an important part of our community that is underserved.”
The Philadelphia network is continuing the conversation and plans are under way for a second symposium.
“There are so many women that love sports, love competing in sports, love watching it and love being a part of it, but most of it is geared toward men,” said Micali. “The series has created a great light around women in sports.”
Micali, who won an Emmy in 2013 for her work on CSN’s 15th Anniversary special, knows firsthand of the negative stigmatism surrounding women in sports. “I have experienced it,” she said, adding that professional male athletes don’t always take women seriously. “I had to work harder to prove myself. I had to earn my stripes. Just because I didn’t play in the NFL, doesn’t mean I don’t know football.”
The booking producer acknowledges her good fortune in having the opportunity to do something she loves on a daily basis. She aspires to be a resource for other women who work in sports and those looking to do so someday.
A career in sports—hands down—is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Micali realized another dream when she and husband, Dominic, became parents in March 2016 to son Jace. “It’s like having two full-time jobs,” admitted Micali. “It is possible to do both. It’s very difficult, but very rewarding at the same time.”
Micali emphasizes that a woman doesn’t have to be a competitive athlete to make an impact in the sports world.
Through the TOMBOY series, she hopes that young women will be encouraged and inspired to follow their dreams—whatever they may be.