Emily Austin on Becoming a Sports Reporter at 18, Handling Antisemitism on Social Media

February 1, 2023
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As a 21-year-old senior at Hofstra University in New York, Emily Austin already built a massive audience as a sports journalist. As a freshman, she wanted to go the pre-med route. But when the global pandemic upended her life as a student, she started interviewing athletes live on Instagram. Barely three years and almost 1 million Instagram followers later, Austin has become one of the most prominent young sports journalists working today.

Emily was recently a judge at the 71st edition of Miss Universe. She was one of the youngest judges in history and was a part an all female selection committee. Emily told the Journal, “for me to be 21 and helping select the women to represent the universe means a lot.”

The Journal’s Shanni Suissa hosted Austin for an interview on Instagram Live, where they spoke about Austin’s Jewish upbringing, her early career roots and the challenges of facing antisemitism in the comment threads.

Below are highlights from their conversation (edited for space). The full interview video is available below:

JJ: Talk to us about your Jewish background.

EMILY AUSTIN: Growing up [in New York] we were always pretty Modern Orthodox and I always knew I was Jewish. I was always told I was Jewish…I was complacent. I knew of it but I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. I didn’t know otherwise. It was just, “I’m Jewish, if you’re not, great, if you are, great.” And I always kept kosher.

JJ: Where is your family from?

Turkey, Bulgaria, Iraq, and then a huge mix of Greek, Egyptian, Yemenite. We’re from everywhere. A Middle Eastern melting pot.

JJ: When did you start transitioning into this sort of proudful Judaism and having that sense of pride that you have now?

It was always part of my identity, but I’d never show it off, per se. I was your typical Long Island Jew growing up.

I went to private school for high school and in my junior year of high school, I went on something similar to March of the Living. It was a tour of the concentration camps. And then following the tour we went to Israel to lighten up. But the concentration camps messed me up mentally so bad that I didn’t even enjoy Israel. I was so mentally ill, I had a fever, I couldn’t stomach what I had just seen in Poland that I couldn’t possibly enjoy myself after that…It was crucial for me to see, because subconsciously, it took me a long time to realize where my pride came from and I can definitely credit seeing what could have been and then seeing how we came through that.

JJ: It’s really crazy to think about everything that the Jewish people have been through.

I really dislike when people say, ‘oh, but that was then, it’s not now. It can never happen again, you guys run the world.’ It’s my favorite stereotype. But that’s not true because Jews were equally as successful today as they were then. We were on Broadway, we were actors, we were filmmakers, we were producers. Nothing changed. Religion doesn’t make you different from the rest of the world. The only thing different was that the world let [the Holocaust] happen.

JJ: Tell us about your Instagram Live story and how you started building your following.

I got to college and hated [pre-]med school. I was very good at science I just didn’t enjoy it. I also took communication and writing classes. And I realized I like communications way better than medicine. It made me reconsider my stance on life.

Then the pandemic hits. And suddenly, school was canceled for six weeks. Then for almost a year. And then Zoom kicked in and I had so much time to reconsider what I wanted to do. So that was a horrible situation that ended up benefiting me. But I used that time to actually think about what I wanted to do. I realized I really wanted to go into TV. So now I was like, where the heck do I even begin?

I went to so many basketball games in high school because in New York, you have the Knicks and Nets. And it was just so convenient for me and I decided to ask a couple of players that I knew if they would be willing to join an [Instagram] Live with me. And surprisingly, I got a lot of people to say yes.

I started interviewing athletes on [Instagram] Live. Then an MTV producer who was a huge Knicks fan, loved my Instagram Lives and asked me if I could audition to host a season of their show. I’m 18. I’m like, there’s zero chance I will make this audition, but what’s the worst that can happen? At least I tried. And I got it!

Then the same producer leaves MTV, goes to another company, produces a fight…and they ask me to come along with them…now fast forward three years, it became a career for me.

JJ: What’s been your favorite project that you’ve worked on in terms of your media? What have you had the most fun doing?

I flew to Vegas with my parents for the NBA Summer League, basically two weeks in Las Vegas. We congregate as the entire NBA, all the teams come, but particularly all of the rookies that have just been drafted and the second years. It becomes a social event and everyone comes, all-stars, legends, LeBron, whoever it is, everyone comes. And I interviewed some really high prospects.

I interviewed Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey, Scotty Pippen Jr., Shareef O’Neal…And they were such good quality interviews. I had a camera, microphone and an actual set. It was just amazing. It was so much fun. It’s funny because I’m the same age as these players that are just starting in the league. So I really feel like I’m having a true conversation and connecting with them, which makes the quality of the interview that much better.

JJ: Do you ever feel more pressure as a woman going into these spaces?

I think there’s a huge misconception in sports that women don’t have the upper hand. In fact, I’ve been in rooms where only women are broadcasting. It’s more recent, that’s for sure. But today, that’s not a concern anymore. The only thing is social media. If G-d forbid a woman says something on TV that people don’t agree with, if I say, ‘You know what? I really think Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time.” Which is not controversial, but let’s say that and people disagree, my comments will be absolutely insane. My favorite comments in particular, [sarcastic] ‘go back to the kitchen woman.’ They will comment broom and soap emojis on my content.

If you say something that people don’t like, you can expect your comment section to look like a zoo…that’s something women do deal with. If you mess up, it’s heavier than if a guy messes up. I think the opportunity is the same, the feedback is different.

JJ: How do you deal with the hate that comes your way, as a Jewish woman in the media?

This morning in particular, I woke up and did the unhealthy habit of checking my Instagram first thing… I refreshed my feed and I had the same person comment through all one hundred-something of my posts, spamming ‘Free Palestine.’ Then he took a break, I guess he got banned, and then continued to spam me. And I just thought it was funny, why are you wasting your time on my posts?

But 99% of the time, I never let comments bother me because I live my life very true to myself. If I say something, obviously people make mistakes and you could be insensitive sometimes, but most of the time, I say things that are coming from my heart. And I live very true to myself. So there’s no reason why I’ll do something and then regret it. Or I know I take every shot I can and I don’t live with a lot of regrets in the industry per se.

JJ: When you’re standing up to antisemitism and you’re standing up to things that you feel are offensive for your people and then someone says, ‘Oh well you’re actually being racist by standing up for your people.’ That can definitely be frustrating.

They were also saying, oh, ‘I hate that you only stand up for antisemitism, that shows you don’t care about other communities.’ That’s not true. I’ve stood up for probably every community that was being harassed during George Floyd [Protests], I have my ‘I Stand With George Floyd’ poster that I put all over my windows. I protested, I made videos, I was on social media. It’s like, so you just simply chose not to see that. Or G-d forbid, when the Asian community was being harassed specifically in New York. Stop Asian hate. I was there for that. I’m not Asian, I’m not black. But it’s important to be a backbone for one another. This is what I’m talking about— building bridges. It’s not only about me and it’s not only about you. So when people say, ‘oh you’re selfish, you’re just talking about antisemitism.’ No, you are selfish for not.

JJ: What are your final words to our audience here? Maybe a piece of advice for younger Jews who are listening to this and going through the thick of it like we are right now?

At first I thought I’d be speaking to predominantly Jews, but I forgot my followers are really diverse, which makes me so happy. And I see there’s a range of different people from different backgrounds here. So I just want to say I think it’s really important that no matter what religion you practice, no matter what color your skin is, no matter what you believe in at all, I think it’s really important to reach out to one another and have these conversations and just engage in dialogue. Because if you actually bother to speak with one another, you’ll understand we’re not that different. And just find that common denominator and build a bridge instead of building up this wall because you think that we’re so different.

Watch the interview in full on the Jewish Journal’s Youtube or Instagram:

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