Washington Provides a Voice for the Voiceless

By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Communications

In many ways, Renee Washington‘s sports media career is much like her soccer career – with not only her success, but also the road she took to reach her destination.

“I got started in soccer when I was about five years old and didn’t really know what I was doing,” she said. “My parents and older sisters tell me I was the kid who just stood in the middle of the field. The game was being played all around me. I thought I was good because people were cheering, but come to find out, I was awful .”

Awful would definitely not be a word to describe Washington’s collegiate career at La Salle, where she was a three-time All-American. This past weekend, she was inducted to the La Salle Athletics Hall of Fame.

After graduating La Salle in 2014, Washington served as a graduate assistant coach with Lehigh women’s soccer during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. She graduated Lehigh in May of 2016 with her degree in educational leadership.

Since, Washington has pursued her new-found passion in sports media – a passion sparked during her time at Lehigh. Now only six years later, she is undoubtedly a rising star in the field.

“I started off in this industry like the kid in the middle of the soccer field,” she said. “I had an idea, but everything was going on around me and I had no idea how to make it happen. When I look back, I was not so great at the beginning of my reporting career. Comparing that to now, I’m Figuring things out, I’m moving in the right direction and growth is happening.”

A public relations major at La Salle, Washington wasn’t sure what her future would hold.

“I had a number of internships in undergrad,” said Washington. “I was working in all these areas of PR, marketing, social media management, content creation. I did gas and oils, I was working in the health field, I was working in sports, science and all these different industries. And through each of them, I was starting to figure out what I did and didn’t like. My junior year of college was when I realized I wanted to be a sports reporter.”

Washington admits Lehigh is where that realization started to turn into reality.

“Lehigh was the time, when I was officially done and retired as a soccer player, and I was able to focus on what I wanted in a career moving forward,” she said. “[Coaches] Eric Lambinus and Amy Hough were so great in supporting me through that process. And I was open with them. I’ve always enjoyed coaching – I’ve coached youth soccer for many years – but I also knew I wanted to be a sports reporter.

“They encouraged me to get involved on campus,” Washington continued. “It was those two years at Lehigh when I honestly committed to pursue being a sports reporter. It took me retiring from soccer, which was my entire life, to really have a chance to focus on who I was and what I wanted next in a career.”

Washington officially retired from soccer after a training camp invitation to the NWSL’s (National Women’s Soccer League) Sky Blue FC. She was intending on playing for Sky Blue and serving as graduate assistant coach at Lehigh, but opted to focus on coaching (and ultimately, her sports media career).

“Honestly, if I hadn’t gone to Lehigh – this is super cliché – but I don’t know if I would be at this point today, because it gave me a chance to get internships, get experience, volunteer with the sports media department (helping create highlights and helping with game coverage).

“It was two more years of focusing on my passion and my career.”

Washington has already compiled quite a resume. Currently, she works as a reporter (play-by-play, color and sideline reporting) with collegiate games, all different sports, on ESPN – at Philadelphia and New Jersey area schools (including Temple, Penn, Princeton and Saint Joseph’s). She is a gameday broadcaster with the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer. Washington works with Fox Sports as well where she hosts her show Beyond the Headlines. She’s also a contributor for the Washington Wizards and Mystics.

“Outside of reporting, I’m doing a lot of others things,” said Washington. “I’m in the process of launching my first book. I created my own nonprofit and have been doing a lot on the motivational speaking side as well.”

After Lehigh, Washington’s first job came with the Bucks County Courier Times (in conjunction with the Intelligencer and Burlington County Times).

“I was there for two years and just learning everything,” she said. “I was a multimedia journalist – doing news and sports. I was heavily involved covering high school sports and hosting shows.”

As she continued to learn and grow, Washington’s first television job was with a South Jersey station, SNJ Today, hosting a racing show. After that, she transitioned to the National Lacrosse League.

“The NLL was the first job I had in professional sports – covering box lacrosse as the anchor and producer for the league,” she said. “During all that time, I started working freelance with ESPN. That has carried forward, and the role has grown over the years. I started out with one or two games a week to now, doing two, three, four games.”

After the NLL, Washington began freelancing with Fox Sports.

“Now, I am fully a freelancer of many different things,” she said. “I’ve worked with the Washington Football Team of the NFL. I’ve been able to work in almost every major professional league that I hope to get into with basketball, football and soccer.”

Washington is passionate about what she does, much like she was passionate as a soccer player.

“The inner athlete in me loves the excitement of being involved in games and having the chance to be part of the action,” she said. “I’m not on the field playing, but I can help paint a picture for viewers. I can give some insight into what’s going on – on the bench, what the coaches are saying, what is being said in the huddle, what the players are saying and feeling. Giving people something extra they don’t get from just watching the game.”

In other words, Washington is a passionate storyteller, who enjoys telling stories in a variety of ways.

“It’s about finding those storylines, the different angles and the different ways you can deliver content and connect with people,” she said. “Because the biggest and most important part of what I enjoy comes down to the people – providing something unique that they wouldn’t get from somewhere else. I’ve had people who have said thank you or I appreciate you or you helped me because of this or you inspired me because of that.

“My goal, and this is also connected directly to what I’ve been doing outside of sports reporting, is using my platform to provide a voice for the voiceless,” Washington continued. “It’s bigger than me. I enjoy and love the excitement of reporting and being on air, but I also enjoy the fact that there are kids who have come up to me and said wow, Renee, I’m so excited to see you. I’ve seen you on TV.”

Outside of reporting, Washington is involved in some other impressive endeavors, which includes releasing her first book “Message Received” – with more books planned for the near future. She also founded a nonprofit organization Planted, Not Buried.

“A big part of what I do – and everything about me – is about helping others,” she said. “Having been on the other side, looking for that guidance of how to pursue a dream or goal, I want to help others with that. The main thing I’m writing and focusing on between every aspect of my books and my nonprofit is creating these outlets for inspiration.

“My books are self-help books, helping others work through the different seasons and challenges in life,” Washington continued. “My organization focuses on empowering, educating and inspiring others through outreach, events and networking. Providing a safe space for people to turn to for that encouragement or guidance they may be looking for.”

Washington is someone many, rightfully so, look up to.

“You know they say put your oxygen mask on first,” she said. “I’m in a space where I’ve figured myself out and I’m comfortable in who I am and where I am. I feel like I professionally have the foundation, and now it’s time to help others put their oxygen masks on and help them figure out what’s next for them…

“Taking that inspiration and motivation to the next level.”

Washington has taken so many areas of her life to the next level, accomplishing things she never thought possible.

“I’m a very nostalgic person and I’m very in touch with where I started, where I’ve been and what I’ve grown through and gone through,” she said. “As a soccer player for example, I never expected to be a Hall of Famer. I came from a background where my dad coached me. He didn’t play soccer; he’s professional basketball.

“I was just playing out of the love of the game…And to see the success and the doors that opened through that, it’s remarkable.”

Washington was not expecting to be part of so many firsts, accomplishments and historic moments over her soccer career – and the same was true of her reporting career.

“When I started setting out on this journey at Lehigh, I wasn’t even thinking I’d be in this space today,” she said. I said I want to be on TV, I want to be with a major network, and here I am working with major networks on TV. I’ve been on NBC Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports. I would have never imagined the amount of growth that would happen in honestly a quick time.”

A rising star in sports media, and life, would certainly be an accurate way of describing Renee Washington.

The sky is the limit when thinking about Washington’s future. Right now, she’s focused on the process of learning and growing – like on the soccer field when she wasn’t focused on winning awards, but rather getting better every day. Likewise, Washington is focused on the process in her professional career and the “results” (opportunities) will take care of themselves.

“I would love to be with a major network in a consistent role where I’m on-air talking about professional sports, but for now, I’m just enjoying the ride,” she said. “It really hasn’t been that long since I’ve graduated Lehigh and honestly, having lost some time around the pandemic when sports were shut down put a pause on me as well.

“This is a great spot to be because I’m taking that next step. I’m learning and absorbing everything I can like a sponge.”

It’s paying off. Washington is a role mode in so many different ways.

“I didn’t come from a traditional background,” she said. “What I look like represents a whole demographic. My unique journey of making some leaps of faith are hopefully in some ways inspiring somebody else.

“That’s the biggest part of what I strive to do—use my talents, experiences and passion to help fuel my purpose of helping others.”

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