The first Latina on-air host for the NFL, MJ Acosta joined the football network in September 2018 wearing her natural, curly hair. She has since become an inspiration to many.

By Jennifer Mota
May 22, 2019 04:57 PM

“Wash day don’t call me. I am not available.”

Sportscaster MJ Acosta understands the natural hair care process far too well to make plans.

For naturalistas, wash day is not only a day of self-care and hair maintenance, making DIY hair treatments and product styling. It’s also the day you avoid outside activities — all to get that ’fro just right.

“For women, in particular, our hair is an extension of how we express ourselves and how we represent ourselves,” Acosta shares with CHICA. In a cut-throat industry like broadcast TV, presentation is everything for those on camera. But the 34-year-old is fighting back against media’s conventional definition of “presentable” — proving that all hair textures should be accepted everywhere, including the broadcast space.

After the New York City native of Dominican descent moved to NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 in San Diego, Acosta decided to grow out her relaxer, which took two years, due to a lack of Dominican salons as well as a bit of curiosity.

In the beginning, she consistently blow-dried her hair for the week and left it natural during the weekend. When she rocked her natural hair at work, to her surprise, she received positive feedback from management. This isn’t the case for everyone.

“I started wearing it like the next day and the next day and the day after. My boss said, So this is a look, and I’m like, Yes, this is how it grows out of my head. And he’s like, Well, are we going to keep it? And then it became like a brand. And I was like, Well, you know what? I really like it. It’s been very liberating. And I think that some people see that it’s OK to have your hair like this.”

Today the media personality is the NFL Network first and only Latina on-air reporter, contributing to shows such as NFL Total Access, NFL Up to the Minute and NFL Gameday Morning.

Growing up, she spent a lot of time on the basketball court with her father, who, back before her birth, was a professional basketball player for the Dominican Republic’s national league. He then became a doctor.

The family moved to the states for a better life, and like many Dominican professionals, he settled for a factory job in New York, unable to practice medicine. Understanding the sacrifice her parents made added to her first-generation sense of responsibility: “That pressure was very much real, very present. I knew that I had to make it count… knowing that my dad gave up all of that.”

When she was older, he kept her around during his recreational games in Washington Heights, Manhattan, hoping she would find interest in the sport. Instead she offered to create a cheer squad for his team. “It didn’t last very long because we were like 7, but you know, that kind of ascends into the rest of my life. I advanced, then I cheered through college, and then I cheered in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins.”

When Acosta was 13-years-old, her and her family moved to Miami from NYC. She later moved out on her own at 18 to attend Miami Dade College and received an opportunity to join the Hurricanettes Dance Team at the University of Miami — a departure that was hard on her father with his traditional mind-set. She originally attended school for business with the idea of one day owning a dance studio. But the major wasn’t really for her and in 2005 decided to take a break.

“Some people know from the gate — at 17, 18 years old, exactly what they want to do. I was not one of those people. I was really lost. And you know, I was bold enough at that moment to kind of speak my own truth to myself and say, No. Stop wasting money going to school when you’re not even sure about what you want to do.” 

Though the decision was clear for her, it was difficult to admit to her parents that she wasn’t finishing school right away. “I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents that I was out of school for a while,” she said.

While dancing to make ends meet, she chased her TV dreams, after all the two intersected throughout her entire life. She started working as a dancer for The Roof a show on the Latinx and American fusion music channel Mun2, an affiliate of Telemundo. The show was hosted by fellow Dominicana Julissa Bermudez and focused on the urban Latinx culture, airing during the rise of reggaetón in the early 2000s. Enamored by the environment, she quickly got comfortable in front of the camera and explored going behind it as well. “I would talk to the producers every day, and I’d go in early and go look at master control and I’ll talk to the host and pick their brains and I was like, man, I love this. Like I want this, I want this to be my life. So the next semester that came up, I was like, all right, broadcast it is.”

After her experience on The Roof, she went back to school, talked to her counselor and changed her major, eventually graduating with an Associate in Arts in Mass Communication and Journalism in 2008. She would receive her bachelor’s from Barry University in 2011 when she was 26.

Though she was advised to move outside large-market Miami to pursue a broadcast TV career, she insisted that it wasn’t the right decision for her: “How many people tell you what, you have to go to a small market and you have to do this and you have to put in your time. That’s a very conditional role. And I think it’s a valid one, but it wasn’t the one for me.”

Then, while working as a promo girl for an energy drink, she ran into a production crew and fearlessly took her shot: “I said I’m a reporter and if you guys are looking for talent, I’d love to meet with you.” For Marjorie, it was the right place at the right time. A couple of days later, she got a call for an interview — and was hired.

She credits her bilingualism. “I was able to start my career in Miami for a small Spanish-language station. So the importance of being fully bilingual was key.” She was also able to fully immerse herself in Miami culture because there are so many Latinx there. Her knowledge and passion for sports helped. She scored a position as anchor and feature reporter/producer for a youth sports network called Generation Nexxt — the show aired on NBC Miami. During this time, she also spent a year cheering for the Miami Dolphins.

The reporter admits that though there are a lot of positives to her gig, getting there was a lot to endure as a woman. Recently, she opened up about her experience with sexual assault to a college magazine in San Diego.

“The person who gave me [one of my first] job[s] in the field was also the person who sexually assaulted me. And that was something that I never spoke about probably until about a year ago,” Acosta tells CHICA. She questioned her choice of clothing and asked herself if it was her fault, “We are conditioned to think [it’s our fault] and victim blame. I did it to myself, but it wasn’t my fault.”

The #MeToo movement motivated her to share her story. What she wished she knew back at that moment? “I wish I knew that there were people that not only went through it but that would support me, lift me up, and encourage me to do what I had to do for myself.” But she didn’t let the traumatic event crush her dreams.

Despite Acosta’s unique story, so many phases of her life are relatable to the average Latinx. The pressure of knowing what to study and getting a degree, while still upholding traditional values — or the feeling of aligning age with graduation date. We don’t know exactly what we want to do for the rest of our lives at 18 or all graduate at 21. We deal with sexual assault, feeling ashamed of the situation and not understanding how to take matters into one’s own hands.

Acosta bounced to at least three other stations in Miami before landing on an ABC Miami station. This led her to NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 in San Diego, where she covered the Chargers for three seasons as the lead sports anchor.

The beginning was a challenge. She was replacing a man who had been there for 30 years and was also a former player. She walked into an environment that was toxic, where she knew people didn’t want her there. She credits her girl squad for supporting her throughout the tough times: “Honestly one of the biggest coping mechanisms were my group chats with my girls back home in Miami. You know, your squad will have your back no matter what.”

She joined the NFL Network in September 2018 and — sporting a curly cut — has since become an inspiration to many. Most recently, she flexed her pageant skills as a judge for Miss Teen USA. The winner, Kaleigh Garris, is also a naturalista, which thrilled Acosta, as she understands the politics of that world from experience.

“I died because her hair is like mine. But it’s because I know, having come from the pageant world, how difficult it is for anybody to compete in their natural state. You know, you look around and you see all the other girls wear long extensions. So for her to walk in there and her hair is short, perfect, beautiful and curly. I was like, that’s the girl with confidence.”

MJ is one of a few Latinx sportscasters creating a space for women in a male-dominated field and hopes to host her own show one day.

 

 

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