MJ Acosta on the "Surreal" Experience of Being the First Afro-Latina to Host an NFL Network Show
MJ Acosta made history earlier this month by becoming the first Afro-Latina to host a show on the NFL Network. "It's still a little surreal to think that I'm breaking barriers," she tells People CHICA. "I've become accustomed to being the 'only' in a room — the only woman, the only Latina, the only Black person, and oftentimes all of those all at once. The biggest barrier is showing that the Latinx community comes in all shades and colors. Most people are shocked that I am fully bilingual in English and Spanish. There is little to no representation for the Afro-Latino community in mainstream media. The Latinx experience and the Black experience are not monolithic. We are multilayered and diverse and absolutely vital to the fabric of this country. I may be the first here at the NFL Network, but there are so many more of us, and we just want to be seen."
Landing her dream job came with "a lot of grit, sacrifice, and hard work," she says. "I love being the eyes and ears for sports fans all over the globe. It's a point of pride to be able to share my point of view from the sidelines and inside locker rooms with fans at large."
She also defines herself as a curly hair advocate. "As a woman in the television industry, you are immediately told how you should look and present yourself to the audience. In my opinion, those beauty standards are mostly based on antiquated and narrow views," she explains. "When I started my television career over 10 years ago, there was no scenario where I would be allowed to wear my curly, textured hair as it grows out of my head — none. A chemical hair relaxer was like a rite of passage for most of the women in my family. We were taught for generations to hide our pelo malo, or bad hair. It took me over 30 years, a lot of internal work, and self-love to get to a place where I felt confident in my own skin and in my own beautiful curly crown. For some it may seem trivial: 'It's just hair. Who cares?' But for me it was about owning and loving what made me special and presenting my true and authentic self to the world."
She is also a proud Dominicana. "My Dominican culture is everything! From the music I listen to while I clean the house — usually some Juan Luis Guerra or a classic salsa from the '80s — to the food I eat. I can't tell you the hunt I go on every week to find good plátanos! I am a first-generation Dominican American. I grew up in Washington Heights in New York until I was 13 years old. When I say I'm Dominican AF, I mean it."
When she's not covering football, dancing is a big stress-reliever for MJ. "I've been a dancer my entire life. I cheered in college and danced professionally as an NFL cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins, but my favorite type of dance is in the house with loud salsa playing," she says. "I dream of the days when we can gather again, because Noche Buena at my Tía Sonia's house is basically the Dominican version of Dancing With the Stars!"
Besides her family traditions, having a close group of amigas to consult with keeps her calm when things get overwhelming. "My best friends — all of whom are in the business — and I have a group chat that keeps us all grounded and allows for a safe space to vent, ask questions, and just be ourselves. That group chat has gotten me through some of the toughest moments in my life and career," she says. "Those women are more like sisters to me and they inspire me to be better on a daily basis."
Like so many others, MJ has struggled with the year's onslaught of terrible news. "The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others shake my to my core. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about them and their families," she says. "They are more than just names. These were human beings with lives and dreams and people who loved them. The movement is not new, but it's gaining support and attention now more than ever. My responsibility is continue to share these stories and help push for real change in a system that was built to oppress and abuse Black and brown communities."
Hosting NFL Total Access, the NFL Network's flagship nightly show, is a big blessing and responsibility, she say. "I get to talk football with our all-star and Hall of Fame lineup of analysts and bring in the best reporters and insiders in the business on a daily basis. It's literally a dream come true. I'm really proud that through the lens of the show we'll be able to put a spotlight on the fight against racism and social injustice. We'll be sharing stories from across the sports world and beyond and allowing the NFL players, 70 percent of whom are Black, to take the mic and use their platforms to create real change."