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Michele Tafoya: Don't be Afraid to be Great

Posted Mar 2, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – When Michele Tafoya drops her young daughter off at school each morning, the NBC sideline reporter says, ‘Don’t be afraid to be … ” and allows Oliva to finish the sentence: “…great.”

For Tafoya, the fun exchange with her daughter is more than that. It’s a message she lives by – as a reporter, as a wife and as a mother.

On Tuesday, Tafoya shared the adage to a group of female Vikings staff and wives of employees as part of the new “Women of the Vikings” initiative.

Tafoya spent much of her sports broadcasting career not wanting to be singled out because of her gender, but she loves the idea of the initiative and what it stands for.

“I do think women can help one another, and I do think we understand each other and what we’ve been through,” Tafoya said. “I like this initiative because, let’s be honest, it’s taken a little while for women to get involved with sports. But it’s coming, it’s happening, and now it just seems like the flood gates are open.”

Tafoya, a native of California who now identifies as a Minnesotan, spoke to the group about life in the genuine manner most have come to recognize as the reporter’s trademark.

One foot in front of the other

Tafoya saw no opportunity as too small, as long as it placed her one step closer to her goals. Tafoya told a story about Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. When Earhart was given the chance to ride along as a copilot, she jumped at it.

“[Amelia] could have said, ‘How insulting is that? I can fly a plane,’ ” Tafoya said. “But you know what she did? She looked at reality. And she said, ‘Boy, is that a good opportunity. I’m going to take that. That’s going to be my next step, my foot in the door.’ ”

“We all know her name,” Tafoya added. “She did break ground.”

If there’s one thing Tafoya learned in her life and hopes to impart to others, it’s “put one foot in front of the other – even when sometimes you can’t seem to pick up that one foot.”

The youngest of four children, Tafoya felt a drive early on to follow her dreams, set goals and achieve them.

“Take advantage of every opportunity that is ever placed in front of you,” Tafoya’s father told her.

And she has.

“My whole focus was to get to the NFL sideline,” Tafoya said. “I wanted to work with the NFL.”

From producing, to a radio job in Charlotte, North Carolina, to the Vikings sidelines, to a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football, Tafoya never took her eyes off her goal.

She never stopped moving forward, and the Emmy-award winning reporter now works alongside play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and color commentator Cris Collinsworth on Sunday Night Football, the most-watched show on prime time television during the NFL season.

You’re safe as long as you’re you

Throughout her career, Tafoya has worked to overcome challenges that came with being female in a predominantly male field. She remembers talking with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts at the beginning of their respective careers.

“We almost didn’t want to wear makeup,” Tafoya said. “You didn’t want to be attractive, because then you might not get taken seriously. Fair? Probably not. Reality? For us, at the time, it was. So you put on a little mascara and maybe [wore pants instead of] a skirt, because you sort of wanted to prove who you were [as a reporter].”

Tafoya, however, never lost sight of who she was, what her talents were and where she was headed. A message she strives to share with children, students and professionals alike is:

“You’re safe as long as you’re you, and you’re true to who you are. You don’t have to prove to anybody else that you’re good enough for them. Be good enough for you.”

It’s all about finding balance

Anyone who has watched Tafoya as a sideline reporter understands the passion she has for her job; anyone who knows her as a wife and mother understands she has an equal passion for her family. Tafoya talked to the Vikings women about blending multiple desires without sacrificing something you love.

“I end up at NBC, I end up marrying the man of my dreams, I end up with these two children, and suddenly I don’t want to work anymore,” Tafoya said, laughing. “I don’t want to leave the house – it’s like, ‘I love this.’ But I also love my job. It’s all about finding balance, and that’s become the new focus of my life: making sure I’m listening to my priorities.”

Tafoya encouraged the group to identify the five most important values in their life and explained that every decision should be made based on that system.

“If it’s outside your lanes, don’t do it,” Tafoya said, listing her own: “If you’re sacrificing your integrity or your family or your health or your happiness or your security, stay away from that decision.

“You can be the greatest mom on the planet and raise four kids and be there all the time, but you can also be you,” Tafoya added. “You can also have your own dreams that you’re trying to achieve and your own accomplishments that you’re dreaming about and do those things too. And it’s hard. I’m not going to stand up here and tell you it’s easy, because it’s not.”

Tafoya’s presentation was well received by her audience. Following her time with the group, a handful of women approached Tafoya to personally thank her, share their own stories or snap a photo with her.

If delivering her message as part of the larger-scope “Women of the Vikings” initiative helps even one person, Tafoya said she finds it well worth it.

“But do you think I’m going to do this for the Packers [women]?” Tafoya joked, laughing. “Are you kidding me?”