Power Women: Before Becoming First Lady of Hog Hoops,
Danyelle Sargent Musselman Was Her Own Brand
These days, if an official title could adequately describe Danyelle Sargent Musselman’s daily routine, it would be General Manager of #teammusselman.
That’s how it’s described on her Instagram account, anyway, and in practice seems to hit the nail on the head. Musselman, of course, is the high-profile wife of Razorback basketball coach Eric Musselman and perhaps the real engine behind the Musselman brand that never seems to sleep.
But before she joined Team Musselman, Danyelle Sargent was her own brand, having worked for a decade as a national sports broadcaster with on-air positions at Fox Sports, ESPN, the NFL Network and Yahoo Sports between 2004 and 2013 including a stint as a regular on a sports parody show that aired on Comedy Central in 2011. She’s been to almost every major sporting event in the United States including “two or three” Super Bowls, serving as the sideline reporter for British broadcaster ITV at Super Bowl 41 in Miami (in which the Colts beat the Bears).
In Arkansas, she’s known as the First Lady of Razorback basketball, no small thing considering its pedigree, placement within the state hierarchy of significant things and especially, its recent resurgence. Almost anywhere one sees signs of Hog hoops, Danyelle Musselman is there.
From those first photos and videos of the Musselman family with Arkansas Athletics Director Hunter Yurachek in Reno for Eric’s signing, the family adorned in Hogs gear and big smiles; to courtside behind the bench in Fayetteville or at the Elite Eight in Indianapolis; through her charitable work across the state and active presence and fan engagement on social media, Danyelle’s has become one of the most recognizable faces in Arkansas.
Born in St. Louis to a Ford Motor Co. executive father, Musselman grew up in several states before graduating high school in Georgia, a multi-sport and self-described “huge” athlete. She studied broadcast journalism at Florida State, where she worked in media production for the school’s student-run TV station. And Musselman didn’t hesitate when an ESPN producer spoke to one of her journalism classes, recruiting for a production assistant.
While still a student, she worked games for ESPN and ABC.
“It was a different job every week. One week, I’m pulling cables so that people don’t get tripped on the sidelines. It was awesome. If you love sports, you love to get to be on the field during the game,” she said. “It teaches you about what goes into every aspect of it.”
One week on a Monday Night Football broadcast, Musselman got to carry around equipment and personal things for iconic sideline reporter Leslie Visser.
“It was raining that night, and I’m holding an umbrella over her, but it was so cool,” she said.
“Because I saw what the job was, and that’s what I tell everyone. Make sure you know what the job is that you think that you want to do.”
After graduating from FSU, Danyelle went to work for WGXA in Macon, Ga., before joining Metro Sports in Kansas City, where she worked as an anchor and reporter including serving as the preseason sideline reporter for the Chiefs in 2004.
From Kansas City, it was on to ESPN where she co-anchored at ESPNEWS and contributed to shows on ESPN2. For Fox Sports Net, she anchored FSN Final Score and reported; hosted and reported for Yahoo Sports; and worked as an update anchor on the NFL Network.
For Musselman, the industry looked much different when she walked away in 2013 to focus on raising daughter Mariah than it did when she launched her broadcast career. Back in the early 2000s, women were a rarity in sports broadcasting.
“It was hard,” Musselman said. “I remember at my first job, my news director said, ‘Maybe you should switch to news because I really think you’re good.’ He just didn’t think there were opportunities out there for women. But I knew that’s what I really wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do sports. There also weren’t a ton of women to look up to like there are now, especially not women of color. It was just something that I knew that I wanted to do, and I wasn’t going to let any of that deter me.”
Musselman remembers Robin Roberts and Pam Oliver as the only two prominent Black female sports broadcasters at the time. And though eventually doors were opened, they were opened slowly.
“It’s night and day in so many ways,” she said. “Even when I first started, it was like they would let women in the door, but then they kind of wanted us to be men. They wanted to let us in the door, but they didn’t want to let us like embrace the fact that we were women, even with our clothes. I remember you couldn’t wear a sleeveless dress; they wanted you to wear blazers and all that.
“And then toward the end of my career, it completely switched where they wanted you to embrace the fact that you were a woman. Literally, I was in the business long enough to have been on both sides of the spectrum.”
Musselman cited Pam Ward and Linda Cohn, former co-workers at ESPN, as industry trailblazers. Ward was one of the first women to call football games over the air and Cohn has been a SportsCenter anchor since 1992.
“When I met them, I was like, ‘I just bow down to you because of what you’ve done.’ If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”
Though her dream was to be a sideline reporter, Musselman quickly found out she didn’t like it as much as she thought she would.
“You do all this work then you’re on TV for 10 seconds.”
Don’t try and do something about which you’re not passionate, Musselman advises, and she gets plenty of opportunities to do just that. She speaks often to college students on campus and has done workshops for aspiring broadcasters. About 70 percent of those students who reach out to her afterwards about a career in sports broadcasting are women, almost all of whom want to be on camera, she noted.
“My number one advice is, make sure that you are passionate about it because it’s such a competitive field, and it’s hard to get a job,” she said. “It’s hard to get your foot in the door. You have to work so hard to even get that job. And a lot of times, that job isn’t good. It doesn’t pay and you’re working a million hours…
“So, you just have to really be passionate about it, that’s number one. Number two is, have thick skin because it’s a subjective business. Not everyone’s going to love you. Some people are going to think you’re awesome. And then some people over here will think that you’re boring or something else. You have to go into it knowing that you need to develop that thick skin, especially now with social media adding another layer of things that you’re going to need to ignore.”
And then there’s the industry itself, she added, which is never on “pause.”
“It’s not your normal 9-to-5 job,” she said. “Sports don’t stop on holidays or weekends or at 5 o’clock. You have to be willing to miss things, whether it’s time with family or something else. That’s why I ultimately decided that I was going to step away, just because the hours and the traveling got to be a little bit too much.”
Musselman did so when Mariah was 3 years old. Eric had just launched his college coaching career and was an assistant coach at Arizona State in Tempe. Musselman was commuting each week between Los Angeles from Phoenix. Ever since, she’s been “CEO of Musselman Enterprises.”
And there’s more that goes into the role than most might realize.
“There are a lot of moving parts, at all times,” she said. “Because you have the season that you’re focused on, and then I still like to check in on our players and I like to check in with their parents. And then also you have the kids that you’re recruiting and their parents. So, it’s just a lot of people that you want to try to make sure you get your hands on, even if just to be able to say ‘Hi’ to them at a game. Just checking on everyone because we truly want people to feel like if their kids come here, this is a family.”
Between her husband’s status as a celebrity in Arkansas and his 24/7 in-season schedule, coordinating house guests (more family and friends visit now that the family is in Arkansas), her active work with local charities and now her sixth-grade daughter’s activities — which include a competitive dance season that begins in January — Musselman’s plate is full.
“It’s a lot to manage,” she said.
Musselman is happy she gets to do it in Arkansas. She had a connection to Arkansas through her late father, who was from Magnolia, and Eric’s dream, now realized, was to be a head coach at the Power 5 level.
Musselman received scouting reports before the move, one from a friend who was a Fayetteville native and another from an acquaintance who visited often. Both told her she was going to love Northwest Arkansas.
“Moving is not scary to me,” she said. “You have to realize my life. I grew up moving and then I moved with my job and then I meet a basketball coach. So, I wasn’t worried. I had heard from two people that it was a great place. I was just like, ‘OK, what’s this next adventure going to be like?’
“We were really happy at Nevada. We were only going to leave if it was the right fit,” she added. “Eric had a formula, and it was working. So, he was only going to leave there if it was really the right thing and the right move. And Arkansas definitely fits that bill.”