ESPN’s Malika Andrews on Embracing Her Natural Hair: ‘It’s Been a Journey’

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ESPN’s Malika Andrews on Embracing Her Natural Hair: ‘It’s Been a Journey’ featured image
Malika Andrews | Josh Leung

Since joining ESPN in 2018, Malika Andrews has hit many milestones. From being one of the youngest sideline reporters, to hosting NBA Today, to making history as the first woman to host the NBA Draft, the award-winning ESPN broadcaster continues to be an advocate. She is also a trailblazer who feels pretty passionately about accepting her natural hair. “I have a hair angel now!” the 29-year-old shares. “I’m learning to embrace and love my hair, and that has been a journey.”

You’re on the road a ton with your job. What are some travel or on-camera beauty standbys you love?

“I keep a duplicate of my skin care in my gym bag that I can just throw in my road bag when I am on the go, which is often! I’m a believer in a multistep skin-care program, which is kind of new for me. Two summers ago, I started having some issues with my skin. I was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ I was always kind of the person who got away with using any face wash or using anything! Now, I use J’ai of Beverly Hills. Her Gentle Cleanser ($52) is my first step, and then I use her pads ($70), which have a ton of vitamins. After that, I use the Bader Light Cream ($96-$300); I’m a big fan of a little hyaluronic thrown in there, too.”

All good ones.

“Anything dewy and glowy is the goal! That’s the skin care…but my hair is actually the thing that I put the most thought into whenever I’m going on the road and in my day-to-day.

When I looked at the television growing up, I didn’t see a lot of myself—particularly in sports. It gives me so much joy to see the Chiney and the Taylor Rooks and the Andraya Carter now! The one thing that I was always looking for was curly hair like mine; I never really saw it and I never really learned how to fully accept, embrace and wear my hair.

I have a distinct memory of when I was a kid, when I was in maybe middle school, I want to say, where I wore my hair a ponytail every single day, because I just didn’t want to deal with my hair. I went to a PWI, a predominantly white institution, and I felt different. It was me and Amina Luqman. We were the only two Black girls in my class. I remember distinctly deciding to wear my hair down and not up and back in a ponytail one day and a girl touching my hair and saying, essentially, ‘Eww, what is this? Why do you have so much product in it?’

My mother has this beautiful curly hair, that I watched her do for years, but I didn’t really know how to manage my own hair. I think that there was a part of me that didn’t know how to ask questions.

Really, it wasn’t until I got to ESPN that I met my curly hair angel, as I call her. She taught me how to do my hair. I had skin that I felt confident in, but I didn’t have hair that I felt confident in until I got to ESPN and I met Sophie Gutterman, who showed me the product that I use every single day now. Now, I feel like wearing my hair down, wearing natural styles, protective styles, braids—and it is sort of a signature of what I do. That was a really big transition for me.”

Malika Andrews and Sophie Gutterman

That’s amazing. Are there any hair products that have been game-changers?

“Yes! The BOING collection from UNITE Hair Care. I use the Hold and I use the Curly Hold, and I use the Curly Moisture ($32). I literally spend 20 minutes of my day every day upside down. That was the biggest thing I had to learn—that I need to diffuse my hair upside down. I use the Dyson or the T3 ($200) to diffuse my hair, and I also use the Nectar Thermique Hair Protectant Cream ($46).

Early in my career before, I remember going on the road and a local artist was there to help me out with my glam. Such a kind, sweet woman. Like I said, before I met Sophie, before I had the tools, I would just put my hair back to try to keep it out of everyone’s way. I remember this nice woman saying to me—and she was very kind about it—’Oh, I’m so glad your hair is done, because I wouldn’t know what to do with that.’

And I felt terrible. She didn’t mean to make me feel that way, of course, but I just felt like my hair was a burden and something that had to be dealt with.

I’ve seen Ally Love talk about this, and other people sit down with their hair with a moment of tension. ‘What the heck is going to happen here? Are they going to know how to deal with me?’ That’s a hard place to feel like you’re coming from. Now, I’m like, okay, the bigger my hair is, the better. The bigger the event, the bigger my hair should be. That’s been a journey for me that’s coincided with my journey in finding my voice on television. It’s still something that I’m working on every day.”

Thank you for sharing all of that.

“Thank you! It’s not just in sports, which is nice to see. I feel like, like I said, when you ask about the sisterhood of sports and the representation, you have to see it to believe sometimes that you can be it.

I remember when I was living in New York and covering the Nets for ESPN and a little girl’s dad sent me DM with a photo of her. I think I still have it of her—she was holding up a microphone in front of the television. She had this beautiful, curly hair and my hair was curly, too. He sent me that photo and it’s still something that I think about and remember, because I remember being that girl.

Now, I look at women like Tracee Ellis Ross and I’m like, ‘Gosh. She has my hair, too!’ Actually, I saw her on a plane one time. We were flying on Delta from LA to San Francisco. The whole time we were on the plane, the flight attendant was asking her: ‘I’m sorry, one more question about hair.’ The flight attendant had curly hair, too. ‘One more question! One more question!’ I really do feel like there is a sorority of women looking after each other and she Tracee was so gracious with her time! I love looking at other women and feeling permission to step into a more authentic self, because someone else is doing. I think the more you see that, the more you feel emboldened. I felt emboldened when I saw Tracee.

The queen is Issa Rae. Her wedding look is something I think about for my own. I think the more you see it, the more you feel you can be it. Whether that is in sports, whether that is in any sort of piece of entertainment—if you want to be an astronaut, a doctor, whatever it is, you just want to see yourself reflected in your heroes. I’m glad that we’re seeing more of that on all sorts of television in very public places so that hopefully little girls feel less like I felt.”

That’s powerful. I know you work a ton. What do you do at the end of the day to unwind and get away from work?

“I’m a huge workout person, but I’m a morning workout person. I actually recently started taking a trampoline class that is the most fun thing in the entire world. I come out of it, and my fiance will be like, “Why are you smiling so big?” I’m like, “Because I just had a party and a workout,” but I’m more of a morning workout person than a night workout person. At the end of the day, I am a big fan of a cup of mint tea with a little bit of honey, a book, and a bath. That is my heaven right there.

Sometimes, I do it while watching a basketball game, a little tea-book action. Sometimes there is an overlap, because there are games on all the time, and I feel the need to make sure that I’m up to date on all eight games that are happening any given night, but that, to me, is my idea of heaven.”

That sounds great. Back to the travel thing: Are you good about keeping up with all of that on the road to keep some balance?

“I don’t know if this might sound silly, but I forgive myself for not keeping a balance when I’m on the road. I think it’s really hard if you add ‘be balanced’ to the list when you’re on the road on a work trip. At the end of the day, when I am on an overnight flight and land and go straight to work and start writing the show, and work on all of these things…it’s just go, go, go all day. Maybe I’ll get a workout in, but maybe I won’t.

I try to always get a walk in if I can but I definitely find myself looking back and not having done things perfectly—especially on the road. Maybe my eating wasn’t as great as I would have liked it to be. Maybe I didn’t get that super hard workout in. I used to find myself kind of beating myself up a bit for not having the perfect balance to all of these things. But I’ve really been trying hard to work on thinking, ‘O.K., well, if you can’t do all of that in a day, which is going to happen, and it’s going to happen more often than not on the road, then forgive yourself.’ That’s the thing I’m really working on.”

I like that.

“I’m not perfect at all…but I am trying.”

Malika Andrews

You’re such a strong voice in the industry on gender and race and a lot of important topics. Do you feel like things are getting better? Have you seen a change even from when you started?

“Yes, I think the sisterhood that I’m a part of has grown since I started. When I started, I was one of two Black female beat writers. Myself and Candace Buckner at The Washington Post were the only two in that space. I think that the sisterhood that we are a part of has gotten bigger. Certainly, I have seen and felt the support and tried to push that forward. I think that there’s a lot, though, that the world is constantly telling us. We take one step forward, two steps back, one step forward, two steps back. If I can be part of the process of pushing things one step forward, that’s my goal.

I think that we have seen strides. One of the things I most enjoy seeing is watching my colleagues on our college game day coverage of women’s basketball and seeing how Elle Duncan and Andraya Carter and Chiney Ogwumike and Holly Rowe—how their work and the fervor that I’ve always seen them have for women’s basketball is now being appreciated and reflected and talked about on a larger scale. It’s not to say that it wasn’t always there, but I think that there’s a larger appreciation for it, especially as we approach March Madness with these huge stars.

When we’re looking at Angel Reese and you’re looking at Caitlin Clark or you’re looking at JuJu Watkins, I think that that’s something that I’ve seen be appreciated more in my time. In that same breath, I think there’s more work to be done. There’s a lot more work to be done, but I find hope in the fact that I’ve seen progress. I find hope in the fact that we’re not coming from perfection, which means we have something to strive toward. I hope that answered your question, but I think that we’re working toward getting to an even better place than we’ve gotten to now.”

Personally, what are you excited for as we get closer to spring?

“Oh my gosh. It never stops! I’m excited for March Madness. But let’s back up. I’m going to All-Star Weekend this weekend. I was just laying out all of the looks and the hair and makeup and travel and then getting to the interviews and all this stuff. If I had to pick one thing farther down the road that I’m most excited for it is the NBA finals. The Draft is one of the things that I’m most proud of getting to work on because you’re literally watching young people’s dreams come true in the blink of an eye. It’s one of my favorite assignments every year. I get misty every single time. I have to make sure I’m wearing waterproof mascara because just watching what these young men are able to accomplish for their family, achieving generational wealth, seeing something they’ve worked at their entire life be realized is very, very, very cool. There’s a whole lot of planning and work that goes into all of it and I’m kind of in the thick of that right now.”

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