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Onward State Alum Sara Civian Breaking Down Sports Barriers Through Hockey Coverage

Penn State was nothing short of amazing for Sara Civian.

After five years at the university and serving as one of three Onward State managing editors, Civian found that journalism was something she couldn’t let slip away. Once she found “her people,” she was unstoppable. Onward State “shaped her in chance taking.”

During her time with Onward State, Civian took as a Penn State men’s hockey writer as the team went from club to Division I. Following her coverage, Civian discovered a passion for covering the sport that was stronger than ever.

In 2017, Civian’s last year at Penn State, she covered the team’s first-ever bid into the NCAA Tournament. With her Twitter presence rising and her stories catching the eyes of notable sports outlets, her work was paving the way for post-college success. It was time to put her skill to use in the industry.

“People started paying attention,” Civian said.

That’s when her first job offer came knocking from DK Pittsburgh Sports.

Months went by as Civian wrote features and columns, but she noticed she wanted to head back to her Boston roots and cover hockey with the Boston Bruins. Shortly after this stint, The Athletic reached out to Civian, looking for a “fresh voice” to write in North Carolina.

“I had never even been to Raleigh but I was just like, ‘OK, this is a great company that so many legends that I have looked up to work for. It feels like the opportunity where I could break out,'” Civian said. “Loved the company. Loved working there.”

Civian accepted the job with The Athletic and covered the Carolina Hurricanes for the next four years.

Coming from the radio station in Boston, Civian was used to her articles getting made fun of on air, as she would find a more positive outlook on the team. But with The Athletic, she was one of three writers in the locker room and the only independent traveling team writer that would make deeper connections with the players and show what her stories were truly about — their lives and why they play the game.

“It was good pressure. I had always been a good writer, but I needed to work on my reporting,” Civian said. “I had to suck it up and ask the stupid questions. Yeah, maybe I don’t know everything, and that’s OK. You realize you can ask a bad question and life goes on. We’re all just people doing our jobs.”

From making connections to trying out different pieces at The Athletic, Civian’s reporting style all originates from her time covering Penn State hockey. She “wouldn’t be where she is today without Onward State.”

When she made her way to North Carolina, everyone was focused on Duke and UNC, whereas Civian was tasked with covering the Hurricanes. At the time, the Hurricanes weren’t the main event and held a bad reputation for seven to eight years. However, the team qualified for the playoffs the year Civian started her coverage.

“Getting to take people along for that [Hurricanes] ride was the same as getting to take people along for the Penn State ride. It was easy and fun to write about because something so exciting was happening,” Civian said. “This was kind of an underdog team in the same way Penn State hockey was.”

With such eventful coverage under her belt, Civian decided this summer it was time to branch out and continue something new in her career. There were new negotiations with The Athletic, but Boston was heavy on her mind as she thought about her family and what she could be missing back at home.

Taking her mental health into consideration, Civian headed back to Boston, with faith in herself that a new job would find its way to her and “figure something out like she always does.”

“After a few years in therapy, I knew I don’t do my best work when I’m dedicating my entire life to my work… Your quality of life can also dictate the quality of your work,” Civian said.

Civian took the chance to be with family, not being confined to one team, and producing the work she loves by accepting a job with Bleacher Report, which was looking to expand its hockey coverage. Some would say, “right place, right time.”

She also is one of three hosts on the podcast Too Many Men, which originated from their sports group chat. Although Civian isn’t doing half as much reporting as before, multimedia has become the new face of journalism. Now, Civian is confident working on her “work-life balance” and challenging herself with multimedia coverage.

Civian loves looking at her career through the lens that she’s “a personality more than a reporter, and you don’t see many women like that.”

Throughout each career shift and obstacle, being a woman in sports has its own struggles. Covering sports as a woman in a male-dominated industry presents self-doubt, consistently fact-checking yourself, and facing the mental and emotional load if you’re doing everything “appropriately.”

Women, even Civian, often have to ask themselves if they’re giving off the wrong impression if they’re reaching back out to a source later in the evening or worrying about the outfit they decided to wear.

“There are even times where you think you’re developing a source and it gets weird,” Civian said. “But then I realize that I’ve done nothing wrong. You need to have confidence and know who you are… If something doesn’t feel right, it’s not.”

Despite negative interactions in the sports industry, Civian has had positive engagements in the field, especially from coaches and players.

“I hand it to Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes coach. He’s probably one of the most important people to me in this career. He’s taught me that I should respect myself more than I do because he had a lot of respect for me as a journalist,” Civian said.

Along with supportive men in the industry, women offer their inner empathy and take the chance to tell a deeper story of the players we know best. Civian gets to know the player as a person, not a figure. In her eyes, this is the advantage that women can use to shine.

“There’s always going to be women who are scared because they think there’s only so few spaces. But that’s just a result of the patriarchy, right? We need to build a better community where [women share their experiences],” Civian said.

To inspire the future generation of women in the sports industry, Civian is focused on the side of opinion writing and making room for her hot takes. Her goal is to use media in all forms to tell stories in ways people haven’t seen before.

“I can see it’s disproportionate. It’s always, ‘I like women in sports, but I hate her,” Civian said. “I have something to say, and you’re not going to silence me.”

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About the Author

Larkin Richards

Larkin is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. The only words that leave her mouth are "yinz" and "dippy eggs." Luckily, her writing has much more substance than that. As a Steelers and Pirates fan, sports can become a hot debate. Share your thoughts on dogs (specifically Boston Terriers) with her at: [email protected]

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