The second floor of the NESN office resembles that of a beehive. Each cubicle like a honeycomb and every person is a busy working bee. I walk through the maze of honeycombs and as I approach one cubical in particular, I hear laughter. “At one point I was hosting a national gospel show,” Duncan said. We were sitting in her cubicle on the second floor of the NESN office. When you picture a female news reporter, you think of the glitz and glam, full hair and makeup, a dress, and a pair of pumps. But sitting in front of me Duncan was just an ordinary person, no makeup, hair up, stunning in her natural beauty. She had one leg folded under her slouched on one arm of the chair, a mirror propped up on her desk, and a flat iron ready to go when needed on air. And as she beings to tell her tale she adds, “Anyone who knows me knows that’s not my steelo but that’s fine, again there is something to be learned in any situation.”
Elle Duncan is an anchor, host, and reporter for the New England Sports Network (NESN) coverage of the Boston Red Sox and Bruins. Coming from Atlanta, Georgia in 2013 she worked as a TV and radio personality, a morning show personality and a freelancer for Comcast while also sideline reporting for the Atlanta Hawks,. Having never completing her college degree, Duncan is one bee that never stops buzzing. A dynamic person with an engaging personality, one could talk to Duncan for hours on end especially if you get her started on football.
At just 20 years old and only having completed two years, Duncan dropped out of the State University of West Georgia to take advantage of a fulltime internship at a local Atlanta radio station. She did something that many 20 year olds today would never dare to do. A risk taken with no set end goal in sight “I knew that I just wanted equipped for a 9-5 job,” Duncan says, “I just wanted to be paid to be myself so let me not say no”
After 12 years in Atlanta, an opportunity arose at NESN and Duncan just went for it. “I had never even been to Boston before I came to audition here,” Duncan continues “I just knew that it was a huge sports city, I wanted to do sports full time and I figured If I can go to Boston and do it there I can I can do it anywhere, so I wanted to challenge myself”
Moving from Atlanta, one of the biggest cities in the Dirty south to Boston, one can experience a huge culture change. For Duncan, her move to the Bean was one of remembering who she aspired to be. “I was getting comfortable,” she admits. “All the big dreams I had, I had stopped thinking about them.”
As a sports reporter who has interviewed dozens of professional athletes, Duncan is usually the one asking the questions. However this time around the interviewer became the interviewee:
How did you come to get into sports industry?
“I got tired of arguing with grown men at the bar about football; and I was like ‘I should get paid for this’. I come from a sports oriented family, and to me the best thing you can do in life, if you can is combine your passions with what you do,. And I kept saying to myself ‘man let me take some of this energy that I focus at the asshole at the bar and maybe try to turn that into something’”
Sitting across from Duncan, I saw a reflection of what many, including myself, young women in sports or television aspire to be. She exudes a confidence that only one may obtain through years of experience and surety in one’s self. Duncan has spunk, attitude, but a real sense of sincerity and authenticity in her words. As the only woman of color at the studio, in a heavily male dominated industry maintaining that authenticity is what makes her unique. “You have to find what separates you, what makes you different. It has to be something that you can truly own that is authentic” Duncan stresses.
How do you keep your authenticity and be yourself on air despite the stigma of what a female reporter should be like?
When I got here there (NESN) was a lot of clashing because I was very clear before I came that I was going to be myself and sometimes I am a habitual line crosser. Sometimes being authentic gets you in trouble, sometimes saying that first things that comes to mind, which in my mind is being authentic and honest, gets you in trouble. What I mean when I say authentic is making sure you can sleep at night. That when your friends and family watch you, the ones that’s really know you see for example Luckesha on air, they don’t see NESN Luckesha, and it can be tough it can be challenging.
As Duncan speaks of clashing, she gives the example of leaning on the news desk when watching a video on air. Remember as a child when your favorite cartoon came on TV, your eyes bulged and you became so invested as if nothing else existed around you, the world was at a stand still. You get as close as you can towards the screen and lean towards the television as if you were going to jump into it. For Duncan, this is a habit she has, “If there’s a video playing and I’m watching it, I’m going to lean on the desk you know”, and producers tell her she should have more poise and sit up straight but “that’s just me.”
So when you Google Elle Duncan you see her various social media accounts, articles and news items from NESN.com, but there is also a mug shot taken just a couple years ago before her arrival at NESN. Though the charges were dropped, it was on the front of every Atlanta newspaper and talked about on TV. As the conversation takes a reflective tone, the frustration oozes out of Duncan’s eyes as she recalls the incident, “I had half a drink too much, I blew a .09 instead of a .08” she says. “It was hard for me because I try to do the right thing, but make one mistake and it can cost you a lot.” Though a tough and heartbreaking experience for Duncan, there is always something to be learned from every situation. “You give leverage to the haters and you move on.”
Now as our conversation neared it’s end I asked Duncan about her experiences as being a woman and a woman of color in the sports world. I asked for advice as a woman of color myself aspiring to enter the world of sports. “The stereotypes and chauvinism let them anger you but at the same time you have to embrace it” Duncan tells me. And as she speaks, I can see sparks and a fire behind her eyes. Not due to anger, but because of the fight and determination she had endured and will continue to do so.
How do you maintain your voice in such a male dominated industry as sports?
You have to understand that in any argument if you are beating a man they’re going to say ‘well how do you know you’ve never played football,’ you have to be ready to come back at them. Demand respect, you demand respect by earning respect and you earn respect by knowing your shit…know your shit. People are spirit breakers, but do you really want to let them win?”