I’ve known of Toni Collins, the subject of my second profile published in Harness Magazine (read it here), for a while. Anyone who watches ESPN is likely to have spotted her, either hosting SportsCenter or filing reports for other shows, reporting on playoff games for any number of sports, etc. My first interaction with her, save the odd like of a Twitter post or something, took place in March 2017.
I’ve written about the Pittsburgh Pirates for the site Pirates Breakdown for a few years now. My specialty is longform features. That March, I was working on a story about Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco, who teamed up with the organization Food for the Hungry for an initiative called Striking Out Poverty. The goal is to raise money to bring basic life necessities (food, running water, etc.) to nine of the poorest communities in the Dominican Republic using baseball – a beloved sport in the country – and major league players. Polanco hails from the Dominican – and in fact, was born in one of the targeted villages. He posted photos of his visit, which took place in February, on Instagram and so I started piecing together the article.
As I was talking to organizers of the effort – Milam Byers of Food for the Hungry and the Striking Out Poverty Global Ambassador Roberto Clemente Jr. (son of baseball legend and humanitarian Roberto Clemente) – they mentioned that a reporter from ESPN happened upon their relief visit in the Dominican and was working on a story about the program. That reporter was Toni Collins.
I reached out to her on Twitter to see if I might use a few of the photos she shared on her Instagram feed as they were lovely and featured Polanco. Now, it’s important to note that our stories were going to come out at about the same time. Mine on a small, but growing at the time, fan-run blogsite that reached about 200,000 people a month. And hers on SportsCenter on ESPN. She had been in the Dominican Republic with Polcanco, his teammate Starling Marte, and other MLB players while they were visiting the villages impacted by the effort. She obviously had the better story. And it would have been easy for a person in her position to ignore a person in mine. But she didn’t.
Not only did she share her images with me, but images that amazing photographer and traveler Daniel C. White shared with her. They were beautiful and raw and joyful and were the perfect complement to my words.
(Ironically, when we moved the story – which you can read here – to a new platform in 2018, the photos didn’t transfer.)
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Thank you so much @food4thehungry @strikingoutpoverty for allowing us to be part of this day. It was a true privilege to meet these young men and their mentors who inspire them to follow their dreams, be men of character and one day play ball in the big leagues⚾️🙌🏼🇩🇴 @gd_ramirez @milambyers @muddamalle @bethjoyful @jomartinezg @mlb #ElTamarindo
During our initial exchange, I thanked her for representing women in sports media so well. She replied, “Thank you for your kind words…you too, my friend.”
I’m sure she doesn’t even remember the Twitter conversation, but to me, it was as impactful as the moment my eighth grade English teacher called me at home after reading a story I’d turned in and gushing about my writing. Me? A woman in sports media?
After my story ran, in which I linked to hers on the ESPN site, she contacted me and thanked me for spreading the word on the Striking Out Poverty Campaign. Wait? I thought people were supposed to compete over stories? You can do work covering the same topic and support each other? What a novel concept! Of course, I knew that, in theory, but it was rare as a daily newspaper reporter or magazine writer or sports blogger to see people actually do it.
Toni is not only nice, but she’s a journalist’s journalist. She may wear beautiful dresses and heels on set at ESPN, but she’s not afraid to suit up for a story. Sometimes that means putting on cleats and shin guards to workout with any number of professional soccer teams (as a former player for the Mexico National U-19 Team she’s somewhat in her element in that environment), kicking off the heels to challenge the boys to a few futbol drills on camera, or running the camera herself while standing in a field near the Rio Grande River to capture a border control bust.
She also has the greatest mentor, her mother, Maria Collins. She is a multiple-Emmy award-winning, multi-book-writing, journalist with a career that spans 40 years and won her an Edward R. Murrow Award. Toni effusively celebrates her mother and respects her as both giver-of-life and seasoned reporter. How can you not love that kind of family tradition?!
Maria also serves as her wardrobe consultant. Toni unashamedly admits she is hopeless when it comes to “girly” things like fashion and make-up. She gratefully acknowledges the ESPN glam squad almost daily and is the reigning queen of the “fresh-faced” selfie. It is beyond refreshing to know that we’re not lacking something as women if we can’t get our brows perfectly symmetrical or master contouring. Toni is gorgeous, make-up or no, but she makes sure that everyone knows it takes work and skills (that she doesn’t have) to get that polished on-set look.
Toni’s social media feed is an awesome mix of stories she’s working on, her rescue dogs, evenings out with her friends in New York City, throwbacks from past jobs, love for her mom and family, and promotion for causes to which she is devoted. A July 19 post featuring a letter from Estiben, a young boy she sponsors through Striking Out Poverty, is especially heartwarming. And in the end, that’s why she brings me Light and Love on social media. She puts her heart into everything she does, while never failing to show that she has a heart.