You never know what you’ll see on Antonietta “Toni” Collins’ Instagram feed: a “good morning” video in Spanish, replays of an amazing play by the Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, reposts of anything from the FC Barcelona account, selfies with her fellow female sports journos and her mentors in sports and broadcasting, her news reports from SportsCenter, moving stories from across the world, pictures of her dogs and shout-outs to the ESPN make-up artists who frequently work their “magic” on the 33-year-old Mexican American. You may not know what you’ll find, but you always know how it will make you feel — uplifted, inspired, excited, informed and entertained.
That’s by design.
“I just feel people don’t want or need to see me post negative things,” she said. But don’t let that fool you into thinking her feed is just a highlight reel — she’s all about transparency and reality — and she’s just not about living in a negative headspace or pushing others there, either.
Collins began using social media in 2011 when she was working the local beat for Univision’s Dallas affiliate. Anyone who’s ever watched Friday Night Lights knows how big high school football is in Texas, and the station encouraged its reporters to use Twitter and Facebook as a means to interact with existing viewers and reach a younger audience.
It was good training for her first national network gig as sports anchor at Univision Deportes.
“It was a HUGE priority to interact with fans on social media prior, during and after games and our newscast Contacto Deportivo,” the 2009 Mount Union College graduate said. She even served as “Social Media Anchor” during pre- and post-shows for marquee matches of Liga Mx games.
She brought that experience to ESPN when she joined in September 2013, where she currently does SportsCenter Right Now updates. She says the network takes a much more hands-off approach to its employees’ social media practices. “I feel that here at ESPN it is up to the anchor’s discretion what they tweet,” she said. “I have never been told I have to be active on it like back then, but we’re all on it and it’s part of the business.”
While she works to avoid talking about politics and personal relationships on social media, she doesn’t put a lot of effort in separating the Toni from ESPN from the regular Toni, given that they are both her — one just wears make-up.
“I try and be me as much as I can … the different sides, the tomboy turned girly with make-up (because God knows I don’t know how to do that stuff, so I got to give props to the ESPN make-up team) to the regular me who lives in a bun with no make-up, as usual, battling to get in shape, obsessed with Barcelona, Messi, Luke Bryan, my dogs and posting work-related stuff on the segments and stories I do,” she shared. “It’s so corny and boring. At first, I felt embarrassed and bad sharing that stuff, but I guess people can always unfollow, right?” she laughed.
It doesn’t take a lot of lurking on her Insta to see that both representations are a true reflection of who she is — at work and at home — and they intersect beautifully.
Collins doesn’t think she overshares on social, but admits to annoying friends with her use of the platforms sometimes. “It’s a joke, they call me Toni ‘live in the moment not your phone’ Collins,” she said. “They have taught me about social media moderation and they are honest with me. They tell me things like, ‘chill, no one cares about what you’re eating’,” she laughed. “Unless the plate is really beautiful and I HAVE to post!”
Unfortunately, social media is not just a place where photos of rescue dogs peacefully co-exist with red-faced post-run selfies and stories about mid-day food deliveries from your bestie. Trolls are everywhere – and for a woman working in sports, they’re more venomous, racist and angry than your run-of-the-mill misogynist on a Friday night beer-bender tweeting from his parents’ basement.
The negative comments are sometimes tough to swallow. A few notable ones: “You belong in the kitchen, not in sports” (a star soccer player since age 10, she was recruited to play soccer for the Mexican National U-19 Team), and “I know you’re pronouncing Latino ballplayers’ names right, but no one cares, pronounce them how we understand,” (she’s bilingual and her 69,000-plus followers on Instagram and 83,900 followers on Twitter are split pretty equally between native Spanish and native English speakers).
“I’m not going to lie, it’s hard mentally,” she said of the online abuse leveled at her. But she’s developed a thick skin that “gets thicker as the years pass by.”
“You initially read these messages and you say, ‘How can someone just take the time to be so mean and negative. I don’t get it.’ But then you realize … that their criticism is not constructive and look for those who do care about you, that DO have the constructive criticism or positive feedback,” she said.
She also turns to her friends and loved ones for support. “They take me out of that cloud where it’s all negative and bring me back to reality,” she added. She’s also been known to clap back on occasion. “It’s funny, because once you respond either they apologize or backtrack,” she said.
For all of the negative she encounters, Collins has a delightful list of the people and posts that bring her light and love online. She finds inspiration in accounts from Pat Quinn, one of the co-founders of the Ice Bucket Challenge, and Steve Gleason, former New Orleans Saints safety, as the men fight to raise awareness of and find a cure for ALS. She also loves following her favorite sports teams and animal accounts (“ALL OF THEM – they bring so much joy to me”). And then there are the FC Barcelona accounts. “I love those. I repost so much it’s embarrassing,” she laughed.
Two favorite accounts, Food for the Hungry and their baseball-associated cause, Striking Out Poverty, sparked a memorable social media moment for Collins. A few years ago, she happened upon their outreach in the Dominican Republic while covering another story. She did a story on the program for ESPN, and follows their efforts on social. “I have seen first-hand what they do and how they help others and change lives. I tend to post about them and people have asked how they can help!” she said. Some followers have even followed in her footsteps and sponsored needy children in the Dominican Republic as a result.
That sort of action is exactly what Toni Collins believes social media should do for society. “I think it should empower, educate, help others and be a positive distraction,” she said.
This profile is a part of The Light and Love Project, an effort to highlight women who make the sometimes very dark place of social media a little bit brighter.
Harness Magazine is publishing the first four profiles from The Light and Love Project. For background on each woman profiled, along with articles about the good things people are doing with social media and more, visit www.lightandloveproject.com and please follow us on Twitter (@LightAndLovePjt) and Instagram (@lightandloveproject).
Author: Joy Frank-Collins
Author Bio: Joy Frank-Collins is a freelance writer who got her start as a reporter for a daily newspaper in southeastern Ohio. Her work ranges from sports to travel to special interest features. She’s most recently been published in Pittsburgh Magazine, WOW (the airline) Magazine, The Marietta Times, on multiple sports blogs. In 2018, she contributed long-form features to two baseball books. After 20+ years living in Marietta, Ohio, Joy is excited to relocate with her husband and two sons to the Columbus area in late summer 2018. She enthusiastically chronicles her travels, beverages and cat on social media.
Link to social media or website: joyfrank-collins.com | Twitter @joyfc | Instagram @joyfc