"Do you want to work for the Dallas Cowboys?" Nick Eatman, senior manager of digital media for the Cowboys, popped the question to Hailey Sutton ('18 M.J.) over the phone this summer.
"I was obviously shocked, but excited," Sutton says. "This has been my dream since first starting in the business."
Four years after graduating from UNT, Sutton found her way to the top as an official NFL sports reporter, producer and host for America's team, the Dallas Cowboys. Her experience of being an athlete and her hard work at the Mayborn School of Journalism gives her a unique perspective as a sports reporter.
Kyle Youmans ('18), on-air host and producer for the Dallas Cowboys, brought the news of position openings to Sutton's attention this summer, and although the Cowboys didn't select her for the staff writer position she applied for, she impressed them enough in being a perfect fit for an on-air reporting job.
"I think it's a huge honor to be a part of a team with such prestigious history and with such high expectations," she says. "It still hasn't set in yet."
The Red Oak native graduated from Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi in 2016 with a bachelor of science in kinesiology before coming to UNT as a graduate transfer on the women's soccer team as a forward.
After earning her master's degree, she began sports reporting and news anchoring across the U.S. in Montana, Alabama and Florida.
"One of my biggest motivators when I come to work is making my parents proud because they've done so much for me," she says.
After one of her stories was featured locally on CBS News, she was so excited that her parents could finally have easier access to watch how years of her hard work has paid off.
"It was definitely a grind," she says.
During graduate school, Sutton's hard work on and off the field allowed her to balance the hectic life of being a student-athlete. She attended night classes after long soccer practices that ended late in the afternoon, worked on campus sideline reporting for UNT athletics' Mean Green productions, served as a teaching assistant and completed several internships during graduate school.
"It was definitely a challenge," she says. "But it prepared me for life not only as a journalist but as an adult."
She was inspired by two faculty members. Senior lecturer Brittany McElroy's background in television news and senior lecturer Carolyn Brown's documentary news style offered Sutton different perspectives and approaches to journalism that she applies to her work today. Sutton took their undergraduate classes even as a master's student and consistently attended their office hours to shape her career goals.
"It's cool to have both of them as mentors in my corner," she says. "People who have done the local news grind know what that looks like and are so open to providing insight."
Ever since she first kicked a soccer ball at age 4, sports have always been a big part of her life. In fact, athletic talent runs through her whole family -- her dad played football in the Canadian Football League, her mom played college basketball and her siblings played sports at the collegiate level.
"Sports are such an integral part of our family life that it was just so natural to transition into a role where I was working in a sports environment," she says.
What she loves about sports journalism, about being a female reporter in a male-dominated industry, is her ability to provide a different perspective and give a voice to those athletes who might feel like they don't have one.
"Women are so much more instinctual to the emotional side of things, and it makes the athletes more comfortable to open up about things people don't consider in their lives," she says.
While some audiences have questioned her expertise as a woman in the sports world she says, "you just have to have thick skin," and advises other women to "not buy into it and roll with the punches." Sutton says that at the end of the day she knows that she has the respect of the people around her and that's all she needs.
Reminding people that "athletes are people first" is something she has always stood by because people often forget this aspect of sports. Sutton's introspective approach to journalism begins with asking players not just about the X's and O's of the game, but about their personal well-being and lives behind the scenes, giving them a breath of fresh air and a chance to relax off the field.
"We will always need good journalists in this industry, and I think this generation has an opportunity to bring a unique perspective and talents," she says.