ESPN writer Kate Fagan shares about sports, identity and her time at CU

ESPN writer and former basketball player Kate Fagan, who will deliver this year’s commencement address, spoke to the CUI this week during a visit to Boulder. Fagan talked about her books, lessons she learned at CU Boulder and about struggling with her sexuality when she was a student.

Fagan was on the women’s basketball team at CU, where she set a free-throw record in the Big 12 Conference. She graduated in 2004 with a degree in communications, and she currently works as a sports reporter at ESPN. She also contributes to the FiveThirtyEight sports podcast Hot Takedown.

Fagan said communications helped give her the skills she uses for her job today, and that playing basketball also taught her important lessons about perseverance, tenacity, and “how to be the only woman in the room.”

Fagan said she’s excited to be delivering CU’s commencement address this year, though a little daunted to be speaking in front of the entire football stadium.

“I hear it echoes, it’s very crowded,” she joked, gesturing down to the football stadium from the fifth floor of the Champions Center. “It’ll be fun, but I’m also nervous.”

Along with her reporting, Fagan has a book coming out in May about Madison Holleran, a University of Pennsylvania track athlete who committed suicide in 2014 after struggling with mental illness. The book is based on a profile Fagan wrote for ESPN in 2015, and will be “a more in-depth look at Madison Holleran’s life as well as a look at what factors are affecting our high school and college kids,” Fagan said.

Fagan said she didn’t think student athletes faced unique struggles in college, but did say that existing struggles with stress, mental illness or other personal issues can be exacerbated by the pressure of college sports.

“It can be hard for college student athletes because you’re kind of told what your passion should be, and if you’re thinking ‘Maybe that’s not who I am,’ it’s easy to feel like you’re trapped,” she said.

Fagan is no stranger to the pressure of struggling with your identity. As she documented in her 2015 memoir, The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians, Fagan gradually realized she was a lesbian during her time at CU, something she struggled with due to the conservative mindsets of many of her teammates.

Fagan said it took her the better part of two years to come to terms with her sexuality, and said she thinks one of her biggest mistakes was in not talking with anyone about what she was going through. She said a large part of her reticence came from the fact that LGBT issues weren’t discussed when she was in the athletics program.

“When I was coming out and struggling, being an athlete felt like the most important part of my identity, and I wasn’t going to quote-unquote ‘compromise’ it by having to leave the bubble of the athletic department,” she explained.

She said she hopes things have improved since she graduated from CU. This fall, the school partnered with LGBT SportsSafe, a program that works to create an LGBT-inclusive environment in high school, college and professional sports departments and that Fagan spoke highly of. She also shared an experience of going to a panel at CU several years ago where multiple student athletes spoke about LGBT identity during the discussion.

“When I was here, no athletes would talk about that,” Fagan said.

Fagan said that while the teams she needs to keep track of for her job take up most of her sports-watching time, she always follows the CU football team and the men’s and women’s basketball team. She said it has been especially exciting to watch the Buffs’ resurgence this year.

Fagan will be speaking at commencement on Friday, May 12. The ceremony is open to the public and no tickets are required.

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at

Carina Julig

Carina Julig serves as the managing editor of the CU Independent. A junior majoring in journalism and political science, she formerly interned at the Boulder Daily Camera and studied journalism abroad in the Balkans. She is a California native and cut her teeth in student journalism at her San Diego high school.

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