Growing up on Long Island, Laura Gentile was immersed in sports from a young age. She attended U.S. Open golf tournaments with her father, and while still in grade school played goalie as her two older brothers practiced their street hockey slap shots. At Duke she was captain of the varsity field hockey team twice, and she continues to be an avid Blue Devil fan.
Gentile is the kind of woman that espnW—ESPN’s initiative for women athletes and fans—is targeting. Fittingly, she is also espnW’s vice president. “We did a lot of research before launching espnW. One of the core insights we uncovered was that for women, once an athlete, always an athlete. And once an athlete, always a fan,” says Gentile. “Until now there really hasn’t been a major media platform that connects female fans to the sports they love and follow.”
EspnW began as a blog in December of 2010, and the full website went live in April 2011. Gentile and her colleagues continue to refine and enhance the espnW concept, including adding a range of digital media components and integrating content with the wider ESPN brand. With the fortieth anniversary of Title IX this summer, espnW and the entire ESPN franchise will highlight a range of stories and profiles that look at the impact of the landmark legislation.
Gentile was recruited to play on Duke’s field hockey team, where she earned All-America and All-ACC honors. The team made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and Gentile was later named to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary field hockey team.
After graduating from Duke with a double major in English and political science, Gentile received her M.B.A. in marketing and organizational behavior, funded in part through ACC and NCAA postgraduate scholarships. After a stint as a senior partner and management supervisor at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, she joined ESPN in 2003 as a director of advertising and marketing, and was promoted to senior director of brand management with the company’s consumer marketing division. Before launching espnW—a process that took more than two years—she was special assistant to ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer.
In February, Gentile returned to Duke to moderate a panel discussion with Olympic gold medalist and law professor Nancy Hogshead-Makar ’86 during “Winning Women: Advocates, Educators and Athletes.” The event, sponsored by the Duke Alumni Association and Duke Athletics, celebrated forty years of women’s athletics at Duke and the merging of the Woman’s College with Trinity College.
“One of the beautiful things about the espnW endeavor is meeting an incredible network of women,” says Gentile. “When I was a student at Duke and was aspiring to All-America, I would see Nancy’s name and be inspired. So I knew and admired her from afar, but now we’ve gotten to know each other fairly well.” Hogshead-Makar is former president of the Women’s Sports Foundation and is currently its legal adviser; the foundation is one of espnW’s charity partners.
Gentile says that she has enjoyed watching the status of women athletes and sporting events grow among both male and female fans. “You hear people say the phrase ‘female athletes,’ but at the end of the day, they are athletes first and foremost.”