Laura Gentile, a 1994 Duke graduate and the founder and current senior vice president of espnW, received Monday evening the Futrell Award for Outstanding Achievement in Communications and Journalism. A standout for the Blue Devils’ field hockey program, Gentile is the first former student-athlete to be honored with the prestigious award.
“I’m super proud [to be the first student-athlete to win this award],” Gentile said. “That was one of the first questions I asked, has a student-athlete ever won this before. To hear that the answer was no is really a big honor. Because as a student-athlete sometimes you feel like maybe I didn’t do as well academically as I could have. I didn’t shine in that area as much as I could have. I had so many demands on my time, so it’s nice to be recognized. I experienced as much of Duke as I possibly could and I dove into my academics as much as I could. It’s awesome to have a student-athlete recognized with something like this [award].”
The award is presented by the Sanford School of Public Policy’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy to honor the professional accomplishments of Duke alumni in the media business.
Gentile is the 16th recipient of the award, which was established by 1978 Duke graduate Ashley B. Futrell Jr., to honor the journalism career his father, Ashley B. Futrell Sr., class of 1933. Both Futrells had served as editor and publisher of the Washington Daily News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning local newspaper in eastern North Carolina the family operated for six decades until its sale in 2010.
Duke head field hockey coach Pam Bustin and Senior Associate Director of Athletics/Student-Athlete Development/Senior Woman Administrator Jacki Silar – who served as the head coach for the program from 1981-95 – were both on hand at Monday evening’s presentation. Blue Devil field hockey alumnae Laura Suchoski Tierney (’09) and Amy Reydel Fuchs (’91) were also in attendance.
In her current role at ESPN, Gentile oversees the company’s women’s initiatives. In 2010, she started espnW as a blog, which has since developed into an entire media entity with features, in-depth analysis and commentary by female athletes and columnists.
“Creating ESPNW has definitely been a profound experience just from a business perspective and starting a business at ESPN, which is not an easy thing to do in general in terms of how our standards are so high and how we’ve almost created new entities in all aspects of the sports world,” Gentile said. “To find a new opportunity in itself is not easy, but it’s also very personal because you put your name on something. I see ESPNW I almost feel like it’s me. So it’s special to see it growing. I think the trick is to not make it personal. Yes, my insights can help and my team has been so dedicated to it, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about giving women more opportunity and a louder voice and a greater presence in sports. It’s very personal and very special, but I always try to be objective as much as I can.”
Prior to founding espnW, Gentile served as the senior director of brand management at ESPN and later the vice president, chief of staff where she worked directly with George Bodenheimer and ABC Sports. She was named to Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal Forty Under 40 and an SBJ Game-Changer, in addition to being appointed to the U.S. Department of State’s Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports and being named to the Women’s Sports Foundation Advisory Panel.
Gentile earned her MBA in marketing and organizational behavior from Boston College’s Carroll Graduate School of Management in 1996 and began her career at ESPN in 2003.
At Duke, Gentile majored in English and political science and also wrote for The Chronicle. On the field, she earned All-America and All-ACC honors and served as a two-time captain for the Blue Devils. She guided the Duke program to its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 1992 and was named to the ACC’s 50th anniversary field hockey team.
Gentile was also back on campus last week to take part in the debut of espnW’s Campus Conversations series. In what espnW hopes to become a series on college campuses nationwide, a collection of seven former collegiate student-athletes, including Gentile, came to speak to Blue Devil female student-athletes about preparing for postgraduate life while in college.