Marjorie Acosta, better known as MJ Acosta-Ruiz, is making sure that the Latinx community is well represented in The National Football League. The Dominican-American sports reporter and host of NFL Total Access is not just a pretty face filling a spot on tv; she is a smart and passionate woman breaking molds, fighting misconceptions, and making a living out of what she loves the most.
For Acosta-Ruiz, sports are not only a physical activity; this is what connects her to one of the persons she loves the most -- her father. “Sports have always been part of my life, my dad played at the pro level in the Dominican Republic, when he was in college, so he always passed down sort of that level of force,” she said in an exclusive interview for HOLA!
While revisiting her upbringing, the tv host remembered how she went from loving the Dominican Republic’s most popular sport to becoming an American football connoisseur. “Baseball is paramount for us [Dominicans]. I grew up in Washington Heights, so we were huge Yankee fans,” she revealed. “It wasn’t until we moved to Miami when I really got into American football, and it was sort of love at first sight with the sport.”
Acosta-Ruiz knew she had what it takes to be part of the competitive world of football. Determined to work her way up, she started dancing for a team. “I cheered for the University of Miami; I was on the dance team. So I was at every football game, and it just started to grow from there, and then I cheered in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins, while I was already a sports reporter,” she told HOLA! “So I always knew that was going to be part of my life, I just didn‘t realize how until I got older. It led me to journalism. Both of those loves and over a decade later, here we are.”
Although everything was meant to be for MJ Acosta-Ruiz, becoming an NFL cheerleader and an NFL Total Access host came with a price. “There’s nothing easy about this career path in any way,” she said. “You give up a lot; you give up your family, you give up your hometown, you give up a lot of your freedom because you have to dedicate so much of your free time to this job.”
The tv host realized that all her sacrifices were leading to progress, and focused on creating the life story she always pictured. “You do it because you love it because it is special, but it’s special because it’s hard,” she added. “I knew this was what I wanted to do in high school, and I was doing the morning announcements like I came upon this in my 20s and took a shift and pivoted to do that, so I felt like I was behind. I was very far behind everybody else in the business. And so I knew I was going to have to work, ten times as hard and sacrifice, even more, to be able to make it to this point.”
After all her sacrifices, the Dominican also noticed the lack of representation in the industry, and for instance, it was hard to visualize her possible the future. “There was no one who looked like me doing it on the football side on American television,” she recalls. “[No one] that was Latino or Afro-Latino. So, it became challenging to envision it. And I realized at one point that I may have to create sort of the lane that I wanted to be in because it didn’t fit. And when you do things like that. There’s a lot of pushback. And there’s a lot of doubters, and there’s a lot of people who tell you that you’re crazy, or that you only got a particular job because you’re a Latina, or because you’re a woman, or simply because a company just wanted to check the box.”
As a woman, battling misconceptions is also essential for the sports commentator. “Just off the bat, the automatic assumption that a woman is only in this position, because of the way that she looks, as opposed to the fact that she actually sacrificed and prepared herself and is fully qualified as talented to do the job. I think that is changing. Slowly but surely,” she said. “But there’s still a lot of women who are still not taken as seriously as they deserve. So that’s what I want to be changed. That equality with women in the business and certainly for Black and Brown women,” she continued.
Acosta-Ruiz never doubted herself despite the negativity. She bravely fought the imposter syndrome and chose to tune the noise out. “That’s all it is, noise,” she told HOLA! “But it’s hard. We’re human. You start to believe it a little bit, so on top of the business’s external struggles, it was that mental and emotional struggle to have just that confidence in myself and know that I had to do it for myself. You really have to have to invest in what you want and invest in yourself.”
Thanks to her unshakeable resolution, she is now part of an incredibly diverse production crew that reflects the league, the network audience, and NFL fans. Thanks to people like MJ Acosta-Ruiz, plus the producers and staff at NFL Total Access, celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month will be more meaningful. “I think that the visibility of what’s in the broadcast face the mainstream broadcast face, it’s so needed,” she said. “We are the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, and that’s not going to stop. We are here! Representation matters.”
The Dominican NFL Total Access host also took the opportunity to send a message to little girls and women looking like her, especially the female journalists out there. “We need you. You’re important. Just keep doing it because the lanes are opening up, and I’m going to do everything in my power, especially now with this new position to open up even more opportunities for other women,” she said. “Whatever that takes. However, it comes.”