This November, college football fans were treated to an epic seven-overtime game between LSU and Texas A&M, and ESPN’s Kris Budden was on sideline duty for all four hours and 53 minutes of it.
There was an added catch, though — she was nearly six months into her pregnancy with her second child at that time. On top of being on her feet for hours, she had to be surrounded by four security guards as fans rushed the field after the game.
Despite the extra obstacles that come with working in the sports industry while pregnant, Budden hasn’t missed a step.
“She’s been comfortable with traveling and preparing each week,” said Steve Ackels, coordinating producer at ESPN. “She hasn’t skipped a beat with her preparation. She’s been on top of getting her storylines and her in-game interviews.”
“One of the hardest things about being pregnant is sometimes what I pack on Wednesday for the weekend no longer fits by the time I have to wear it a few days later,” Budden added with a laugh. “I have to bring three outfits because I’m wondering if I’ll fit in what I brought.”
Budden hasn’t always been this open about her pregnancy journey. Although she has spent much of her professional life in front of the camera, Budden kept her first pregnancy under wraps back in 2015, while she was with FOX Sports San Diego.
“I think there is an image — whether I put that expectation on myself or not — that people have of women in sports,” she said. “They’re supposed to be young, beautiful and thin, and when you’re pregnant, you feel anything but that. I thought my pregnancy would change people’s perception of me… Pregnancy is a very personal thing, with your health and your family, and you live your life in the public so much that part of me wanted to keep that between me and my husband.”
Beyond public perception, she was concerned about how her pregnancy might affect her ability to do her job.
“I also had a fear of how that would change my career — not just the beauty and age aspect, but before, when I had to travel, I could just pick up my suitcase and go,” she said. “Now I’d have to get a babysitter and plan everything.”
Budden and her husband then moved to Los Angeles and, having finished out the college football season with FOX, she found herself between jobs and concerned that companies wouldn’t want to hire a new mom.
That’s where ESPN came in, where she was hired just a few weeks after her son was born.
“I wondered, ‘How would management see my priorities changing? Would that hurt me?’” she said. “I came to the realization with ESPN that that couldn’t be farther from the truth… I realized my fears were maybe more insecurities I had with myself. The people that make decisions care more about the talent than anything.”
Ackels explained that ESPN makes it a point to not only encourage its employees to lead lives outside of work, but to support them in their endeavors.
“It’s extremely important that we have that work-life balance, whether you’re male, female, married or not, with or without kids,” he said. “We’re very sensitive to that, and we try to take care of their needs and help with preparation.”
Despite the flexibility and backing of ESPN, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Budden and her husband, who had his own busy schedule as a tennis coach at Pepperdine.
“For the first year of our son’s life, if my husband was out of town recruiting or for a match, I would bring my son on a flight where we would have a layover in DSW,” she said. “I’d drop him off on the other side of TSA with my parents and then make the flight to my game and pick him up on the way back. It was basically impossible.”
Budden and her husband later moved to Dallas to be closer to family, but the struggles continued, as she had a miscarriage while she was headed to an assignment.
But despite dealing with her first pregnancy and her miscarriage in private, Budden has since begun documenting her experiences on her personal blog.
“With my miscarriage, I felt like I had a platform to share my experience and help people,” she said. “When I went through my miscarriage, I knew one person who also had one that I could lean on. But then, I was open with it, and I realized how many other women go through it, and you would never know. It made me want to talk about it more.”
“There are other women that have been vocal about it too, like Sara Walsh, and it helps women who think they’re all alone, and men as well,” she added. “It’s a different experience for the woman as for the man, but I think knowing there are other people going through what you are is the reason I wanted to get it out there.”
Sharing her experiences hasn’t just helped her cope — now that she’s pregnant again, Budden has been more open about it than ever before. She is expecting a baby girl in March, and she feels as though it’s helped her connect with both viewers and interview subjects.
“I realized how much more relatable I am to coaches and players,” she said. “They ask about my son, and I ask coaches about their families. I work with all men, and all of them have families, so to talk about our kids, there’s a level of respect for how you’re all juggling all of this. There’s an extra level of respect that you’re able to still have a career and build that and be a mom.”
“A lot of women watching have been where you are, and they understand, and you’re a little more relatable to them,” she added.
That doesn’t mean this pregnancy has been easy for her. She still grapples with the expectations that come with being a woman in the television industry.
“Some people may feel beautiful while pregnant — I’m not one of those people,” she said. “It’s something I constantly manage. Do I wear an oversized coat or something tight that shows that I’m pregnant? There’s a stigma in this job to always look and feel the best, and social media has made that tougher.”
She’s also had to come to terms with the difficult balance of working while raising a child.
“The thing I learned through having a son and a career is that before you have kids, you can give 100 percent to your job,” she said. “With both, you have to manage that, and you constantly feel like you’re letting one part of your life down, whether it’s your job or your family. I’m used to giving everything that I have, and you have to be okay with saying, ‘This is all I have.’ You can’t be there for every moment.”
With that sense of acceptance, Budden plans to lean into every aspect of her life, from her job at ESPN to her role at home.
“I want to stay at ESPN and keep doing more games, bigger events, and still manage my family life,” she said. “I would love to write a children’s book one day. It’s been a goal of mine, especially as I’m having a daughter, and being in this male-dominated industry. I never thought, ‘I want to retire and be a stay-at-home mom.’ I want to show my daughter what women can do.”