Right Place, Right Time
On the surface, it may look like Brett Okamoto’s story is a case of being “at the right place, at the right time,” but Okamoto’s (‘08, Journalism and Technical Communication) job as ESPN Mixed Martial Arts reporter was no coincidence. He maximized his time, took advantage of opportunities, and strategically networked to land his current job.
One of Okamoto’s biggest advantages in achieving his ideal career was having a clear vision for what he wanted to do from the start: sports journalism. “I was just one of those lucky people that knew what they wanted to do,” says Okamoto. “I knew I wanted to be a sports journalist by the time I was in fifth grade, if not even a little earlier.”
With a passion for both sports and writing, he saw a career in sports journalism as a way to blend his interests and talents. “When I pictured my career, it was me covering the best athletes in the world. Whatever sport it was, I wanted to be the absolute best.”
Okamoto went to high school in Windsor and sought out writing opportunities before stepping on campus at CSU. During his senior year of high school, he wrote for both The Coloradoan and The Greeley Tribune. Once at CSU, he got involved with the student newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian, right away.
“I don’t think I’d be where I am, or I don’t think I would’ve gotten to where I am so quickly without The Collegian,” he says. He worked there in some capacity during all four years at CSU and was the Sports Editor during his junior year. “Being the sports editor of a daily [newspaper] when I was a junior really gave me a lot of insight into how the newspaper business works. It crafted a lot of what I do from a journalistic standpoint. Even still today,” he says.
Okamoto spent the rest of his senior year after football season as a CNN Student Correspondent. Okamoto was one of 15 student correspondents charged with writing about issues in their schools and local communities. Some of Okamoto’s stories were featured at the top of CNN.com.
After graduating, Okamoto interned at his favorite magazine, which he read cover to cover every week as a kid: Sports Illustrated. He lived in New York City for two and a half months, working as a fact-checker for the premier sports publication. Observing how a sports media company worked from the inside affirmed his interest in the industry and confirmed his aspiration to be a writer.
Soon after that internship, he got a job as a reporter for The Las Vegas Sun covering “a little bit of everything,” including Ultimate Fighting Championship fights. “When I started writing about the UFC at The Las Vegas Sun, no one was really writing about it. I happened to start covering a sport that was beginning to get popular,” he says. Las Vegas is now where some of the highest-profile UFC fights are held and Okamoto was made The Sun’s dedicated MMA reporter.
After about a year, Okamoto was offered a position to cover MMA for sports media giant ESPN. As a part of that role, Okamoto immerses himself in the sport by talking to coaches, fighters, and agents to keep a constant pulse on the highest-level MMA happenings.
Okamoto is also challenged in his job to work in all media, including TV, writing, podcasts, and social media. He’s even part of a project producing a documentary.
While Okamoto maximized his time at CSU, he does have one regret. With how much time he now spends in front of a camera, he wishes he would have taken more video classes as an undergraduate. “I knew what I wanted to do so much, that maybe I closed my mind to another part of it. I just never thought I would be on camera,” he says.
Despite the excitement that TV brings, he still enjoys the creative process of writing the most out of everything he does. “I still enjoy writing the most. Video is more exciting because it feels like your engagement level is higher with the people that are interacting with it. But as far as a creative process, I just love to write,” he says.
His advice to current students who want to break into a similar line of work is to “think of yourself as your own company. Know what you want to do, but also look at different things around it. Even if you don’t end up doing one of those things, it’s just good to know how they operate,” he says.
Okamoto talks with Dana White, President of the UFC, June 2019.