Personal Profile: Stephania Bell

Name: Stephania Bell
Nickname: Starphania (podcast-listener generated and encouraged by Matthew Berry — I have conveniently forgotten the ones from childhood)
Job title(s): ESPN injury analyst, senior writer
Full-time in fantasy? Yes
Age: Really? OK, I’m actually not that shy about it. 42.
Education: B.A., Princeton University, M.S., P.T. (Physical Therapy) University of Miami (FL)
Favorite fantasy sport to play: Football, hands down, no question.
Favorite sport to watch: Football. Although March Madness opening weekend is pretty darn close.
Favorite team (any sport): 49ers. Through thick and thin.
All-time favorite athlete: My dad — Golden Gloves boxer who taught me how to jab and the rules of football. He’s my hero.
Years playing fantasy: 10

I got my start in the fantasy industry when: My good friend Eddie Aparicio of fame, who also happened to be my fantasy football league commissioner, suggested that I start writing an injury column, since our leaguemates were always hitting me up for injury information. Then he took me to my first FSTA conference and began introducing me to the folks who would eventually publish my stuff. One thing led to another and now I am lucky enough to be working for ESPN.

Since then, my fantasy résumé includes: I started by writing a column within a column for KFFL. I have to credit them with giving me my first “space” on the internet. I then moved to RotoWire, and I have to thank them for giving me my first regular column, magazine feature articles and a regular radio slot for both football and baseball. I moved to ESPN in August 2007 and have been blessed with opportunities to comment on injuries in just about every sport and on every platform since then. I was talking about Jimmie Johnson’s finger tendon injury earlier this year and how it might impact his ability to grip the wheel. No sport is safe from injury.

Three questions

1) So, how does a licensed physical therapist with a degree from Princeton and five years of experience as a college professor achieve the lofty qualifications required to become a fantasy football analyst?

I think you captured it right there. Although I was pre-med, I was a literature (French) major at Princeton. We had to write a thesis to graduate, so I was always writing. I also worked in the training room to help pay for school, so that was my intro to sports medicine. The PT education has its obvious contributions, but I think most importantly, physical therapists focus on function, as in “What does an athlete need to do to actually return to playing his sport?” Since we spend so much time analyzing an athlete’s sport, and his/her position within the sport, it helps in my fantasy analysis to determine not just how long a player might be out, but how that injury might impact an athlete’s ability to perform at a specific position.

As far as the professor part, teaching forces you to take complex concepts and break them down so that students can easily understand them. That has helped me in translating injury analysis for the sports fan who doesn’t necessarily have a medical background. Plus, students are never afraid to offer their criticism, which helps thicken the skin. Good preparation for being in the public eye.

Lastly, playing fantasy sports is critical to the job. If you don’t play, it’s hard to get into the mindset of the person who does and to understand the strategies involved. Besides, how else could I create a job where I actually am required to “play” in order to effectively do my work???

2) How did the move from RotoWire to ESPN come about? How has the increased prominence of ESPN impacted your life — work and/or personal?

When Matthew Berry took on the position as senior director of fantasy games at ESPN, he was very motivated to build a strong team of fantasy experts with unique content and diversity. As one of a very small number of women in the fantasy industry, along with the fact that my content was unique, it was an easy fit.
There is no doubt that the increased prominence of working at ESPN has highlighted a number of things that I’m proud of: that women can play (and compete in!) fantasy sports, the role of physical therapists as an integral part of the sports medicine team, and in a general sense, I am proof that you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it. There were definitely people who told me when I first started out in the fantasy industry that my content idea was “nice” but that it really wouldn’t stand alone or be a differentiator. I’m happy to say that I stubbornly plowed ahead anyway and now I get to do everything I love combined — and I get paid to do it.

3) You hail from the Bay Area and admit to being a fan of the Niners and Giants. That makes me wonder two things: Is it really possible to root for the Giants right now when Tim Lincecum isn’t pitching? Do you have any idea what the story is with Alex Smith’s shoulder, or have you been in the dark with the rest of us?

Sure, I am one of those die-hard loyal fans who roots for her teams no matter what. Lincecum is a phenom — and we love when he’s in the lineup — but we root for the Giants regardless. Same goes for the 49ers. As far as Smith, he had an AC joint reconstruction. It’s not that common but is sometimes required in throwers if they have difficulty throwing overhead after a severe separation (Smith’s original injury). He then had a sort of unusual setback, which kept him out last year but has since been addressed. From a health perspective, his shoulder should be ready to go. Now, as far as dealing with offensive coordinator No. 7, that remains to be seen.

Bonus: My wife is also a physical therapist. How can I get her to give in to fantasy football, and if I succeed, can she have your gig whenever you’re ready to move on?

Well, if she likes sports, then it’s not much of a stretch. If she is at all competitive (like me), then a friendly husband-wife wager should pique her interest. All wives love to beat their husbands at something. It gives you something to be involved in together but at the end of the day, if she beats you, there has to be a good prize in it for her. Like you doing some chore that you would rather not do for a year. Or agreeing to see indie films weekly. Including those with subtitles. Let her pick the prize.

I have had a number of PTs ask me how they can get into doing what I’m doing. My path was so circuitous and unique (since no one really has had this position before) that I don’t quite know how to advise them. But I will tell you this. I love what I do — and with any good fortune, I won’t be moving on for a long time.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Personal Profile: Stephania Bell”

  1. Fantasy Sports Business » Blog Archive » Di Fino’s Five Tips to Enhance Your Fantasy Draft Says:

    [...] Read’s Stephania Bell — There’s no arguing that this injury guru provides some valuable analysis for fantasy [...]