Samantha Ponder is an American sports reporter, best known as the host of the ESPN program Sunday NFL Countdown. She has been associated with the network since her college days. She interned at ESPN Zone initially and even joined ABC-TV as a researcher assistant. She then earned a job at Liberty University, where she also studied. She soon started reporting for the university's athletic team, Liberty Flames. Ponder also reported for Fox Sports Net and Fox College Sports. She then joined the ESPN Longhorn Network, where she was a sideline reporter for the program Thursday Night College Football and a co-host of College Football GameDay. Ponder began hosting the show NFL Countdown in 2017, and with that, she became the third person to host the show in its 33-year history.
Childhood & Early Life
Samantha Ponder was born Samantha Steele, on December 11, 1985, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., to a missionary couple, Cindi and Jerry Steele. Her parents established the charity M.A.D. Ministries, which supports education, college scholarships, athletic training, and housing, apart from providing spiritual practice to the young generation. They now serve at the Palestine chapter of the non-profit. Ponder has an older sister and two younger brothers.
Ponder studied at the Central High School in Phoenix and at The King's College in New York City. While in college, she sent a job application to ESPN Zone. She had reportedly met the college football researcher and ABC Sports Radio manager Ben Keeperman, who had then got her an internship with ESPN Zone. Back then, ESPN has merged with the ABC network.
Later, Samantha Ponder became a researcher assistant for a college football studio show on ABC-TV. While working with the network, she was mentored by Craig James, John Saunders, and Doug Flutie. They helped Ponder in making a demo tape, which landed her a job at Liberty University.
The senior sports producer at Liberty University hired her as a sideline football and basketball reporter for the sports TV network of the university's athletic team, Liberty Flames. Ponder thus completed the rest of her education from the university and graduated in 2009.
Ponder had decided to become a sports broadcaster when she was in third grade. She was motivated by her father, who worked as a football and basketball coach back then. She and her siblings were all interested in sports.
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Soon after Samantha Ponder graduated from Liberty University, she joined Fox Sports Net and Fox College Sports as a sideline reporter. She covered collegiate basketball and football games and events, especially Pac-10 and Big 12 games.
At 18, she got her first big interview as a sports broadcaster when she interviewed Hall of Fame inductee and former professional basketball player Dennis Rodman.
On July 7, 2011, Ponder became a sideline reporter for the multinational regional sports channel Longhorn Network, which operated under ESPN in Texas. She was one of the first three to be hired by the network. Soon after she joined Longhorn, Ponder moved to Austin, Texas.
In 2012, Samantha Ponder replaced sportscaster Erin Andrews as the host of the ESPN pre-game show College GameDay, when the latter left the network to join Fox Sports. Ponder also replaced Andrews as a co-host of another edition of the show, aired on ESPNU.
From August 2012 to 2014, Ponder served as a regular sideline reporter for the ESPN show Thursday Night College Football, hosting it along with Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, and David Pollack.
In 2017, Ponder faced backlash on Twitter after rumors surfaced that she would replace Chris Berman on NFL Countdown.. People argued that she was inappropriate for a sports-themed show. They believed that Ponder had no knowledge of the basics of football, as she had never played the sport. Similarly, the audience questioned her skills as a reporter. However, there was a section of people that supported Ponder as a sports journalist.
Samantha Ponder has been married to former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder since December 17, 2012. They began dating in 2012 after Christian started sending her messages on Twitter. Even though Ponder found that weird initially, she eventually started liking him. The two got engaged in December 2012.
Ponder and Christian had no elaborate plans for their wedding ceremony. They had a casual and straightforward ceremony in Hudson, Wisconsin. Christian picked her up from the airport, and they had a civil marriage ceremony right away, without even informing their parents. Ponder wore a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt for the ceremony.
Following her marriage, Ponder changed her professional name and began using Christian's surname for her ESPN and ABC broadcast credits. Her first credit with the new surname was on CapitalOne Bowl, aired on January 1, 2013.
In July 2014, Samantha Ponder gave birth to her first child, her daughter Bowden Sainte-Claire "Scout." The couple’s second child and first son, Robinson True, was born in June 2017. In July 2018, she delivered her second daughter, Price. Unfortunately, the newborn had to undergo an emergency surgery.
Ponder is a devout Christian. The host of the Barstool Sports podcast Pardon My Take, Dan Katz, had once criticized her faith on the show. He had apparently described her as a "Bible-thumping freak."
Ponder is a board member of the charity M.A.D. Ministries, Inc. (also known as M.A.D. House).
In December 2018, Samantha Ponder had a seizure during a flight from Phoenix to New York City and had to sit out for a show.
She dreams of interviewing former NBA player Charles Barkley and former American football quarterback Vince Young. She would also like to interview her husband someday. She once said that she would have interviewed New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, had he been alive.