Pitt grads build big league careers in media relations

Over the years, the football world has recognized Pitt as a sure-fire producer of NFL talent, with stars like Dan Marino, Larry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoy all making names for themselves in the league. Unknown to most, however, is that Pitt’s pipeline to the NFL features more alumni than just players.

The University has a track record of providing the league with media relations employees.Three former Pitt media relations interns took advantage of Pitt’s high-profile athletic department and proximity to major professional sports teams, and are currently “living the dream” working in the NFL.

Twenty-three-year-old John Gonoude, who received a double major in communication and English non-fiction writing at Pitt in 2013, has since embarked on a media relations trek that saw stints with some of the most respected franchises in American sports.

Though a “baseball nerd” his whole life, Gonoude has completely embraced his full-time position as the public relations coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and enjoys experiencing something new every week.

“Some of the best times of my life was working with Pitt baseball. It all started with Pitt baseball.”

In his position, Gonoude said he may not be in the spotlight, but fans always see his work.

“I do the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the whole production that everyone else sees,” Gonoude said. “My side is more involved with writing game releases, broadcast notes, stats, anything to enhance the quality of stories.”

Before obtaining his position with the Jaguars, Gonoude worked as a part-time media relations assistant with the Boston Red Sox. He also had part-time positions with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was a public relations intern for the Baltimore Ravens. But his desire to work in professional sports began in college.

“Some of the best times of my life was working with Pitt baseball,” Gonoude said. “It all started with Pitt baseball.”

While in school, Gonoude was the media relations assistant for various Pitt teams, which put him in charge of media coverage of the teams as well as writing athletic biographies and the media guides for each sport. His role as media relations assistant allowed him to travel with the softball and baseball teams. Traveling let him build relationships with the players and made Gonoude feel like he was part of the team.

Gonoude has embraced the workload of his profession.

“There are so many hours you have to put in every day for professional sports, even college sports,” Gonoude said. “But you get used to it, you find a routine that works for you and you’re good to go. Looking back on the past four years, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

It takes a special kind of person to spend their lives promoting the feats of professional athletes. Yet Gonoude managed to meet such a kindred spirit at Pitt, who now works some thousand miles — and a climate — away from Jacksonville in Buffalo, New York.

Chris Fanelli is the media relations assistant for the Buffalo Bills, and, like Gonoude, his career began in the media relations department at Pitt, where he worked closely with the basketball and football teams.

Unlike Gonoude, he knew football was his preferred area of work.

Chris Fanelli walks off the field with former Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do [after graduation],” Fanelli said. “But if I worked in sports, I wanted it to be the NFL because it’s the biggest sport in the country and I love football.”

Fanelli’s day-to-day tasks are similar to Gonoude’s — including coordinating interviews for players, writing press releases and putting together the season’s media guides. The opportunity to work for the Bills was a result of accumulating experience during his time at Pitt

Between his junior and senior years at Pitt, Fanelli worked as a game day intern and media relations intern for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Working with the Pirates helped him make connections with the Steelers, who then assisted Fanelli in building his resumé by aiding the team during the 2014 NFL Draft.

According to Fanelli, networking is the biggest catalyst for a career in media relations.

“A lot of working with sports media relations is connections,” Fanelli said. “It’s about who you know. I got lucky.”

The connections he made with the Steelers then allowed him to branch out to his current position.

“Being able to go to games and have my life be surrounded by sports is what I like the most,” Fanelli said. “I’m not just sitting in a cubicle. Working with a NFL team is just a cool experience.”

While Pitt helped place alumni around the country, some sports media success stories stayed close to home and right in front of the camera.

Missi Matthews, a 2006 media and professional communications graduate, has been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team reporter and host for online webcasts for the last four seasons.

“I love football,” Matthews said. “So just being able to be around football 24/7 is amazing. It’s an awesome organization to work for.”

Like Gonoude and Farelli, Matthews began in Pitt’s media relations offices, but she did not particularly enjoy public relations. With a little help from adviser and Executive Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations E.J. Borghetti, she explored other areas within the communications field.

Missi Matthews has been hosting online videos for the Steelers since graduating from Pitt

With his assistance, not only did Matthews land an internship with WTAE, a local news station, but she also got a job with the University’s television station. “I started working for Panther Vision [Academy]” Matthews said. “I was getting the chance to interview the football and basketball teams. It was the best of both worlds, the news world and the TV station.”

Matthews always knew she wanted to work in sports. Early in her career she had bounced from being a news reporter in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to becoming a hybrid reporter, who broadcasted news and sports in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“I feel like Pittsburgh has played a role in every step I’ve taken,” Matthews said. “Through connections with people and just the city in general.”

Matthews heard of the open reporter position with the Steelers through a connection she made at Pitt. She applied and, much to her delight, received a position with the team.

“I’m a Pittsburgh girl,” Matthews said. “I grew up rooting for the Steelers, so this job is a dream come true.”

Pitt offered several outlets for these three particular students to succeed within the sports industry. Through internships, connections and relationships with Pitt media relations staff members, dreams became realities just a few short years after graduation.

“It’s incredible how it’s such a small world in this field,” Gonoude said. “College to professional, department across department, the people you run into and the time you spend with everyone, I think that’s something that’s very special and underrated about this profession.”

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