Avery Braxton, a 2018 graduate of Mercer University’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies, is now a host for 901 Sports XL, a sports show on ABC 24 Memphis in Tennessee. He pitched the idea to his bosses at the news station and recently got the show off the ground this fall.
“It feels really great. It’s kind of a fruit of your own labor … and I’m proud of where we’re going,” Braxton said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s great that it’s off the ground and that it’s something that we can kind of work towards every week.”
For the show, Braxton covers Memphis-area sports news, including the Memphis Grizzlies, the University of Memphis Tigers, and local high school sports.
“We’re trying to bring a lot of that kind of news throughout the week into the show, and then kind of putting our own little twist on it,” Braxton said. “And on top of that, we are trying to bring stuff that is kind of exclusive to our market. … I’m just trying to give people something that’s a little different, something that they can look forward to at the end of the week. And at the same time, it’s really fun for us.”
Braxton said he’s wanted to pursue sports journalism since the age of 13 or 14. Along the way to hosting 901 Sports XL, he’s had plenty of experience at Mercer and other jobs.
“Mercer kind of gave me that chance to try stuff, to try new things, to do things that hadn’t necessarily been done before,” Braxton said.
He was in one of the first classes to work in the University’s ESPN studio, which broadcasts Mercer athletic games such as football and basketball.
“I think that experience really encouraged me in taking on this (sports show) role,” he said.
Braxton also gained experience in practicums and internships while at Mercer.
“Mercer just really gave me opportunities more than anything,” he said. “I think it’s easy to look at those bigger journalism schools, but I kind of felt like I wanted to be somewhere that was going to be a little bit more intimate. And that ultimately really paid off for me.”
Some of those opportunities included landing an internship at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Knight CUNJY Internship in New York City, and a job at 13WMAZ in Macon, with help from connections and experiences at Mercer’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.
“He’s just a good example of someone who I think really took advantage of the experiences that are offered at Mercer,” said CCJ Director Debbie Blankenship, who’s also an assistant professor of practice. “It’s just exciting to see him continue to move up in the world of sports reporting and sports journalism.”
She said Braxton was Mercer’s first student to work his way up to a sideline reporting position with the campus ESPN team. Braxton said he worked graphics, replay and audio before ever being in front of the camera on the sideline.
“I think all those things really helped me understand how other people operate in their jobs. And it helps me understand what I need to do, not only (to) do my job well but trying to make other people better, as well,” he said.
Even though Braxton was always interested in covering sports, he was also open to other types of journalism.
“He did an investigative reporting internship at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution one summer, which was not in his wheelhouse at all,” Blankenship said. “But I think (that) was great for him because it pushed him to do something he wasn’t comfortable with. … I think it helped him become a better storyteller all around.”
After graduating from Mercer, Braxton worked at 13WMAZ as a general news reporter. He had worked with the news station as a practicum student through the CCJ, and he was one of the first students to produce work that made it on-air.
“He’s somebody who’s willing to do it all,” said Marvin James, sports executive producer and sports anchor at 13WMAZ. “It was hard to even look at him as an intern because he was always full of ideas, always bringing different thoughts and strategies to the forefront.
“So, it was always good to have him because he just thought so much out the box.”
Braxton covered general news during his first year at 13WMAZ. At the same time, he asked to help with the Friday night football show. When the opportunity for more sports coverage presented itself, Braxton took on a sports anchor position.
“I just worked my tail off, and I tried to pitch ideas that I thought could be useful for the news station,” Braxton said.
James said Braxton brought in many different ideas to help grow the sports department.
“It was awesome to see him come up with so many ideas, so many platforms, so many things that he wanted to showcase and things that we thought that we needed to grow in our news department,” James said. “He thought that we needed to show more for local students, local kids, and women’s sports — he was always about that.”
Braxton was awarded one of the Best Sports Anchor awards for 2021 by the Georgia Association of Broadcasters.
“He definitely understood the sacrifices and the compromises that he wanted to make to become great,” James said.
In addition, Braxton has great energy on-air, he said.
“He was very uplifting,” he said. “It didn’t matter what was going on personally with him. He was going to go ahead and give his best for that three minutes, and he’s gonna give that shine to those student athletes that he was highlighting.
“He always brought energy to the table, and he always brought just a big big ray of sunshine to a sometimes doomy newscast.”
Braxton briefly worked as a game day host for the Atlanta Falcons after leaving 13WMAZ in 2021. He’s now been at ABC 24 Memphis for a little over a year.
He said he’s taken a lot from Mercer with him into his career.
“Everywhere I go, I’m just trying to leave my workplace is a little better than I found it,” Braxton said. “I want people to trust me. And I think I learned a lot of that at Mercer, that you’ve got to earn trust.”