Samantha Ponder is ESPN sideline reporter and studio co-host, who currently hosts ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. Previously, she was a contributor to college football and basketball games. 

She was born on December 11, 1985, in Phoenix, Arizona to Jerry Steele and Cindi Steele. Her father was a basketball player. Perhaps, her passion for sports journalism evolved from her father’s career. 

Career from Longhorn Network to ESPN

She attended Central High School in Phoenix and then went to The King’s College in New York City. While in NYC, she applied for a job of hostess at ESPN Zone, where she met a college football researcher and manager with ABC Sports Radio, Ben Keeperman, who helped her land an internship at the network. 

Samantha Ponder as a sideline reporter for ESPN

Later, she got the job of researcher-assistant on ABC TV on the college football studio show.  She transferred to the Liberty University after the university’s senior sports producer Bruce Carey offered her a job as a sideline reporter for the Liberty Flames sports television network. 

After graduating from Liberty in 2009, she worked for Fox Sports Net and Fox College Sports as a sideline reporter for Pac-10 and Big 12 college football and basketball games. She was hired as sideline reporter by ESPN’s Longhorn Network on July 7, 2011. She along with Lowell Galindo and Kevin Dunn were first three talents hired by the newly created network. She later became the network’s sideline reporter on Thursday Night College Football and co-host of College Football GameDay.

Samantha Ponder said that she decided to leave sideline reporting to spend more time with her husband and daughter Scout in a lengthy caption of an Instagram post

Ponder later relocated to Austin, Texas. In August 2015, she announced that she won’t be working as a sideline reporter for ESPN to spend more time with her family. She worked on College Gameday as a sideline reporter, among other positions, before transitioning in 2017 into her current work as the host of Sunday NFL Countdown

Feud with Barstool Sports

In October 2017, ESPN canceled Barstool Van Talk after a single episode. The Sunday NFL Countdown host was claimed to be the catalyst behind the demise of the talk show. She brought an explicit David Portnoy (Barstool founder) 2014 blog post and rant mentioning her through a cold welcome to her new colleague, Dan “Big Cat” Katz on Twitter. Then president of ESPN, John Skipper made the executive decision to pull the plug on the ESPN-Barstool partnership.

Samantha Ponder brought the explicit Barstool blog of 2014 while posting a welcomed message for Dan "Big Cat" Katz to ESPN

Later, Pontroy called Ponder a “cancer just spreading and infecting the network.” Then, she defended herself through a series of Instagram stories stating that she didn’t want Van Talk to be canceled and that she had been willing to appear on the show to discuss her issues. 

Portnoy responded with a lengthy post titled “In The Face Of Plunging Ratings And Unheard of Unpopularity Sam Ponder Has Resorted To Flat Out Lying About Barstool Sports To Save Her Job At ESPN,” which read

“But I don’t think even she understood what she was doing. She didn’t understand the grave she dug for herself and her career. Now Stoolies DESPISE her. PMT fans DESPISE her. She alienated the very audience that ESPN needs so desperately and why they turned to us in the first place. And now she is feeling the heat. Her rankings and likability are in the toilet. Her career is in the toilet. Our fans of which there are many will never forgive her. So with her back against the wall her true colors are showing. She is now resorting to bold faced lies. Yes I confirmed with Dan that she NEVER offered to speak with them. In fact it was quite the opposite. She flat refused to speak with them.  She demanded the show be cancelled. Of course nobody can ever prove that point, but trust me if they could have talked to her or had her on the show at the time they would have.  If she didn’t cause a stink at ESPN BVT would be on Season 2 right now.”

David Portnoy

David Portnoy

While many were telling her comments to be inaccurate, ESPN was with her. The network was committed to her and she had strong internal support from both talent and management. 

Married with Three Children

Shortly after Ponder started dating then Minnesota Vikings quarterback, Christian Ponder, she married him on December 17, 2012, in Hudson, Wisconsin. She started appearing on ESPN/ABC broadcasts by her married name starting January 1, 2013 broadcast of CapitalOne Bowl

Samantha Ponder and Christian Ponder with their children, two daughters and a son

The couple welcomed their first daughter, Bowden Sainte-Claire “Scout” in July 2014. She gave birth to a boy, True, in June 2017, and a girl, Price, in July 2018. She is fully devoted to her kids and frequently shares cute family pictures on social media.