Something to talk about: Texas' Serenity Douglas tackling issues as well as track
In Serenity Douglas’ Twitter bio is a prophecy about herself: “Future ESPN sports analyst.” It may seem like the Texas sprinter is simply manifesting her dreams, as the slang goes, but she’s not crossing her fingers in hope that things magically fall into place.
That’s one reason why Douglas, an eight-time All-American and two-time Big 12 champion, launched her IGTV series “Let’s Talk About It” last December, around the time she graduated from UT with a degree in corporate communications. While the sprinter from Atlanta has worked as a production intern for outlets such as the Longhorn Network and her status as an athlete could give her some footing in sports broadcasting, she figured her résumé needed another notch — off the track, anyway.
Douglas, who will run in this coming week's Texas Relays, has posted several NCAA qualifying times in the 400-meter run and top Big 12 times in the 200-meter run during her career. But in those moments when she isn’t speeding around chasing personal bests and titles, she asks questions.
“Let’s Talk About It” gives the runner an opportunity to try and answer them while practicing her broadcast skills on the app created by Instagram for watching long-form, vertical video.
Douglas’ show, where she interviews guests from the sports world and beyond, gives her the opportunity to start conversations about topics she’s interested in. And for the duration of each episode, she’s not working behind-the-scenes, she’s the star.
Since the premiere of “Let’s Talk About It,” she has chatted up several visitors, from her UT teammate Tara Davis and Davis’ boyfriend Hunter Woodhall, to indoor 60-meter hurdles world record-holder Grant Holloway. She’s run in front of NCAA Championship crowds, but she still gets nervous once the camera starts rolling.
“I’m just like, ‘Is this the one where they’re going to get offended by one of my questions or they’re not going to want to talk about it? Is this the one that the fans are going to think is boring?’” Douglas said. “There’s always going to be a hit or miss ... It’s kind of like an adrenaline rush. I like it, though.”
This go-with-the-flow mindset was essential in January when she interviewed Olympic track hopeful CeCé Telfer, the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA title, about transgender athletes in sports. The episode received both love and backlash, as Douglas predicted. It wasn’t the first time the runner has fostered an uncomfortable dialogue.
During the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, she joined dozens of other Longhorns athletes in calling on UT to take actions that would create a more diverse and inclusive campus for Black students.
The increasing mobilization of athletes on social media was one of Douglas’ inspirations for “Let’s Talk About It.”
Like many others, she no longer feels scared to speak loud and proud about issues she cares about.
“Us talking and us finally using our voice as if nothing was holding us back felt like liberation,” she said. “I just felt like I had to talk about it because who was going to?”
The sprinter is passionate about confronting problems and bridging gaps between different groups. As the athletic engagement committee co-director of UT’s chapter of the NAACP, she has helped create a space where Black athletes and Black students who don’t participate in sports can be on the same wavelength.
Kiara Kabbara, president of UT’s chapter of the NAACP, connected with Douglas last summer and invited her to lead the athletic engagement committee after seeing her activism efforts on Twitter and her work as the vice president of the Texas Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. The chapter hadn’t been active for more than 30 years; Kabbara said Douglas has been an integral piece to its revival.
One thing Douglas implemented along with fellow track star and co-director Jonathan Jones was adding Black athletes to the UT-NAACP group chat. The addition of these new members, including some Texas men’s basketball players, paved the way for head coach Shaka Smart to make an appearance and speak about being Black in sports at the organization’s first general meeting in September.
“We wouldn’t even be able to have that conversation if it wasn’t for Serenity reaching out, making sure that athletes are there,” Kabbara said. “She’s a superstar.”
Douglas is putting herself out there now to have some cushion in the future. If the injury she sustained in February 2020 didn’t show her how finite sports are, the pandemic certainly did.
Ample time to think during the early days of quarantine forced her to get existential. The NCAA granted her an extra year of athletic eligibility, but when officials sent the team home from indoor nationals last March, Douglas, then a senior, wasn’t sure if she’d compete for Texas again.
She also realized she has more to offer than her athletic ability.
“I definitely didn’t want anybody to think that I am being hired strictly because I’m the NCAA champ in the 400 or something,” Douglas said. “I didn’t want people to think things were just given to me because of my status in track and field. I wanted to set my life up.”
Douglas’ goal to transcend sport made Life After the perfect platform for her. The media company founded in November by her friend and former Texas football player Jeffrey McCulloch is a space for former athletes to discuss their lives after sports and take advantage of their names, images and likenesses. Douglas and her show have both been featured on Life After’s Instagram page.
McCulloch thought Douglas would be a perfect Life After team member because of her speaking ability and poise behind the camera, to name a few things.
“She’s an elite woman and that’s what I wanted,” McCulloch said. “She checked every box.”
As a Black woman and, eventually, an ex track athlete, Douglas has a unique “flavor” to bring to the broadcasting industry, which she said is dominated by former football players. The track star wants to emphasize that women can succeed in sports media, especially because of their individualized perspectives.
Sure, Douglas dreams of being one of ESPN’s future stars, but she’s still in the thick of her redeemed senior track season. Her signature event, the 400-meter dash, is “not meant for the weak or the timid,” and training for “the big girl race” is pretty brutal. Yet she still wants to keep on her spikes and turn professional.
Douglas will keep running until her legs burn out. Then, she hopes to fulfill the prophecy in her Twitter bio. If she does, it wouldn’t be the first time a UT track star predicted her own good fortune — 2016 Olympian Morolake Akinosun wrote from her Twitter account in 2011 that she would make an appearance in Rio, and she did.
So not a soul could tell Douglas she won’t bring her own goals to fruition. She’s a woman who knows her worth.
“I have the brains, I have the résumé, I have the degree,” Douglas said. “I have set my life up — and I’m fast.”