A Woman’s Place In Sports Journalism

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By: Ashley Akers

A woman’s heart beats as she stands at the dented and bashed red door of the men’s visitor’s locker room. Today is her first day on the job as a sports reporter and the anxiousness of getting the leading story is washing over her. As she braces herself to walk into a clubhouse full of men, she reminds herself of what her successors had warned her about; ‘never look down at your notepad, or a player might think you’re snagging a glimpse at his crotch, you’ve always got to be prepared with a one-liner, even if it means worrying more about snappy comebacks than snappy stories.’ As the woman confidently stomps into the clubhouse, the only player to be seen was MLB sensation Reggie Jackson. After a few attempts of asking Jackson for an interview, Jackson finally lays into the woman through a verbal tirade loudly insulting her intelligence and shouting for someone to remove her from the clubhouse.

Many women face gender inequality such as Jennifer Briggs did with Reggie Jackson in their careers of journalism and broadcasting. The gender gap has always had a large impact throughout the history of sports. Many individuals take notice to the disparity on the field such as the U.S Women’s National Soccer team, but not as much in regards to the people behind the scenes like the broadcasters, reporters, analysts, and editors. In the year 2016, women can be found on the sidelines interacting with players in post-game interviews, yet the talk still seems to be focused on the woman’s outward appearance rather than the conversation she has had with the athlete. Female reporters and journalists are critiqued more on their outfits and physique than they are on their knowledge of sports. Erin Andrews states, “When halftime happens, you do the interview, and then you’ve got to grab a coach or a player. You don’t even have time to go to the bathroom. So I’m having a hot dog on the sideline, and people are taking photos and submitting them to the sports blogs. And it’s like, ‘How does she look eating a hot dog?’ It wasn’t about my reporting, it was, ‘what is she wearing, who is she dating?'”

Although women are being seen in larger numbers on the sidelines, there is still an uncomforting gap between men and women in the newsroom. Women’s Media Center president Julie Burton states “the media is failing women across the board. The numbers tell a clear story for the need for change on every media platform.” With years increasing and gender disparity staying relatively the same, it is no wonder that women are growing anxious and tiresome of the lack of female voice in the world of sports. Although it may seem as if the gender gap has decreased over the years, many critics (Media Matters, the American Society of News Editors, Gawker) have argued that it has not. “Women, it seems have come far only if you count progress in inches,” says Arizona State University’s Cronkite School associate dean Kristin Gilger. “This report reminds us all how important it is to take a step back, see where we’re at and pay attention to how far we still have to go.”

In 2014, 14.6 percent of the total sports staff in the United States were women, 9.6 percent were sports editors, 17.2 percent were assistant sports editors, 11.7 percent were columnists, and 19.6 percent were copy editors. From 2010 until 2014, the number of female sports columnists slipped from 9.9 percent to 9.7 percent, the number of female sports editors increased to 9.6 percent from 6.3 percent, the number of female assistant sports editors rose to 17.2 percent from 10.5 percent, and the number of female copy editors/designers increased to 19.6 percent from 16.4 percent. This shows that although in some areas women are increasing their percentages, the progress is still only being met through inches.

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To show that gender disparity takes place in all forms of journalism, women only represent 22 percent radio journalists, 40.5 percent of newspaper employees, and 21 percent of Sunday political show commentators. Similarly according to Ohio University’s Athletic Administration, women only make up 9.9% of sports editors for Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) newspapers and websites; 12.4% of columnists for APSE newspapers and websites; 12.7% of reporters for APSE newspapers and websites; 2 of 183 top sports talk radio show hosts; 48 total anchors, reporters, analysts, and contributors at ESPN.

For a very long time there has been an overarching idea that women simply are not as enthusiastic and as knowledgeable about sports as men are, which leads into an extreme case of sexism which follows a very similar way of thinking that women are not as capable as men to play sports. In 1995, NBA reporter Michele Tafoya was scheduled to interview the then Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight. Knight said ‘Well, are you any good at this? Because you know there are a lot of women who do this who stink at it,” to which Tafoya replied, ‘”True, and there are a lot of men who do this who stink at it, too.” As stated previously, the low number of women in these positions is not correlated with the amount of women graduating with degrees in the field of study necessary for becoming journalists, analysts, and news anchors. Women make up about half of the United States’ population and more than half of communication school graduates each year yet women represent just 35 percent of newspaper supervisors, according to the 2014 American Society of News Editors (ASNE) newsroom census. Women run three of the Nation’s 25 largest titles, and only one of the top 25 international titles is run by a woman.

There has also been much debate over the issue of women going into the locker room for post-game interviews with male athletes. Famous ESPN reporter Michelle Beadle has a very negative stance on locker rooms regardless of gender, “I don’t think anyone should be in the locker room… I would always make sure that my cameraman went first and that I looked down until he said it was OK to look up. There’s got to be a better way to grab players.” Frustration sets in when on multiple occasions, male athletes have been known to drop their towels as a way to taunt female reporters during interviews; this has happened many times to Kristine Leahy, but the disrespectful indecent exposure hasn’t stopped her from upping her game. There needs to be a change in the way reporters and athletes interact post-game; regardless of gender, reporters should not be walking into locker rooms while athletes are showering and either celebrating a win or mourning a loss. However, it seems as if post-game interviews will continue to be held in locker rooms, and as long as this continues, there will still be backlash regarding women’s place in a male locker room. There needs to be a better way to hold post-game interviews so both players and female journalists feel more comfortable; by not doing this, the gender inequality continues.

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When turning on ESPN, Sports Center, or FOX Sports, it is not only apparent that the men are the center focus when discussing the stats, highlights, and picks for the upcoming games. Both male and female reporters and journalists have studied for countless hours at their universities, pushed for competitive internships, and worked their way up to achieve their stardom and respect, yet only a handful of women can be seen. More times than not, women are seen on the sidelines instead of sitting with the analysts and broadcasters. Regardless of gender, a degree from a respected university, charisma, and a strong desire to broadcast sports should be the main focus when landing a career in sports journalism and broadcasting.

Female sports reporters are often judged on their appearance whether it be during a game, through social media outlets and on television. When the name Erin Andrews is pulled up on the Internet, the first few sites contain stories on the horrendous event she was put through when a man was found spying on Andrews at a Nashville Marriott. Instead of sports fans rallying their support, many individuals said hateful things via social media stating that Andrews deserved it because of the provocative way she chooses to dress, and some even believed she leaked the nude video herself as a publicity stunt. These events shed light on the objectification of women in sports, especially those in broadcasting and journalism. Female journalist, Ann Doyle says that we will know when women have finally arrived in sports when “being a member of your college dance team, cheerleading squad or simply “smoking hot” are no longer a credential for cracking the most exclusive sports locker rooms: broadcast booths.” Entertainment revolves around beauty, and therefor when a woman applies for a job on TV, she knows she must also have a certain look. The idea that a woman must look a certain way to obtain a job that a man could do without shows that inequality lies much further than just on the amount of women in job positions; it hones in on the presumption that a woman will only be as good as man if she is knowledgeable and beautiful.

On a more positive note, some individuals treat women in sports reporting and journalism with respect; Hannah Storm was set to interview Michael Jordan to celebrate the launch of the Charlotte Hornets. “He treated me, the only woman covering the franchise, with such dignity. When Michael Jordan, a guy whom everybody looks up to, basically says I’m going to treat this young lady who is just doing her job with respect, well, he set the tone, I think, for the entire NBA.”

Women across the United States are continuing to pursue a degree in communications, journalism, and other various fields to achieve their life-long dream of becoming a sports analyst, news anchor, sports journalist, column writer, or reporter. As the numbers continue to increase of women in this field, there is hope that the amount of female reporters and broadcasters will also begin to climb. If anything is certain, these women must have a strong backbone and an even stronger voice in a loud and crowded room where they are the minority- and they must also continue to march into locker rooms and hold their heads high when towels drop and catcalls are made. There are a handful of women such as Erin Andrews, Charissa Thompson, Lesley Visser, Linda Cohn, Robin Roberts, Rebecca Lowe, and Suzy Kolber, who have analyzed plays, made picks, demonstrated high levels of knowledge on prestigious sports channels, and who have done it just as well as the men- I think it is time that viewers and the industry let go of their masculine ideals and grasp on to the undeniable truth that female reporters are just as competent as men and their voices deserve to be heard. We must channel our inner Michael Jordan and understand that these women are simply here to do their job and should therefor be shown the same respect as any man.

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