OPINION: Women sportswriters face challenges in male-dominated career

It was my first time being able to cover the Battle of the Piney Woods as the sports editor for The Pine Log this semester. As I was in the restroom of the press box, I looked at myself in the mirror and smiled, feeling proud of what I was doing. I walked out and immediately heard a much older man ask another, “Is she supposed to be here?”

There could have been simple reasons to why he would ask that. Maybe it was because I didn’t have my press pass with me, because I was wearing normal clothes instead of work clothes or because

I’m young. But if you see it in my perspective, I was one of the few women in that press box. There were other males in that press box who were my age. And if they were in the same position I was in, the man would not have questioned whether they were supposed to be there. So, I was offended by that comment, but I took it with pride as I walked to my seat and got ready for work.

I haven’t been in the media game for long. I just got into journalism during my freshman year of high school, which was about six years ago. I didn’t get into sports journalism until my second year of college three years ago. I’m sad to say I’ve already seen how women feel excluded in sports media.

The first time I felt like I didn’t belong in my profession was when I first covered a game for the SFA women’s basketball team. I walked into the post-game press conference with a bunch of other male journalists, and I didn’t ask any questions. Because I didn’t say anything, I felt like I wasn’t doing my job well enough.

As a sportswriter, I have to work hard. Additionally, I have to work harder than anyone else, because I know other people will expect me to fail. Being in a male dominated occupation means it will be much more difficult for a woman to have that job. When it comes down to it, they have a better chance of doing the job than I do just because they are men.

According to an article by David Austin Bumpus in Fansided titled “Women made sports media history in 2017, but obstacles in the industry persist,” Bumpus named several women and described their experiences in the sports industry. One of the women he named is Jourdan Rodrigue. Bumpus said, “In early October, Cam Newton ridiculed Carolina Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue during a press conference, chastising her question and saying how funny it was for a woman to know about running routes in the NFL.”

When I tell people I’m into sports, mainly basketball, they don’t expect me to know much. When I start going into detail about a specific team or players, those same people are shocked at how much I know about sports. I know it’s only because I’m a woman that they are amazed.

Bumpus also talks about the response of male fans who were displeased with ESPN’s Beth Mowins who was commenting on play-by-play for an entire football game. Bumpus quotes Shalise Manza Young, a reporter for Yahoo! Sports’ Shutdown Corner, who said, “I think they have to keep doing things like that to sort of normalize it. There are still some men, it persists that they think that sports are this men’s thing and they don’t like a woman’s voice talking about sports.”

Another article by Michael Serazio in Quartz titled “Female sports journalists still face rampant sexism on the job” also emphasizes how hate on social media has been the main source of harassment toward women who work in sports media. The women explain how much their looks are talked about by men. “I’ve gotten tweets that the only reason I have a job is because of my looks,” Kim Jones, who works for the NFL Network, said. “I’ve also gotten plenty of more tweets that, you know, I’m an unattractive reporter who shouldn’t be on television.”

I’ve received comments about being “another pretty face” in front of the camera when I tell people I am studying journalism. I don’t want to be on camera. I want to write about sports. I feel that the people who say this believe I can only use looks to get a job or to be successful instead of my intellectual capabilities.

Serazio says something in his article that I strongly believe is true. He says, “And when mistakes get made—as any human is liable to do—the female sports reporter feels like she’s given less leeway than her male counterpart because he doesn’t have to prove that he really belongs there.”

One of the goals I set for myself as sports editor this semester is to cover more of the women’s sports because I saw that both women’s and the smaller sports didn’t receive much coverage by male editors. Although, women shouldn’t have the responsibility to cover women’s sports. When I was a staff writer last year, I was assigned to cover volleyball for most of the semester. I didn’t mind because the other sportswriters covered football, which I didn’t know much about. But when it came to basketball season, I noticed I was assigned a lot of the women’s games to cover and felt like I wasn’t being given the opportunity to cover male sports. It wasn’t until I asked my sports editor that I was finally able to cover one of the men’s games.

According to an article in an academic journal by Marie Hardin and Stacie Shain titled “Strength in Numbers? The Experiences and Attitudes of Women in Sports Media Careers,” “Sports editors say they don’t feel responsible to cover women’s sports but instead to base their decisions on ‘what’s interesting.’” The authors go on to say that, “a 1997 analysis found that female-edited sports sections ran slightly higher percentages of women’s sports than did sections edited by men.”

Hardin and Shain interviewed some women in sports media, and they had similar responses to what I felt about women covering female sports. The article mentioned that 19 women journalists, “saw covering women’s sports as a way to stall their careers because of the status of women’s sports.”

I didn’t realize that sports writing is the most male dominated profession in the United States when I first decided I wanted to be a sportswriter. Hardin and Shain said in their journal that a 1970s study by the Associated Press estimated 25 women worked in newspaper sports departments and five worked in sports broadcasting. There has been little progress over almost 40 years as it wasn’t until April of 2016, as Bumpus said in his article, that “ESPN’s Around The Horn featured an all-female panel for the first time in the show’s history.... The panel marked a historic moment that came just a week after the program’s 3,000th episode.”

It seems it will be a long time, or maybe never, before women have an equal role in sports media. There is a huge gap that must be filled by women who are strong and capable enough to handle the harassment and indifference by men who do not want women to cover sports.

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