As aspiring journalists, many females avoid the sports world because of the stigma of female inadequacy when it comes to game analysis and general topic knowledge. For those women who decide to report on sports anyway, there is an ever-growing amount of opportunity in broadcast, editorial and technical outlets. In this week’s Coin Toss, sports editor Jordyn Siemens and sports writer Alissa Noe discuss both empowerment and the difficulties that come with breaking into the traditionally male-dominated market of sports journalism.
Alissa Noe: I’ll never be an athlete, but I can share my passion by writing about them.
As a woman, I love what sports journalism has to offer me. I’m 5’3” with absolutely no athletic ability, but sports has always been a big part of my life. There’s nothing I enjoy more than going to a game and immersing myself in the action. Sports journalism gives me the opportunity to do just that, and I get to go behind the scenes with all the players and the coaches. For men’s basketball, I get to sit in on practices and watch the team’s progress in a way nobody else can. That’s something I wouldn’t be able to do as just a fan. And even though I’m nowhere near athletic enough to compete in my favorite sports, there’s a great forum for the women who are: espnW. In its “About Us” page, espnW states:
“espnW.com provides an engaging environment that offers total access to female athletes and the sports they play, takes fans inside the biggest events, and shares a unique point of view on the sports stories that matter most to women.”
It provides even bigger opportunities for women to make a name for themselves in sports, as an athlete, fan or writer. As a matter of fact, one of its most well-known contributors is former Buff Kate Fagan, who played for the women’s basketball team in 1999-2004. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
Jordyn Siemens: But our reporting is still about our looks.
You’re right, Alissa. You and I, as female sports writers, have had incredible experiences within the community covering events at the University of Colorado. At CU, this circle of writers is small and welcoming. What we cannot ignore, though, is the impending inequality that awaits after graduation, whether it be in the form of micro-aggressions such as “Wow, you really know your statistics!” or blatant Twitter attacks on our age, wardrobe and body.
Despite the growing number of female sports journalists and their ever-expanding network roles, the industry is still very much a man’s world. Female reporters are constantly judged by viewers on their outward appearance before their intellectual prowess or on-air talent. Comedian Artie Lange recently fired a series of inappropriate tweets at ESPN First Take’s Cari Champion, leading with how “f***ing hot” she was and ending with a description of his slave-and-owner sexual fantasy about Champion that results in eight illegitimate children and her eventual freedom.
Exhibit B: Back in September, when Fox Sport 1’s Pam Oliver was replaced on the NFL sidelines with Erin Andrews. Oliver mentioned youth as an assumed factor amid her initial reactionary statements. Andrews is much younger, “blond and hot,” according to Oliver, which is a product of Fox’s transition to please a younger demographic. The point to consider is whether a male reporter would be replaced after age 50. He wouldn’t — males enjoy the benefits of prestige and gained respect as they age.
Erin Andrews isn’t immune to inappropriate comments about her work, either. Back in February, Andrews told Elle magazine about male viewers criticizing her on-air wardrobe. Her response was that she put as much effort into her appearance as any male anchor did.
I’ll end with Exhibit C. Here’s a challenge for you, readers. Google “female sports reporters.” This article will be your first find. To see if a list of hot male reporters existed, I googled “40 hottest male sports reporters.” I not only found the same list of 40 females, but also an article called “Sexism in sports-get over it” on the first results page. It’s profitable to publish lists of attractive females, because that is what the public notices about us, but it should be more profitable to market our talent.
Noe: Maybe this rarity of women in sports journalism isn’t always a bad thing.
You make fair points, Jordyn, and the thought of the inequality and sexism does scare me. But this inequality is based purely on a misunderstanding. Men underestimate our knowledge on certain respective sports, which I believe can give us an edge over them.
Last year, on the weekend preceding the start of the NCAA tournament, Mile High Sports Radio interviewed me during their morning show to get my predictions on how I thought it would play out. Before the radio host asked me anything, he told me, on air, that I was the first woman they’d ever called in on the show.
The host and I had known each other for several months prior to that, and he confessed that though he didn’t know many female journalists as involved in college basketball as I was, he thought I would be a great resource. He even admitted to me after the show that he believed I had better insight than some of the men he interviewed for that same show.
The point is, while our gender or looks may sometimes be more coveted than our sports knowledge, it can also be an unfair advantage. In today’s world, women journalists can be so uncommon that our insight is more valued than our appearance.
Siemens: Consider the terms “bossy” and “opinionated”, apply them to female journalists and see what happens.
The nature of the sports journalism industry is cutthroat. The most valued aspect of sports journalism is analysis. Yet when a female is assertive, she is suddenly aggressive. And when she presents any polarized analysis of teams, scores or playoff berths, her opinion may not be as well received as a male who plays the devil’s advocate or opposes his fellow anchors. Let’s go back to CU alum and espnW contributor Kate Fagan as an example. Here is an excerpt from her article from Valentine’s Day 2013:
“During my second year on the job, a player pulled me aside and told me I would be blacklisted for a week or so because I had called out one of the guys in a column. The team, he explained, would be forced to uphold the “bonds of brotherhood.” All beat writers are stonewalled by The Brotherhood at some point during their career, and some aren’t fortunate enough to receive advance warning. To this day, though, I remain skeptical of most brotherhoods, including those in sports journalism — which you can see in full force every day in social media — because they serve only to deliver power to power.”
Luckily, opportunities do exist for women like us who love sports and love journalism even more, but it would be naive to enter the business unprepared for sexism. We can take Charissa Thompson as an inspiring example of tough skin; as a highly recognizable on-air personality on Fox Sports 1, she has learned to let the daily onslaught of social media comments slide past her, unnoticed. To Sports Illustrated, she said:
“…I learned early on not to care. I can’t go around trying to appease everyone and if I do, then you just become vanilla. If no one has an opinion of you, you are really not doing your job.”
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Jordyn Siemens at email@example.com.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alissa Noe at firstname.lastname@example.org.