In November 2013, a San Francisco sports radio host made a number of misogynistic statements on air, arguing that women did not belong in the world of sports journalism. The resulting uproar shone a spotlight on some of the barriers preventing women from breaking into, and moving up, in sports media today.
According to Amy Lawrence, a CBS radio host, roughly 90 per cent of the producers and on-air talents in sports radio are male. In sports television too, men outnumber women in production roles, as noted by award-winning multimedia journalist Amy K. Nelson. That’s not to mention the alienation some female journalists can feel in male professional locker rooms, outlined in a Sports Illustrated piece on the subject in November shortly after the comments were made.
Despite some recent milestones for women in sports media—Molly Solomon was named executive producer for the Golf Channel in 2012—progress has been extremely slow in dismantling the “old boys’ club” mentality of the sports world. In this edition of Changing the Game, we look at how to break down the institutional obstacles that exist for women looking to enter and rise up in the field of sports journalism in order to promote greater diversity in the world of sports media.
Athletes first, reporters second
While women in sports journalism undoubtedly face many industry-specific obstacles, the heart of this problem is the assumption that women are not—or should not be—as interested in sports as men. Athletics organizations need to encourage and legitimize women’s participation in sports culture by increasing support for women to be involved at the foundation of that culture—as athletes. Women cannot thrive professionally in a culture where their participation is consistently undermined by limited opportunities as athletes and a lack of publicity due to poor media coverage.
The promotion of a sports culture in which women can feel comfortable and encouraged to participate athletically is key to their ability to participate in other professions in the field. Whether through increased funding, opportunities, or media coverage, an emphasis on the legitimacy of women’s sports would perpetuate positive views about the acceptance of women in the sports world in general. Role models like Hayley Wickenheiser and Christine Sinclair may encourage girls to not only become athletes, but also be more involved in sports culture through other avenues like journalism. An increase in female athletes would also create a pool of experienced and qualified women to provide expertise and insight as sports journalists once they have retired.
For women to be taken seriously in the world of sports media, we need to make it normal for them to be engaged in athletics culture—whether as viewers, athletes, or journalists.
Recruiting to smash the glass ceiling
Similar to scientific disciplines or engineering, the glass-ceiling paradigm is also in effect for women in sports journalism. There are only a few token jobs considered suitable specifically for women, such as sideline reporter or on-screen reporter. Consequently, there is a lack of role models and, subconsciously, achieving roles of power seems unattainable and ‘unconventional.’
Broadcasters need to start actively seeking women in sports journalism. There are plenty of women attempting to rise up in the field, but men in power perpetuate the present inequality. It is these men in power that need to acknowledge their own biases and start recruiting women. Moreover, women’s voice in sports needs to be considered valid not ‘radical’ because they are not mimicking the ‘conventional’ male voice.
This is not to suggest looking to increase the number of women in sports journalism simply for the sake of gender equality. Hiring women who are not competent to simply fill a quota would continue to perpetuate the idea that women have no place in the sports world.
What needs to occur is the hiring of women who are qualified, not only with on-screen roles, but in production roles that hold more responsibility. This would create an influential drive that would continue making a positive change in sports journalism.
The fix is in the family
The issue of gender equality is in no way unique to the world of sports, so it stands to reason that any possible solutions won’t be either. The vast majority of professions have been ‘old boys clubs,’ and in many ways, upper level executive positions continue to be. For as far as our society has progressed in terms of accepting women as more than mothers and homemakers, the overwhelming attitude still seems to be that if a working woman wants to have children, it is up to her to balance raising a family with pursuing a career. By the time most women are at the point where they’ve paid their dues and earned an executive spot, they have also made decisions about starting a family. Options for childcare and paid leave are severely lacking in Canada, and many women opt out of the elite tracks they may be on to focus on their families when they are forced with the choice.
As freelance multimedia journalist Amy K. Nelson suggests, the real problem in the world of sports is a lack of women in positions of power. There is no doubt in my mind that women are more than capable of keeping their heads down, putting in their work, and rising to the top despite any workplace misogyny they might encounter. However, no real, sustainably beneficial change will come for women in any workplace—the sports industry included—until systemic change is effected in terms of childcare for both mothers and fathers. This would allow women to fill higher ranking positions, which would in turn lead to increased equality for women in the world of sports.
Putting the coach in the booth
The best way to increase the presence of women in the media is to include more female voices in serious tactical analysis of male sports. Analysis of basketball is an area where this could be attainable, given the litany of Hall of Fame basketball coaches who have deep insights into the game that are at a level far higher than the current on-camera product. Great basketball minds like Pat Summitt, C. Vivian Stringer and Jody Conradt would put Skip Bayless in his place far more effectively than Stephen A. Smith. Moves like this would give credibility to women’s views on sport and allow for female opinions to be embraced without criticism; after all, people are less likely to question the acumen of a professional coach who has embodied the culture of winning in her sport than male commentators who themselves have never been involved with professional sports.
Subsequently,viewers would become more accustomed to serious and analytical female voices in sports and these commentators will provide young women with visible role models. Ultimately, fans are going to demand coverage by those who display a deep knowledge of whatever is being talked about, and given the level of expertise of female coaches, there is certainly a supply.