“I’m not sexist but it’s nearly impossible to listen to a woman talk about football on ESPN.”
“I’m not sexist, but women please stop tweeting about football, we don’t tweet about cooking.”
I’m not sexist, but I don’t really think these male Twitter users know what the word “sexism” means. Sexism is defined as prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination against someone on the basis of gender. Both of these tweets are sexist.
Though these tweets are blatantly sexist, women in sports and sports journalism find themselves facing much more subtle microaggressions and structural barriers to finding lasting success in the profession.
In many industries, strides have been made to aid women in breaking the glass ceiling. The sports world –– particularly sports journalism –– has fallen behind in promoting success for women in the field.
NPR did a segment on women in sports journalism when ESPNW columnist Jane McManus was invited to the ESPN roundtable discussion about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference concerning former Ravens player Ray Rice. At this press conference, Rice was suspended indefinitely from the NFL after a video was released that showed him beating his then-fiancee.
McManus had extensively covered domestic abuse in her time as a columnist for ESPNW, but she was still surprised she was given a seat at the table to discuss the decision, she told NPR.
“There was a seat at the table for me, and I was aware that that was a big deal to have a seat at the table and to be involved in that conversation,” she said.
“Women in sports television are allowed to read headlines, patrol sidelines and generally facilitate conversation for their male colleagues,” she said. “It’s time for the conversation to change, or at least who’s in the conversation.”
Diversity in the conversation is something that can only add to sports reporting rather than detract from it.
“It’s not an admission of inequality to say that women see things differently sometimes,” said Sally Jenkins, sports reporter for the Washington Post. “We have different sensibilities; we have different experiences. This lame, sort of sameness, is boring. It doesn’t serve your audience, it doesn’t lead to provocative questions, it leads to … blind spots.
These blind spots may end up hurting the NFL’s bottom line.
According to Businessweek and Equiby.com, female viewership of the NFL is growing faster than male viewership. In a way, this means that continued growth for the NFL depends on maintaining this increase in women fans. But how can it expect to do this when thus far the only women that fans see as a part of the NFL are cheerleaders, who struggle to make even a living wage?
Though after the Rice scandal ESPN “raised visibility of female reporters,” according to NPR, women are scarcely seen outside of “supporting roles” for their male colleagues.
Microaggressions and structural barriers aren’t only found at ESPN, though.
I, a woman, have been on the sports section staff of The Phoenix for two and a half years, nearly all of my time at Loyola. I was on the staff that covered the transition to a new conference, the athletic director leaving and a volleyball national championship.
Yet not once in my memory (or in my current inbox) have I been contacted when when someone at the university has had a question or issue with the writing. It’s always my male colleagues who are contacted about the section.
Additionally, in meetings with university administrators, questions are directed at my male colleagues. It usually takes my co-worker allowing me to add to his answer or me interrupting someone before I can speak.
Though others who were involved in these meetings may disagree with my interpretation of the events, this is the way that I feel. Others have also reaffirmed these feelings.
In this, my last column as Sports Editor for The Phoenix, I don’t want to leave readers thinking I have not enjoyed my time with the paper or that this column is meant to gripe about my own woes.
However, I do want to leave this position better than I found it for any women in the future who should step into it.
My aim in choosing this as my last topic to write about is to let people know that women in sports and sports journalism are not a fad. The women who are in this business or who want to be in this business are ready to be a part of the conversation. It’s others that need to quiet down and listen.