Women in any career face struggles that men don’t — including white women making 80 cents for every dollar a white man makes, while women of color make even less — and women in sports media face an especially steep, uphill battle in a heavily male-dominated industry getting hit with criticism that their male counterparts don’t.
Journalism is historically male dominated. In 2016, 62.3 percent of reports studied were published by men, according to the Women’s Media Center’s (WMC) annual report.
Sports journalism is even worse, with just 11 percent of work in this field produced by women, according to the WMC.
This isn’t a new problem, and recent criticism of a prominent ESPN employee shows that even when women reach positions of success in sports journalism, they receive criticism for being women instead of for their job performances.
ESPN’s Beth Mowins made history on Sept. 11 when she became the first woman since 1987 to call play-by-play of a regular season NFL football game.
Mowins has faced criticism her entire career. She spent years calling college football games and fielding the anger of rabid collegiate fan bases. In fact, there is a Facebook group with more than 2,000 likes called “Fire Beth Mowins,” and there’s a petition on Change.org called “Remove Beth Mowins from college football.”
In her first appearance calling an NFL game, Mowins did well — even though she was stuck with infamous and outspoken former coach Rex Ryan as her partner in the booth. Some Twitter users, however, thought differently.
Most broadcasters get a lot of criticism since it’s their voices and faces being highlighted while fans are watching sports. The criticism of Mowins, however, isn’t because she’s bad at her job — Sports Illustrated reporter Robert Klemko called her performance “knowledgeable and crisp”— it’s because she’s a woman.
Twitter’s response was full of criticism, but hardly any of it was a thoughtful critique of her performance. Most of the criticism focused on things she couldn’t control such as her voice, including one tweet that received 25 retweets and 79 likes.
“Beth Mowins is making history tonight as the first female to ever make men not want to watch football,” the tweet read.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated about her announcing, Mowins said she can only do her job, and it isn’t on her to respond to hate.
“I encourage [fans] to try to make it into the second quarter or second half, and if by that point you don’t have an appreciation for what we are doing, then that’s on you and not me. I am not going to change anything I do for people like that,” Mowins said.
Even with all the criticism she received, young girls at home watching the Broncos play the Chargers might hear Mowins’ voice and be inspired — the next step to getting more women in sports media.
Children are inspired to achieve something when they see someone like them do it. Mowins calling an NFL game in 2017 might show young girls that being a sports announcer is something they can do — it isn’t a job just meant for old men in suits.
The criticism of Mowins isn’t the first time a woman in sports media has been unfairly criticized. Last year, a video was released featuring ESPN reporter Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro, a host on Chicago’s sports radio channel 670 The Score. The video highlighted the abuse women in sports media frequently face online.
The video showed unsuspecting men reading tweets Spain and DiCaro have received directly to their faces.
The tweets the men read started relatively harmless, including one that called Spain a “scrub muffin,” but as the video goes on, the content cuts deeper, including one tweet that says DiCaro should get beaten to death with a hockey stick and another that says they hope Dicaro “gets raped again.”
Spain attended Cornell University and has been working for ESPN since 2010. DiCaro went to Indiana University and DePaul University’s law school and has worked as a columnist for Sports Illustrated. Clearly they are qualified to do their jobs. Both women are excellent reporters, yet the harmful, graphic criticism they’ve received is echoed in the Twitter feeds of most women in sports media.
No one is above all criticism, especially those in the media. But people should be criticized for the content of what they say, not for their gender, sexuality or race. Criticizing women in sports media for being women takes away the meaning of any real, thoughtful commentary on their work.
Completely removing trolls from Twitter is an impossible game, but if there are more women in sports media, the hateful comments made by these trolls will seem more outlandish. There is power in numbers, and women in sports media deserve all the power they can get.