The Schnable Scoop

Column: Why Female Role Models are Important for Sports Journalists

Abby Schnable | The PhoenixAbby Schnable poses with (from left) Phoenix Sports Editor Nick Schultz, Vidette Editor-in-Chief Jon Barlas, Former Vidette Sports Editor Kade Heather at the 2019 Arch Madness Tournament.

This past weekend, I attended the Illinois College Press Association conference. Even though The Phoenix won a handful of awards, that wasn’t my biggest takeaway. 

Feb. 21, I sat in on former Phoenix sports editor — current Chicago Sun-Times reporter — Madeline Kenney’s presentation on being a woman in sports journalism. She talked about the challenges she faced both in the collegiate world and the professional world. One thing stood out to me the most. Maddie only briefly touched on it, but it really rang true for me. 

She said the best way to support yourself in tough situations is to surround yourself with other women who can relate to what you’re going through, offer advice and ultimately just be a comfort. 

I’ve been lucky to have supportive men in the workplace when dealing with the microaggressions that come with being a woman in sports media. The three that immediately come to mind are former Editor-in-Chief Henry Redman and former Managing Editors Michael McDevitt and Chris Hacker. 

But as great as it is to have people like those three, it’s also really beneficial to have women building me up. It’s not that Henry, Michael and Chris can’t help — they encouraged me to write a column when a Campus Safety officer said I was “too pretty” to write sports. It’s just they ultimately don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in sports. 

The field is mostly male-dominated. Ninety percent of anchors, commentators and editors are men, according to Cheryl Cookie, Michael Messner and Michela Musto’s article “‘It’s Dude Time!’: A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows.” It wasn’t until 2017 that a woman announced a March Madness game. 

A physical representation of how male-dominated the industry is in my life showed up when I was looking for a picture to tag along with this article. I don’t have a single picture with another female when covering a major sports event. Let that sink in. 

Women sports journalists face different challenges than men sports reporters. Women are more critiqued for their looks and emotions than men. They also face more backlash on social media than men. 

These past couple years, I’ve been able to build up my own support system of women in sports. It honestly started with Maddie herself. 

I can’t remember the exact issue I was facing. Though I remember Henry wanting to help, he ultimately didn’t know how to support me. Instead of giving up, he did what a good leader would do and connected me to someone who understood what it was like to be facing those issues. He connected me to Maddie.

Somewhere at the beginning of my sophomore year, I met Maddie.Of course, I had heard a lot about her — she’s kind of a Phoenix legend and badass. I met her in the School of Communication lobby and we had maybe a 10-minute conversation. I was instantly drawn. 

Fast-forward a couple months and I was nearly in tears over being undermined by a writer and not knowing how to handle the situation. Maddie talked me through it for more than an hour, while she was covering MLB Spring Training. 

Now, I text her when I need the simplest advice.

She probably doesn’t realize it, but her mentorship has helped me become a strong and confident sports journalist in an industry flooded with males. 

While she’s my biggest role model in sports journalism, I’m also lucky to be surrounded by some amazing women college sports journalists. 

Aria Gerson, sports editor at University of Michigan’s student newspaper, started a list on Twitter to bring together more than 50 women across the nation that work for their college newspapers. 

It’s simple things like them liking one of my tweets, commenting on a picture or pooling together to lower the cost of a tote bag so we all could show off how proud we’re to be women in sports. 

I don’t know most of them other than through Twitter — with the exception being Amanda Sullivan and Claire Niebrugge of Missouri State University — but I know they have my back no matter what. 

Having my own female sports role models makes me realize how important it’s to give my writers a strong role model. It’s so hard to be in this industry alone, so why not do it together? It might be super cheesy, but it’s because of the writers that I keep going. 

If I give up when things are hard, it’s more than disappointing myself. It’s showing Lu Calzada and Amelia Ickes that they can too, and I don’t want them to give up. I want them to keep moving forward, just like I did after Maddie entered my support circle. 

I’m the only woman sports editor at The Phoenix — and I have to make it mean something.

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