‘She’s actually pretty good’: Combating sexism in sports

Women in sports industries face sexism at every turn

Sarah O’Carroll, Sports Journalism Reporter

Sarah O’Carroll

“What would you say to an aspiring female sports writer?” I asked long-time SEC football analyst Tony Barnhart, who visited COM 205: Sports Communication in April. 

He paused.

“It’s going to be harder,” he said.

Though I didn’t expect a pep talk, the response was still frustrating. The message I’ve grown up hearing is that if as a woman you want to succeed, you can’t just do the job as good as a man. You have to do it better.

This appears to be even more true in the sports industry.

If you are defined by more than your perceived attractiveness, you’ve done well. Establishing credibility in a historically male-dominated field like the sports industries can seem a Sisyphean task.

This semester I attended a conference for college broadcasters at which one of the speakers mentioned a female producer he had recently hired. She was “actually pretty good,” he said, ignorant of the implicit sexism in his surprise.

A daily battle 

Not being taken seriously, getting paid less than men, and encountering sexual harassment, women sports journalists work on an uneven playing field. Entering the world of broadcast journalism as a woman can even be scary. Life-threatening scary.

In a recent video produced by Just Not Sports, a group of men were asked to read out loud the online comments made about female sports reporters to those women journalists’ faces.

The video shows the men looking increasingly uncomfortable and ashamed as they read the hateful tweets of other male sports fans.

“I hope you get raped again,” said one.

“You need to be hit in the head with a hockey puck and killed,” said another.

Many were merely four-letter words.

The problem extends well beyond angry tweets. Both verbal and sexual harassment of women are discouragingly commonplace in sports media. Even Sports Illustrated, a magazine known as much for its swimsuit issue as for its serious news and coverage of sports, has recognized the problem.

The 2008 incident involving a stalker who videotaped Erin Andrews in a hotel room was more than just a freak one-off event. It was emblematic of the larger problem women have faced since the women began participating in sports industries.

Newsroom diversity

A common critique of female sports reporters is that they are incompetent. They don’t know their history, so they should at least be easy on the eyes.

The many successful women in the field of course prove the stereotype wrong, but what’s often overlooked is that more women in sports media could actually lead to greater profits.

Gallup study from 2014 found that of 800 business units across industry, those that were more gender-diverse had were in better financial shape than those dominated or monopolized by one gender.  

These business units had a 14 percent higher average revenue than the less-diverse business units.

This fiscal reality shouldn’t surprise. A more gender-diverse team generates more varied viewpoints, ideas and insights. The result is better problem solving.

The findings of the study are especially applicable to the sports industry. A more meaningful collaboration between men and women would improve decision-making and produce better work, something that has been shown in the military, as well. If formerly all-male platoons are actually bettered by the addition of women, shouldn’t we expect the same in sports newsrooms?

The New York Times: a case study

Another myth is that people aren’t interested in coverage of women’s sports. The New York Times even in the past year has shown an increased amount of coverage dedicated to female athletes and teams. For a newspaper whose print version has the second-largest circulation in the country, this is encouraging. I wonder if this is the result of greater gender diversity in that newspaper’s sports department. 

So it’s time to abandon archaic stereotypes. It’s time to stop objectifying female reporters. It’s time to value our women in sports as much as we value our men. When a Google search for female sports reporters yields more than click-bait articles such as, “Top 15 Hottest Sports Reporters,” we might be headed in the right direction.

That day has not yet come.

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