If you haven’t heard about Chloe Kim yet, you’re missing out on an American treasure. The 17-year old snowboarder from California stole the slopes at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, having effectively won gold during her very first run on the women’s halfpipe. She isn’t alone in her success, either; returning American champion Jamie Anderson managed to snag yet another gold for her performance in the Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle. Female athletes have taken the sports conversation by storm – and they should! The percentage of female participants in the Olympics has steadily risen from a mere 25% in 1992 to a comparably airy 43% in 2018. Women have made great strides to boost visibility and participation in the athletic arena – with one glaring exception.
Female sports journalists are still frustratingly few and far between.
Women who attempt to break into the male-dominated worlds of sports writing and broadcasting have long faced criticism, dismissal, and sometimes outright hatred. Despite notable increases in female athletic representation, many still believe that women don’t understand or care about sports. Many (male) critics like to cast sports – football and soccer in particular – as a kind of “retreat” from women. They explain that the sound of a woman’s “shrill” (ie., naturally higher-pitched) voice breaks their oasis of masculinity, thereby ruining the experience. Andrew Dzurisin, an assistant professor of sociology at Middlesex County College puts it another way: “Of the major sports, football is seen as the one that fits the traditional definition of masculinity. It’s rough, it’s violent, it’s tribal, it’s a ‘man’s’ game. To hear a woman do the play-by-play of the sport that most fits the traditional definition of masculinity is beyond comprehension to some men […] The primal masculinity of football makes a woman calling a game antithetical to their core ideas about gender.” The sound of a woman’s voice pulls men out of their gender-normative comfort zone. If sports truly are a “men’s” pastime, should we protect men’s gendered of what a sports experience should be like by banning female announcers? Of course not – because the premise that athletics belongs solely to men is faulty at its core.
According to a Gallup poll published in 2015, about 51% of women are likely to be sports fans. To state the obvious: that’s over half – far beyond the tiny percentage that the above critics imply. The same poll found that 66% of men are likely to be sports fans. While men statistically tend to like sports more than women, the idea that women don’t like or watch sports is clearly false, and the discrepancy between genders is hardly as wide as we’re led to think. The idea that athletic reporting should be tailored exclusively to men’s tastes is absurd when such a significant portion of the audience is, in fact, female.
But even given the high percentage of female sports fans, professional athletics remains a male-dominated landscape. For female journalists, even basic reporting can turn into a toxic ordeal. Last October, Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue was mocked during a press conference by player Cam Newton after she asked about routes. While Rodrigue spoke, Newton visibly smirked and began his answer with: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” putting a mocking emphasis on the final word. After an unsuccessful one-on-one conversation with the player, Rodrigue expressed her disappointment via Twitter: “I don’t think it’s “funny” to be a female and talk about routes. I think it’s my job.”
And that is the crux of the matter. Female sports reporters aren’t always treated as professionals doing their jobs. All too often, they face barriers that a male reporter never would. Some women in the industry report experiencing locker room harassment in post-game interviews: male players might drop their towels to make a female reporter feel uncomfortable, or treat her with Newton’s condescending disdain. Many high-profile broadcast journalists are the victims of online harassment and bullying from sports fans. The environment is difficult to navigate at best and downright toxic at worst – does it really surprise anyone that women are hesitant to enter the field?
We need to change the culture. Right now, women who want to become sports journalists don’t have the networks and connections that could help accelerate their careers because there simply aren’t enough women there yet. If we intend to make the reporting landscape hospitable for women, we need to shatter the myth that men are the primary audience for sports, and pull professional athletics out of its boys’-club mentality. If we do so, we might be able to inspire female reporters to the same level of professional success that our female athletes have found at the Olympics.
Originally published on Linkedin