"Women Make Up 40 Percent of Media, What More Do You Want?" Women in Sports Journalism and the Continuous Fight for Equality
By Sam Stroozas
When it comes to media, sexism is no foreign subject. It was found that women produced 37.7 percent of news reports from the top 20 news outlets during the Women’s Media Center analyzation, while men produced 62.3 percent.
In the 2017 Women’s Media Report it said, “Men still dominate media across all platforms—television, newspapers, online and wires—with change coming only incrementally. Women are not equal partners in telling the story, nor are they equal partners in sourcing and interpreting what and who is important in the story. Most certainly, we salute media advances toward gender and race parity that are noted in this report. Yet, we are deeply concerned about areas where the media lurched backward.”
Although there has been progress through women in the media, the report encourages us to notice the ways that media has confined itself to past rhetoric. This decline has impacted multiple sectors of media, the Women’s Resource Center says, “In the broadcast news sector alone, work by women anchors, field reporters and correspondents actually declined, falling to 25.2 percent of reports in 2016 from 32 percent when the WMC published its 2015 ‘Divided’ report.”
In sports, the number of female assistant sport editors went from 17.2 percent in 2012 to 9.8 percent in 2014. It was not until 1978 that female sports reporters could even enter the male athletes’ locker rooms before and after games. Melissa Ludkte sued the New York Yankees for banning her from the locker room during the World Series of 1977, and incited change for the future of female sportscasters.
Ludkte won the case and was able to enter the locker room, but was not greeted with the same attitude the male reporters were. Dana O’Neil, a senior writer for ESPN said, “The difference is (for women) it can be very nasty and vile and goes into sexually derogatory insults. It goes into a place men never have to deal with. It’s not about sports. It’s not about writing. It’s about your gender and how I can demean you and make you feel worthless because of your gender.”
Within this harassment, many female sports journalists are often subjected to hyper-sexualization. The Bleacher Report published an article that they later deleted, entitled the “50 Hottest Female Sport Broadcasters from Around the World,” that encouraged the sexualized dialogue many female sports journalists encounter. This sexist atmosphere further permits the regular harassment of female sports journalists which feeds into the overall systemic issue of sexism.
In 2017 Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton laughed at a question that female sports journalist Jourdan Rodrigue posted during an interview. She asked about the team’s routes and he replied, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”
ESPN W contributor Shana Renee Stephenson said that what Rodrigue experienced is common, "If you talk to any woman beat writer, I’m sure they have stories for days about a similar interaction whether it be with an athlete or a team executive or something. They’re a woman in a male-dominated industry."
In 2009 Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews was stalked and nude videos of her surfaced on the Internet that her stalker took from the peephole of her hotel room. In 2016 she sued her stalker and the Nashville Marriot she was staying at during the time of the incident 75 million dollars.
CNN Business said, “Andrews' case alleges that the Nashville Marriott was negligent for telling a man named Michael David Barrett which room where she was staying in. Barrett was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in 2010 after admitting to checking into hotel rooms next to Andrews on multiple occasions and making nude recordings of her through a peephole. She described how her life has changed since Barrett leaked the footage, saying she suffers from depression and bouts of sleeplessness. While working as a sideline reporter, Andrews said she is frequently taunted by male fans in the crowd; ‘It's always there. It's always on my back,’ she told the court.”
Although female sports journalists have always faced harassment of some sorts, it has shifted in the 21st century as social media has expanded. In the Chicago Tribune,, ESPN’s Doris Burke commented on this, saying, "For anyone in the public eye, social media can be an ugly place. The tenor of the criticism and the pointed comments that are made at female journalists are certainly different. It can be disturbing to me how sexist the comments are, how personal, the value judgments that are made. There's just a lot of ugliness."
The article goes onto to write about the criticism that women face regarding their appearance, “NBC-5 sports reporter Peggy Kusinski welcomes critiques from viewers. But too often, she said, her appearance gets attention, not her work. ‘We have to be able to take the criticism,’ she said. ‘I just have never heard criticism about (men's) appearance. If I'm wrong, tell me I'm wrong. That's fine. But it seems to be more about physical appearance when they want to criticize women.’"
Throughout the career lifespan of a female sports journalist, many women face constant harassment and erasure through the eyes of sports media. Regardless of the job, the mass amount of discrimination that female journalists face in general is inexcusable for the selfless public service they provide.
Dana O'Neil said in regards to female sports journalists, “You have to have a thick skin, but there are some things no person should have to tolerate no matter what your job is or what your gender is."
The female gender in sports journalism is often hyper-sexualized and erased through aspects of toxic masculinity, but it is important to note that this discrimination is not required for any job, despite the subject. There must be changes made in the future to protect the voices of all writers and uplift the ones that are often overlooked and excuse the idea of that the white male voice is the only one of interest to the American public.