Times are Changing: Women in Sports Journalism

Dick Schaap, an American sportscaster, once said: “Sportswriters have changed more than sportswriting.” One of the biggest changes in the sportswriter population has been the gender makeup. But despite these changes in the sportswriters, the sports community hasn’t quite adapted to the changes yet.

Back in October Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made sexist comments toward Jourdan Rodrigue, a female sports reporter. Rodrigue asked a technical question about how receiver Devin Funchess ran his routes during the Panthers’ game against the Patriots. Newton responded by saying that it was “funny to hear a female talking about routes.”

While he did move on to answer Rodrigue’s question, his shock at hearing a woman speak knowledgeably about football had already made its impact. Rodrigue responded via Twitter by saying “I don’t think it’s ‘funny’ to be a female and talk about routes. I think it’s my job.”

This series of events has opened up a dialogue as to how to improve the sexism in the sports industry.

“[The sexism] is kind of an evolving thing, I would say. I was a sports journalist for 20 years, and over that time I saw it change from the time I first got in to the time that I left. I think it’s still changing, and I’ve been out of the industry now for five years,” said Vicki Michaelis, a sports journalism professor at the University of Georgia.

“For example, when Cam Newton made his comments to the reporter there in the room, everyone went ‘Oh I can’t believe this still exists!’ And yes I am appalled that female sports reporters still have to deal with that kind of thing, but what I found heartening was how many people came to her immediate defense,” said Michaelis.

Newton received significant backlash on Twitter.

Andrea Adelson, an ESPN reporter, also came to the defense of Rodrigue. “Every female sports reporter has encountered a neanderthal like Cam Newton over the course of her career. They go low. We go high.”

Michaelis also added that female sideline reporters have to be beautiful or else they get criticized, as illustrated by the first results on Google for female sports reporters.

When searching “female sports reporters,” the first article is titled “Hottest Sports Reporters: Photo List of Sexy Sideline Reporters.” In contrast, the first result for “male sports reporters” is an article from the same website, Ranker.com, titled “Famous Male Reporters: List of Top Male Reporters.”

Cecilia Herles, student advisor of the Women’s Studies department at UGA, said she is influenced by Val Plumwood’s theory on dualistic thinking.

Herles said, “Dualistic thinking often makes domination appear to be inevitable or even ‘natural’ so that societal norms then shape behaviors, so women are often treated differently than men.”

“You’ve got to know more, work harder. I can’t believe that all these years later this is still what we’re telling women, but this is what we have to tell women in every male-dominated industry: you’ve just got to be better. That’s going to be your defense,” said Michaelis

Women are less likely to receive challenging tasks in the workplace compared to men according to Nathan Bomey’s article “Sexism in the workplace is worse than you thought” in USA Today. 68% of men get more challenging tasks as opposed to only 62% of women.

One member of that 62%, Julie DiCaro, an update anchor for 670 the Score in Chicago received the assignment to investigate the sexual assault claims against Blackhawks player Patrick Kane in 2015. DiCaro’s reporting angered many Blackhawks fans, causing her Twitter mentions to be flooded with tweets like “Hopefully this skank @JulieDiCaro is Bill Cosby’s next victim. That would be classic,” as Twitter user Cris Pandene posted toward her.

According to the Chicago Tribune, DiCaro receives derogatory tweets everyday, “sometimes even as many as 30 per day”. Women are more likely to receive these hateful messages than men are.

I think the category of other which includes women, nonhuman animals, and often other marginalized groups are often subject to hate and violence as they are constructed as other and subordinate,” said Herles. “I also believe people who do not fit neatly into categories are threatening to the dualistic way of thinking as they disrupt social norms and they are also often subject to hate and violence.”

An organization called Just Not Sports created a public service announcement and hashtag campaign titled #MoreThanMean that exposed the online harassment that female sports reporters face every day. DiCaro along with ESPN’s Sarah Spain participated in the viral video where men read the threatening tweets out loud to them.

But did this video campaign make any real progress?

“I think that’s really hard to gauge. Progress would be that someone who was trolling saw the video and thought ‘You know what? No. I shouldn’t be doing this.’” said Michaelis “We’re never going to know if those people decided to stop.”

While #MoreThanMean did create ripples in the pool of sexism in sports, there is much work to be done beyond simply pushing more women into the field of sports journalism.

I think that rethinking dualistic hierarchies are necessary in order to recognize and respect both women and men, nature and culture,” said Herles.