Women in Sports Media Face Unrelenting Sexism in Challenges to Their Expertise and Opinions
I was never truly aware of sexism until I started working in sports media. In the 13 years I spent as an attorney, I saw and felt a lot of injustice, but it was the kind I recognized: preference based on seniority, office politics or nepotism. It wasn’t until I made the move to working full time in sports media that I really felt the soul-crushing, confidence-eroding, rage-inducing injustice of being considered “less” than my colleagues solely because of my gender. Today, I fully register the reality that I am treated differently every day because I am a woman.
In March of last year, an essay by Damon Young at The Huffington Post caused a fundamental shift in my worldview. In fact, it affected me so profoundly that it never really left me. I realized that men simply don’t believe women, because we are women.
In his HuffPo piece, Young wrote:
Trust. Well, the lack thereof. Generally speaking, we (men) do not believe things when they're told to us by women. Well, women other than our mothers or teachers or any other woman who happens to be an established authority figure. Do we think women are pathological liars? No. But, does it generally take longer for us to believe something if a woman tells it to us than it would if a man told us the exact same thing? Definitely!
I struggle with this reality every day.
Last year, I reported extensively on the Patrick Kane rape investigation. I was repeatedly accused of being biased and reporting only part of the story. Hundreds of men on Twitter demanded I reveal my sources and detail my vetting procedures publicly before they would accept my reporting as accurate. Even when my reports were borne out by later events, I was accused of having an agenda and pushing a narrative. Though I pushed back, demanding to know how I was biased or what facts I was omitting, no one could ever really tell me. While I’d love to believe I was alone in this, women reporting on hot button issues (like Jane McManus on domestic violence in the NFL, and Jessica Luther on sexual assault in college sports) have been subjected to the same questions and accusations.
I’ve even had my credibility questioned when reporting easily verifiable information, like the World Series schedule or a starting lineup. I am routinely asked “Where did you get this information?” and “Who’s your source?” Yet my male co-workers rarely experience these challenges. Sometimes it feels like even the most basic of facts must be confirmed by a male colleague before a certain portion of the audience will believe them to be true.
Part of the issue for women in sports media is that the industry is even more male-dominated than the rest of media. In part, the public is simply reacting to the lack of trust they see sports media putting in women professionals, who are often relegated to the role of sideline reporters or hosts, positions in which they are tasked with reporting on what men say or do, or asking them what they think.
Consider the reaction to ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza being named an analyst on Sunday Night Baseball, where she is paid to give her own opinion rather than solicit them from men. Mendoza, who in addition to be a rising star at ESPN, was a former all-American softball star. During an October incident of harassment, she was reviled as a “Woman Announcer”:
“The fact that i have to listen to this woman announcer all night is making me lose my mind” — Wizard of Os.
“Really? A women's softball slugger as guest analyst on MLB Wildcard Game? Once again ESPN too frigging cute for their own good.” — @mikebell929.
Mendoza’s perceived lack of knowledge about the game was the target of much male ire, despite a myriad of male analysts on the same broadcast who didn’t play pro ball.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Mendoza backlash was not just that so many men refused to find her credible because she is a woman, but that so many men had no problem saying openly that they didn’t find her credible because she was a woman. In this respect, sports media is the last bastion of sexism, one in which women are routinely excluded from major roles simply for being female—and in which it’s acceptable to do so.
The perceived lack of credibility by female reporters leads to a far uglier problem: online harassment. While a recent Pew study revealed that men are slightly more likely than women to experience online harassment, the harassment experienced by women tends to be disproportionately severe, involving sexual harassment and online stalking. The online harassment women reporters face daily has a distinctly misogynistic bent, using, above all, the reporter’s gender, in and of itself, as an insult.
“@JulieDiCaro I feel sorry that you falsely accuse men of doing something they didn't. You are a fat, miserable white cunt” — @masterdon40
The message this gendered harassment conveys to women in sports media is clear: You don’t belong here by virtue of your gender. You are not credible by virtue of your gender. And for those reasons, you are deserving of violence.
How, then, do women in sports media position themselves as reliable, credible, and trustworthy, in the face of such unfair and unjustifiable doubt? It begins with demanding a place at the grown-up table. By not being satisfied at being relegated to being “social media correspondents,” sideline reporters, and glorified moderators for debates between men. When it comes to sports media, women, already viewed as “outsiders” by men who resent our influx into the industry, must insist on working in roles where our thoughts, analysis, and reporting are as valued as our looks, submissiveness, and sunny dispositions.
Watch REAL guys read REAL comments made about sports reporters Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro – to their face. These fans learn some tweets are #MoreThanMean – they’re harassment.
Listen to NPR On Point discussion of #MoreThanMean, a hashtag used to launch this week's viral PSA featuring Julie DiCaro, ESPN sports journalist Sarah Spain and Speech Project Director Soraya Chemaly.
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