By Laken Litman
The 2014 AWSM convention (May 22-25) will open with a diversity panel led by Dr. Richard Lapchick, the founder of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
Lapchick will be joined by Miami Herald sports editor Jorge Rojas, USA Today Sports columnist Christine Brennan, Golf Channel director of remote operations Cathy Crowther and NCAA vice president of women’s basketball championships Anucha Browne.
As a recent report from the Women’s Media Center showed, women are still largely underrepresented in the media, and this is particularly evident in sports media. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport gave members of APSE an “F” grade for gender diversity in its 2012 diversity report card.
As a prelude to the discussion that will take place at the convention in Orlando, AWSM’s Laken Litman interviewed Lapchick to talk about the Women’s Media Center report and diversity in sports media.
Q: How far have we come and how far do we have to go to achieve a respectable report card for diversity in the media industry?
Lapchick: I think that of all the report cards we do, which includes MLB, NFL, NBA, MLS, college sports and the media, by far the least opportunities for women in any of those areas is in the media. I knew from people who have interviewed me over time that it’s almost all white men, but having the hard statistics in front of us was startling and remains startling.
Q: What are your thoughts on the troubling findings from the Women’s Media Center that revealed the proportion of women in the media has remained unchanged since 1999? Is this because women aren’t being hired or that they aren’t interested in the jobs?
Lapchick: I think people are turning to who they know in the industry and when you have such a high percentage of sports editors as, quote, “white men,” they’re going to turn to people who have been in their circles – which usually are other white men. There might be some cases where there’s racism and sexism involved, but it’s more the case where the people who are in the hiring positions are looking to people they know in the industry and the industry has been so exclusive for so long that it’s kept the numbers down.
Q: How can we change this?
Lapchick: I’ve been calling for a number years what I call the “Christine Brennan Rule.” When a position opens up, the various news organizations agree that when they bring in the first pool of candidates it will include women and people of color. And I think anywhere where that diversity in the interview process has happened, in or outside of the media, the numbers have changed dramatically. You’re going to get bogus interviews, but you can look at what happened to Major League Baseball after Bud Selig put the Selig Rule in 1999, and the NFL put in the Rooney Rule, it completely opened the process. Were there bogus interviews along the way? I don’t have any doubt that there were, but numbers changed dramatically.
I’ve had individual newspapers say that they will do it, but we don’t have any way to track that at this particular point in time. I’ve also been pushing for what I call the “Eddie Robinson Rule” in the college level because the same thing exists when we talk about coaching positions or athletic directors and those kinds of leadership positions.
Q: What were your thoughts about how athletes such as Jason Collins and Michael Sam announced that they’re gay?
Lapchick: I think it was long overdue. I’ve spoken at inclusion summits that were held by the NFL a number of years ago and the summit was really all about that, like what are we going to do? And they had anticipated long before Jason Collins that there would be four current NFL players come out, I think two seasons ago, and that didn’t happen. But I think the kind of welcoming Jason Collins has gotten and Michael Sam has gotten are really good indicators and signals to other people that it might be a safer era than it had been in the past. And I think society has moved much faster. If you told me we would be this far along on this issue five years ago, I would have been more skeptical.
Q: How do you think AWSM benefits women in sports media?
Lapchick: I think it’s an important voice for women in the sports media. I’m thrilled to speak at [the 2014 convention] because I’ve admired the organization for so long. And I think because so many of you have the ability on your own to write about the issue. I think getting AWSM’s message out even more is important. I think we’ve seen this year on the racial side, the Black Coaches and Administrators Association has pretty much evaporated and that voice is sorely missed, especially in holding athletic departments accountable. I think when the BCA was powerful and influential that it was great and helped the situation. So I would advocate for increasing the voice of AWSM in the media and also in college campuses around the country where there journalism programs that are typically feeders into the media.
Q: What are you looking to gain by attending the AWSM convention?
Lapchick: I want to be a cheerleader for the people there and let them know how important their voice is. This is the first time I’ve been invited and I’m really glad that I am and I hope that I have something to offer to the people in the audience.
For more on AWSM’s 2014 convention, click here.