Transcript by: Christine Newby, AWSMOnline.org Contributor
From the 4/27 Webinar:
Phoenix Suns vice president Ann Meyers Drysdale is one of the few women currently serving a front office role in professional male sports. Meyers Drysdale also holds the distinction of being the first woman to ever sign a free agent contract with an NBA team — she signed with the Indiana Pacers in 1979. After being released by the Pacers, she provided color commentary for Pacers broadcasts, and was the first woman to broadcast an NBA game.
Stefanie Loh: I’d like to have each one of you talk about why you got in your perspective fields in male dominated industry.
Justine Siegal: I was told to play softball a lot. When I was 13, I was told girls didn’t play baseball. At 16 years old, I decided I wanted to be a college baseball coach and the first person I told said that I couldn’t do it. I just loved the game of baseball and softball and baseball are just not the same sport, despite what society tells us.
Ann Meyers Drysdale: As a youngest child, I didn’t know that it was a hill to climb [in the male-dominated field]. I have five brothers and five sisters. It just seemed normal. Our parents were both supportive in both girls and boys playing sports. I grew up playing with the boys with my brothers. To me, it was just normal. For me, I just competed. I didn’t realize how much my parents were involved in having to go to the school and ask for me to play with the boys. My dream was to go to the Olympics. I was fortunate to represent the USA in basketball. You do something you love. You want to compete against the males because that is going to raise the competition.
Kristie Davis: I was trying for the Olympic trials in Judo in 1996. My dad had a background in wrestling. I can remember him when I was 10 trying to throw me in Pee-Wee tournaments with boys. Back in ’96 I was still playing basketball, and he told me that I would never make it as a 5-foot-5 center. I basically just signed up and went out for the wrestling team. During the first two weeks of guys practice, for me I think it was a lot easier. I grew up with judo. When I went out for the team, a lot of the guys knew my background with judo and my dad. I had a lot of support with my teammates and coach so I think I got lucky in that aspect. In the first two weeks in wresting practice, I tore my ACL. In judo you can’t wear any braces, but in wrestling you can. I didn’t fix my ACL for five years.
Lindsey Van: The Olympics is gonna push our sport into a whole new level. It will be the opportunity for women in the future.
Stefanie Loh: Why do you think it took so long to get ski jumping in the Olympics?
Lindsey Van: Well it’s a male dominated sports. Women have been jumping since 1890. You put women into an extreme sport, and does that take out the extreme [for the men]?
Stefanie Loh: Loretta, I understand that you are one of the only female journalists in the field of Mixed Martial Arts?
Loretta Hunt: I relate with what Ann said. In the beginning, I wasn’t really aware of the barriers because the sport is so new in the U.S. that nobody really wanted to cover it. As time has gone on, as I’ve tried to stay a professional in the sport I’ve become very aware of a lot of barriers. I thought at this point there would be more females to cover it. There are women kind of tricking in. UFC President Dana White shot a video blog where he went after me. Since then, it’s been a constant battle for me. He’s refused to acknowledge me and give me credentials. He called one of my anonymous sources a derogatory comment. He has continued to speak negatively about me. I think it is a personal problem with me. That’s my current battle in the sport. [Females] have battles like this. I’m just glad we have an organization like [the Association of Women in Sports Media].
Stefanie Loh: Ann, how did you get into your field? Very few women are in the front office of a professional sports team.
Ann Meyers Drysdale: It’s just not a path. I was very fortunate. My brother played UCLA basketball with John Wooden. It’s just being at the right place at the right time and taking advantage. I had no idea what I was gonna do after UCLA. I made the decision to tryout with Pacers. It was way different when I was competing. A door opened to try out for the Pacers. It was not a difficult decision. Now women can compete well into their 40s after having two , three children. I got into broadcasting, again a very male-dominated profession. There are different women who are stepping up. It’s still very limited in the kind of roles that broadcasters play. Being a mother of three children, I have to make my choices too. Women will make more choices when other people are involved.
Justine Siegal: It’s very tough being a woman in pretty much a man’s sporting world in such that I have no one to look up too. It’s sort of this life that I have to make plans. It’s every day, ‘Where can I go today. Who can I meet that is willing to give me a chance.’ It’s not that I want charity. I’m a single mother with 13-year old. There’s a lot of challenges because I think baseball is the greatest sport on earth. I love it. If I can put my head down and plow through, for me, it’s an honor for me to be in that position.
Loretta Hunt: I don’t feel the need to be that person [who plows through and makes a path for women]. It’s having women come to me and say, ‘I want to get into this, but it looks hard for you.’ There are female fighters out there, and they have issues as well like getting a venue to fight. I’ve come to realize, if I stay with this profession, I’m going to become a trailblazer. There are very few reporters who will not be afraid to write about me. It’s not even just a women’s struggle, it’s a struggle for journalism in my sport. It’s very scary. What keeps me going is not the thought that I’m going to be a trailblazer. I’ve been covering this sport for ten years, and it’s my job to record the history of this sport. The history of the sport is being altered and that’s what is keeping me going right now. Dana White goes after all of them, reporters and managers in this sport.
Lindsey Van: For me in the sport, you just gotta keep doing what you love to do and keep doors open for me, and just not me, but women behind me.
Kristie Davis: I feel the same way as Lindsey does. I never thought that I was a trailblazer, but I’ve been referred to it a couple times. What makes me happy is the progression of women in wrestling.
Justine Siegal: I’ve had a lot of opposition. I’ve been sworn at for minutes at a time. I’ve learned to be kind when people are mean. So when I was yelled at, I made that person brownies.
Ann Meyers Drysdale: We have a passion no matter what the obstacle is. You love what you do. You’re not gonna have people deter you and tell them you can’t do something.
Stefanie Loh: Ann, as someone in a position of power in pro sports, what is your take on Loretta’s situation?
Ann Meyers Drysdale: It’s frustrating. I know that ESPN is starting a new women’s channel. Maybe contact somebody there. It also is a sport that is just starting and it has a grabbing power because of the fighting. But, the fact that it is closed, somebody like Loretta is going to open up a lot of doors. Writing and broadcasting are two areas that have a lot of male sports. When you’re writing about sports, men want to put women on the women sports. Men’s sports are the ones in the paper and on television. You’re just a good a writer. The pen doesn’t know what gender you are. You’re just doing what you love to do. The women that I know in media are put on men’s sports.
Stefanie Loh: Anyone else want to talk about legitimacy and be taken seriously in your sport?
Loretta Hunt: I face that with the fans with this sport. I’ve always seemed to block that out. There is all these new fans that come into the sport. I think I’m being categorized as a controversial writer, when I’m not. At this point, it’s very clear that [White] is going after my legitimacy. It’s a lot of testosterone. It’s a lot of male fans. I’m getting the sense more and more as my career goes on, and I hate to say it, that I should just be kind of shucked off, like a women shouldn’t be doing this. [White] is on a mission to basically push me out of the sport. Ann, I appreciate your comments and your suggestions. What you’re saying to me ranks true. I need to step up and not just for females, but for all journalists in the sport.
Stefanie Loh: Lindsey, we have a question for you. What has been the reaction of male ski jumpers after the news that women now have ski jumping in the Olympics?
Lindsey Van: Haven’t heard whole lot. Don’t think a lot care. We don’t compete together. Honestly, never really heard anything from the men.
Stefanie Loh: We have a question from Tracy: Justine, what is the difference between softball and baseball?
Justine Siegal: They are two different sports. The ball is different, pitching is different and dimensions of the field. What girls need is choice. If they want to play softball then they should play. If they want to play baseball they should play baseball.
Stefanie Loh: Will we ever see a day when every sport, even the ones currently more male-oriented, will see a women’s equivalent?
Lindsey Van: I think we are always gonna have the issues with gender in sports. I think it’s going to continue to improve, but there is always going to be an issue.
Ann Meyers Drysdale: It’s changing. It is slow? Sure, but it’s changing. People like Kristie in wrestling are making a difference. Loretta having a female face in ultimate fight, again a sport totally male dominated. It continues to be a fight.
Kristie Davis: There is a significant progression when I started 14 years ago. There were only like three or four girls in my weight class. Now, there are 30 or 40.
Stefanie Loh: Kristie, what kind of advice would you give to a high school girl in wrestling who faces issues such as opponents not wanted to wrestle her, or people telling her it’s a boys’ sport?
Kristie Davis: I just tell them if wrestling is what they want to do, they can’t just put one foot in. You gotta take forfeits. You gotta take hits. In high school, even though I knew a lot of guys I wrestled, I was thrown into the bleachers. I was given cheap shots. That’s just something you gotta push through physically and mentally. I have a 13-year-old daughter who wrestles. I tell her that [the boys] are gonna go after her and do whatever they can to win and not lose to a girl.
Stefanie Loh: I’d like to go around the panel for last comments.
Ann Meyers Drysdale: I appreciate the opportunity today to learn about the other stories. Thank you Stefanie for the platform. Just keep doing what you love to do. I’ve had good support around me because of my family. Unfortunately again, it’s a white man’s world, and I’ve said that before. But barriers are breaking.
Lindsey Van: I think the right way to go about this is for athletes to keep going in their sport. I have a film coming out in September called ‘Ready to Fly’ on trying to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics.
Justine Siegal: Follow your dreams no matter what they are.
Loretta Hunt: Thank you to the organization [AWSM] to start to get my story out there. It’s very difficult as a journalist because you don’t want to make yourself the story. It was really great to find out what’s going on with other women in their sport and to come to the realization that I’m not alone. Congrats Lindsey on her great accomplishment.