Story by Christine Newby, AWSMOnline contributor
Loretta Hunt calls it a “constant battle,” especially throughout the past two years.
During the Association of Women in Sports Media’s AWSMNow panel discussion, “Women breaking gender barriers,” on April 27, Hunt, one of a select few female reporters covering mixed martial arts, revealed that two years ago, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White shot a video blog in which he went after her. Since the video was released, Hunt said she has run into barriers in the male-dominated industry.
“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 woman shouldn’t be doing this,” Hunt said. “[White] is on a mission to basically push me out of the sport.”
The AWSMNow panel consisted of five women who, like Hunt, have all established themselves in mostly male-dominated sports.
Phoenix Suns vice president Ann Meyers Drysdale is one of a few women serving a front office role in professional male sports. Meyers Drysdale is also recognized as the first woman to sign a free agent contract with an NBA team. In 1979, she signed with the Indiana Pacers. She participated in a three-day tryout with the Pacers, but ended up not making the final squad.
Olympic Champion Lindsey Van won the gold medal at the 2009 Nordic World Ski Championships, making history as the first women’s world champion and first American (male or female) to win gold in ski jumping. Van was involved with the movement to integrate women’s ski jumping into the Olympics, which was approved earlier this month by the International Olympic Committee.
Justine Siegal etched her name into history when she became the first woman to throw major league batting practice on Feb. 21 to the Cleveland Indians.
A sophomore wrestler at Oklahoma City University, Kristie Davis, is a nine-time World Championships medalist.
And all four women spoke about the struggles they’ve endured as women in what Meyers Drysdale called “a white man’s world.”
When Hunt began covering MMA, she said she wasn’t aware of the barriers because the sport was so young in the United States, and nobody wanted to cover it. Yet as time has gone on, Hunt said she has become aware of a lot of obstacles. Hunt thought by this time, more females would be covering the sport, but says “they are kind of trickling in.”
Hunt doesn’t feel the need to be the person who plows through, making a path for women along the way, unlike other women on the panel
“I’ve come to realize, if I stay with this profession, I’m going to become a trailblazer,” Hunt said.
But Siegal wants to be that trailblazer, and she’s well on her way. In 2009, she became the first woman to coach a professional baseball team when she was hired as the first base coach of the independent league Brockton Rox in 2009.
“If I can put my head down and plow through, for me, it’s an honor for me to be in that position,” Siegal said.
Davis and Van never thought they would be pioneers for women in sports, but Davis said she’s been called a trailblazer on occasion.
The progression of women in wrestling is what makes Davis happy, she said. And now, it’s even more personal.
Davis, 32, has a 13-year-old daughter who wrestles, and Davis uses her experiences to instruct other female wrestlers.
“I just tell them if wrestling is what they want to do, they can’t just put one foot in,” Davis said. “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.
As for Davis’ guidance for her daughter she said, “I tell her that [the boys] are gonna go after her and do whatever they can to win and not lose to a girl.”
Van said there are always going to be issues with gender in sports, but that things will continue to improve.
Meyers Drysdale believes the culture is changing, but that it’s moving at a slow pace.
“People like Kristie in wrestling are making a difference and Loretta having a female face in ultimate fighting, again a sport totally male-dominated,” Meyers Drysdale said.
Hunt said she’s approached White on three different occasions, only to be ignored each time. Hunt has been denied credentials by White, but believes the issue with White doesn’t stem exclusively from the fact that she is a female reporter, and added that male reporters have difficulty with him as well.
“There is a definite argument, though, that he goes off with me the most,” Hunt said about White. “I think that is because I am a female.”
“What keeps me going is not the thought that I’m going to be a trailblazer,” she said. “I’ve been covering the sport for ten year, and it’s my job to record the history of the sport. The history of the sport is being altered and that’s what is keeping me going right now.”