By Christine Brennan
When we were busy getting the Association for Women in Sports Media up and running in 1988, we never pictured AWSM at 25. That’s because we were much too concerned about having the organization survive to reach its first anniversary.
I have fond memories of those days, helping to start an important organization that has done so many good things for women over the past quarter-century. But it wasn’t easy.
Our founders, other officers and I were planning conventions, starting our scholarship/internship program and holding meetings in a world far different from today’s. There was no e-mail or texting. There were no cell phones or fax machines. If it sounds like a time when Rutherford B. Hayes might have been president, that might not be too far from the truth.
But we were good friends who had big dreams for this organization, and nothing was going to stop us. My sister suggested to me that we start a scholarship program, so we cobbled together various donations, sent application forms to journalism schools around the country, hoped that students would reply and were thrilled — and a little surprised — when they did, about 40 young women in all.
We awarded our first scholarship/internship in 1990. From those humble beginnings, AWSM has given out 127 scholarship/internships and will honor another six students this year. It’s the best thing AWSM does, and it’s a tremendous credit to the generosity and leadership of this organization that this program not only continues, but thrives.
During those early years of the program, I had the pleasure of calling our recipients to let them know that they had won. The second year, I ended up talking for quite a while to our winner, a Princeton electrical engineering student, after she expressed some concern about heading into sports journalism. I did my best to convince her that a terrific adventure awaited. I was so pleased when I heard she had decided to become a sports writer.
Five years later, as I was leaving The Washington Post, that young woman, Amy Shipley, replaced me as The Post’s Olympics writer. She and I still smile about that.
AWSM has endured for these 25 years because it has a heart and because it has a soul. Mentoring, supporting, encouraging and helping others are what we do best. In many ways, we women in the sports media are on our own parallel track alongside that of the nation’s most important law over the past 40 years, Title IX. One hundred years from now, I am certain that students and historians will not care about who won this year’s Super Bowl or World Series. But they definitely will study the incredible rise of women and girls in our culture, and what organizations such as ours did along the way.
There are times, though, when those big thoughts get lost in the minutia of our daily work. In many ways, our most pressing issue in those early years was equal access in the locker room. It’s wonderful to be able to say that topic is barely discussed anymore. We can thank sports editors and league commissioners and the march of time for that. We can also thank AWSM.
However, history tells us that once every 20 years, like clockwork, players and/or coaches misbehave terribly and cause an incident in which AWSM must swoop in, work with the league and team and our colleague, and help to take care of the problem. In 1990, it was the New England Patriots. In 2010, the New York Jets. Here’s really hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself in 2030, but if it does, AWSM will be there, guaranteed.
When AWSM was getting off the ground, we used to joke that our goal was to put ourselves out of business. By that we meant that we would solve the issue of equal access, take care of all the other problems of inequality and unfairness for women in the sports media and be done with our work.
How silly that sounds now. Of course other issues have bubbled to the surface: issues of jobs, advancement, career changes, sexism, mentoring, support, health, even the treatment of women on the Internet. Our convention in Scottsdale, June 20-23, will address many of these issues. As the times have changed, so has AWSM.
Perhaps there are people reading this who have never joined AWSM, or were members years ago but didn’t like it, or who are members to this day but have never been to a convention or participated in any other way. I’m reminded of a colleague who, years ago, said to me, “You know, I don’t really need AWSM.”
I agreed with her. I didn’t really need it either. A lot of us didn’t, I said, “but AWSM needs you.”
Many of us in AWSM are journalists, and journalists are not joiners. We are outsiders. We observe. But AWSM is not just any old organization.
It’s us. It’s who we are. It’s what we do, and what we should do, for 25 years and counting.
Christine Brennan, USA Today columnist, television commentator and best-selling author, was AWSM’s first president from 1988-90. She sponsors two AWSM scholarship/internships each year in memory of her late parents.