By DaShawn Brown
“I don’t expect much.”
If these descriptive words and phrases regarding women working in sports journalism don’t remind us of the 1970’s, then they should.
In 1972, it took the passage of law to prevent people, particularly women, from being discriminated against in activities receiving federal funds. Title IX states (in part):
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Fast forward to 1978. A pivotal court decision in Ludtke vs. Kuhn, said female reporters have a 14th amendment right to pursue a career, regardless of gender. AWSM member, 2003 Pioneer award winner and then Sports Illustrated baseball reporter Melissa Ludtke had previously been denied access to the New York Yankees locker room because of her gender.
So yes. One might expect to read those harsh words then. But what about in 2013?
It all stemmed from a recent Sports Illustrated article on the value of the sideline reporter. Or for some, the lack thereof.
In that article, I read some hard truths about a position held predominantly by women. Among a panel of journalism peers of both genders, most agreed women working as sideline reporters are grossly misused.
The discussion prompted me to ask questions of my own: What is the perception of the female sports reporter, and how has it changed over the years?
Here’s a glimpse of answers to those questions, culled from three women who are working or have worked in sports journalism:
– Rachel Kilmer, first-year sports reporter/anchor, KNOP-TV (North Platte, Neb.)
– Anne Doyle, former Detroit sports anchor, inducted into Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame
– Lesley Visser, CBS sports reporter, first and only woman enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Kilmer: “Females have become a normal part of the sports media landscape, thanks to the many women in AWSM that led the way. The bad part is that I think the general public thinks of female sports reporters but solely as beautiful sideline reporters.”
Visser: “When I went from print to TV, the great Will McDonough told me, ‘Watch out! TV will take the wrong part of you.’ He meant that in TV, because women were new, the wrong element might be emphasized.”
Doyle: “The women of my generation, we worked very hard almost to neutralize our femininity. We were fighting for credibility.”
Doyle: “Any woman who thinks that she can play that sexy card and still be taken seriously really doesn’t understand men. You flash that card, that’s the game you’re playing.”
Kilmer: “There is nothing wrong with a well done sideline report, however, as the SI article pointed out, more often than not, sideline reporters are limited to interviews with coaches who don’t want to say anything besides ‘coach speak’ and a few other very brief hits. Why not try to make it the norm for females to be analysts? Or to change the way sideline reporting is done and make it a more valuable part of the broadcast?
Visser: “Lots and lots (40 years for me of covering sports) of women come and go, but the ones who know what they’re looking at, stay.”
Kilmer: “Every perception is there for a reason and it’s our job to change it.”