By Grace Raynor
ORLANDO, Fla. — Jane McManus felt like she had been deceived, and betrayed — and he had gotten away with it for an entire month.
McManus is now a New York Jets beat reporter for ESPN New York but was in the early stages of her sportswriting career when she approached her boss one day and asked why she hadn’t been assigned sidebar football stories for the month. She was on the football beat, wanted to perform her job duties, and was a strong enough writer to do so. It didn’t add up.
What she learned that day was that a male colleague had told their boss that McManus didn’t want to write sidebars — and that he shouldn’t assign them to her anymore.
“I just felt like I had been stabbed in the back,” she said. “And I had.”
But McManus wasn’t — and isn’t — alone. In a Q&A session with veteran female sportswriters at the annual AWSM convention in Orlando, McManus joined Rose Bowl media coordinator Stephanie Montano and Miami Herald columnist Linda Robertson to discuss both the adventures and the challenges that come with being a woman in a male-dominated profession.
Though 45 percent of Major League Baseball and 47 percent of NFL fans are females, women sports journalists only make up about 10 percent of a newsroom staff.
The panelists and moderator Heather Burns, who is a deputy editor for ESPN.com, gave students and women in the industry advice on developing their voices, drawing the line between being friendly and unprofessional with subjects, and standing up for themselves.
“You can be fair and tough, you can be fair and critical, but just be fair,” Robertson said. “You only have one reputation, so don’t ruin it early on.”
Robertson discussed covering Miami football and wanted to write a story on former Miami Hurricanes football coach Jimmy Johnson, who lived in the Florida Keys and wanted as little media publicity as possible.
“Some of developing your voice is dependent on your reporting and what you choose to include,” Robertson said.
The more she persisted for an interview, the more Johnson trusted her. And one day, he finally said she could come to his house for an interview. Going on his boat, however, was still off limits.
“He said, ‘No, that’s just me — me and my buddies,’ ” Robertson said. “That was his sanctuary.”
Robertson pressed on. And before she knew it, she was driving nearly 100 miles an hour down the highway for her only opportunity to go back to Johnson’s house for a boat ride.
“It was a scene you could build the whole story around,” she said. “That made the story.”
Robertson told the story to encourage women to find their own voice and fight for the interviews they believe they deserve.
Robertson, McManus and Montano discussed the delicate balance between being friendly and being unprofessional with sources. They urged those in the audience to be pleasant and trustful, but to never be unprofessional with ulterior motives.
“Don’t make the mistake of somehow thinking you’re part of the club,” McManus said. “You’re never going to be part of the club.”
Finally, they promised the women in the session that they do belong in a locker room. Regardless of the tribulations that women in the sports world may go through, there’s always one very obvious, easy solution.
“Whenever I got (mad), I was like, ‘I’m going to write a really good story next week,’ ” Robertson said.
“And no one can quarrel with that.”