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Panel: Women sports journalists still face many challenges and obstacles

Women in Sports Media: Obstacles, Opportunities and Observations from IU Journalism on Vimeo.

By Sam Rogian
Master’s Student
IU National Sports Journalism Center
INDIANAPOLIS— Gender equity in the workplace has advanced significantly in the United States over the past several decades.
The sports journalism industry, however, is another matter.

Women still make up a small percentage of journalists in sports newsrooms, and in senior leadership positions. Some experts believe the situation is actually getting worse.
This was the focal point of conversation Monday afternoon as the Indiana University National Sports Journalism Center (NSJC) hosted the panel discussion, “Women in Sports Media: Obstacles, Opportunities and Observations,” on the campus of IUPUI. The panel was co-sponsored by the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM), the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA).
Tim Franklin, the center director and Louis A. Weil, Jr. Endowed Chair in the Indiana University School of Journalism, said the center wanted to take advantage of Indianapolis hosting the NCAA Women's Final Four this week by addressing this topic.
“I wanted to expose students, and even members of the general public, especially this week, about the obstacles and challenges that still exist for women in sports media,” Franklin said. “I think we did that today.”
The panel consisted of several prominent national sports journalists, including:

  • Michael Anastasi, managing editor for sports of The Salt Lake Tribune and incoming president of the APSE
  • Christine Brennan, award-winning columnist for USA TODAY and commentator for ABC News, CNN and NPR.
  • Dave Goren, executive director of the NSSA
  • Ann Killion, author and contributing writer for Sports Illustrated.
  • Shelley Smith, correspondent for ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Dr. Pamela Laucella, academic director of the NSJC, moderated the panel.
The wide-ranging discussion covered everything from the continued instances of harassment of women sports journalists to the lack of gender diversity in sports departments.

One of the most prominent instances of harassment directed toward a female sports reporter was last September, when members of the New York Jets reportedly threw footballs in the direction of TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz and then taunted her in the locker room. 

For her part, Brennan expressed her frustration that many people last fall still were questioning why women reporters should be granted access to locker rooms — a practice that was established decades ago.

“Asking that question is like asking if women should vote,” Brennan said.

Smith shared that an NFL team once accused her of  “looking” while in the locker room early in her career in the 1980s.

She said that she protected herself against any future allegations by holding her notebook directly in front of her face. She continues the practice to this day.

Killion said she thinks the fact that people would be concerned that female reporters might intentionally look at naked players is absurd.

“The only people I’ve heard talk about what they’ve seen in the locker room are men,” she said. “And they will talk about it a lot.”

The panel also talked about the recent accounts of alleged degrading remarks by such media members as ESPN’s Ron Franklin and Tony Kornheiser.

Not only did each panel member deny ever being the victim of such comments, Brennan came to the defense of Kornheiser, whom she worked with at the Washington Post for “12 fabulous years.”

"He (Kornheiser) has been as supportive of women, including (myself), as anyone in the print side of our business,” said Brennan, who explained that Kornheiser made a mistake in February 2010 in describing the attire of fellow ESPN colleague Hannah Storm.

Each panelist agreed that one of the biggest problems in the sports journalism industry is the lack of management placements and advancement for women.

Anastasi said that while he believes there are more opportunities than ever for women to be broadcasters, writers and sideline reporters, management opportunities for women have remained scarce.

“I don’t have my arms around it,” Anastasi said. “But I think that truly for women in sports journalism to take that next step, that’s the next frontier.”

Unlike other industries such as the NFL, which enforced policies to help diversity in the hiring of coaches, Brennan expressed concern that there just isn’t any incentive for sports media organizations to seriously consider women for management positions.

“Where’s the ‘Rooney Rule’ for women?” she asked.

Goren said he realized early on that the NSSA has much work to do in promoting diversity when he looked at his organization’s Hall of Fame wall the first day in his office.

“When I walked in and saw the boards, I saw a bunch of old white guys,” he said. “Last year, we had one female sportswriter winner and two female sportscaster winners on that whole board of 115 people.
“It didn’t take someone very smart… very long to say, ‘We have work to do.’”

The NSSA will host a diversity panel discussion of its own during its awards weekend in May to help promote awareness.

Members of the general public and several students, such as PhD. candidate Lauren Burch, attended Monday’s event and found it interesting.

“I thought it was a great panel,” Burch said. “I thought they had some nice comments.

“As someone who’s interested in studying gender and online media, I thought it was a panel I really couldn’t miss and had to attend.”

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