Female sports reporters step past perceptions

Nearly two years have passed since former weekday KNBR 1050 AM radio host Damon Bruce made national headlines with a misogynistic on-air rant on the role of women in sports:

“I enjoy many of the women’s contributions to sports — well that’s a lie. I can’t even pretend that’s true. There are very few — a small handful — of women who are any good at this at all. That’s the truth. The amount of women talking in sports to the amount of women who have something to say is one of the most disproportionate ratios I’ve ever seen in my freakin’ life. But here’s a message for all of them … All of this, all of this world of sports, especially the sport of football, has a setting. It’s set to men… It’s a man’s world.”

Only last Wednesday night, Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s host Aiyana Cristal was victim to sexual harassment in an exchange on Twitter between CBS Chicago’s Dan Bernstein and Matt Spiegel, the radio host of The Spiegel & Goff Show in Chicago.

In the exchange, Spiegel spews his opinion on Cristal’s work performance, before Bernstein adds he has “no rooting interest in her work, but enjoy her giant boobs.”

Comments such as Bernstein’s only add to the myriad of challenges female sports journalists encounter.

When you Google “female sports reporters,” the first page has little to offer, unless “40 Hottest Female Sports Reporters,” “10 Hottest Sports Reporters On Earth,” and “Hottest Sports Reporters: Photo List of Sexy Female Sideline Reporters” are pertinent information.

Women are objectified in this manner in various forms of media. And because of this, female reporters often face a job within a job.

Beyond making sure facts are correct and properly presented, female reporters have the added task of looking a certain way in an attempt to be taken more seriously.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay

Fallon Smith, sports reporter and anchor for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area since 2013, is one of these women. Even as the first woman to win the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Sports Anchor/Reporter of the Year award in 2011 with KCWY-TV, Smith said:

“I have to make sure that I’m covered. I make sure I’m always dressed classy and in business attire so that the guys don’t get any ideas. I wish they wouldn’t change the way we look in order to work, the way we dress and do our hair, showcasing us as hot, sexy women. We write our own stuff, we aren’t a pretty face in a pretty dress reading from a board. No, that’s not how it works at all. People don’t realize it, but I write all my stories and all the questions I’m going to ask.”

Echoing the sentiment, SFBay sports director and Warriors beat writer Sarah Todd said:

“(Female reporters’) comments and reporting are often brushed over in quick segments and they aren’t looked at for deep analysis or breaking news, so they are regarded as less qualified. That’s not the truth of course, and I feel for those women who are doing great work and are dismissed often as momentary eye candy. I wish people recognized how much work these women put in.”

Recent extensive data completed by The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014 reflects that less than one percent of females were represented in the sports media industry in 2012.

According to the Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communications Graduates, the total of women in 2012 who graduated with a communications degree that sought jobs in television, radio, and daily newspapers was just over 50 percent versus 80 percent of males in the same sectors of media.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports’ most recent report card states that more than 150 newspapers and websites evaluated were given an F grade for the third time in a row for their hiring practices among women.

Smith said:

“If the job is between me, a woman, or the guy, they’re gonna pick the guy.”

Of those 150 newspapers and websites, women were severely under represented throughout sports. The number of female sports columnists slipped from 9.9 percent to 9.7 in the last four years, according to the institute, and of the 35 women represented in the survey, 23 of them worked for ESPN. When excluding the ESPN columnists, however, the percentage of female columnists decreased from 12.8 percent to 4.8 percent.

Some of the more prominent women in sports reporting have been well-known for reasons other than their skill set, which led to the phrase “Sideline Barbie.” In response to the term, Todd said:

“The term ‘sideline barbie’ is an interesting one. The truth is that most sideline reporters who are women are very good-looking. I am absolutely not going to fault any of them for being beautiful. But it is interesting to think whether or not these networks would hire a less conventionally good-looking female over the bombshell. Obviously if the woman looks like a supermodel and is more qualified than more power to her. I’m not saying the networks have these type of shallow hiring practices, but where are the plain Jane sideline reporters?”

Even given the benefit of doubt, it’s hard to ignore what appears to be a fixed formula of hiring women based on their looks — with their resumes coming secondary. This can work to undermine the credibility of female reporters, Smith said:

“You’re under a microscope. Everything you say, if you mess up one thing, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s really how it is.”

She added:

“We are so much more ridiculed than men for doing the same thing. We have to prove ourselves way more, way more than any male with the exact same resume as you. Guys always have the upper hand.”

Despite the ugly statistics, some notable Bay Area female reporters prove women can do the job just was well, if not better than men.

Susan Slusser has covered 10 American League championships and five World Series. She was also elected Baseball Writer’s Association of America president from 2012-2013. Ann Killion also recently won California Sportswriter of the Year award, given by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. And Rosalyn Gold-Onwude is proving to be an up-and-comer and potential leader of the next generation of female sports reporters.

(42 percent of SFBay sportswriters, including Sports Director Sarah Todd, are female, while two of three SFBay season credentials issued by local professional teams are held by female beat writers. – Ed.)

But the sad truth is that the numbers, though showing some improvement, are not far from stagnation when it comes to hiring practices of women in sports media.

And yet we wait for the next Bruce or Bernstein comments to be appalled and outraged.

Until there’s a change in stone-age beliefs, sexism and gender inequality will remain intertwined in sports media, slowing women’s progress to a standstill.