Men still dominate sports journalism

Posted by Taylor Soule

Photo by Taylor Soule

“Taylor Soule, Times-Delphic sports editor.” My new title complemented my name like sprinkles on a cookie. I hustled to Tennis Club practice hours after accepting the position last spring, eager to tell my friends. Their replies, however, surprised me.

“You’re sports editor, but you’re a girl?”

Unfortunately, sports journalism still bears the “man’s world” stereotype, deterring women from pursuing careers as sportswriters, editors, announcers and commentators. Title IX sanctioned women’s sports in 1972, but 30 years later, females yet face gender-exclusive disrespect in the athletics arena.

For female athletes, appearance often overshadows athleticism. While male athletes receive the media’s attention for fitness, female athletes receive attention for fashion.

When Venus Williams donned glittery garb at the 2010 U.S. Open, for instance, her outfit consumed headline after headline and comment after comment, match after match. Williams’ sparkly number sidelined her 18-year professional tennis career, temporarily overshadowing her 43 singles titles, 20 doubles titles and four Olympic gold medals.

For female sportswriters, stereotypes often overshadow (and trivialize) achievements. I believe one misconception underlies the “man’s world” stereotype, thwarting appreciation for women’s contributions to sports journalism. Namely, society wrongfully assumes women lack sports savvy, cueing flippancy toward their contributions.

The University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport published a groundbreaking study in 2006 after surveying more than 300 daily newspapers about women’s contributions to their sports coverage. Authors Richard Lapchick, Jenny Brenden and Brian Wright concluded that women comprised just 12.6 percent of newspaper sports staffs.

Although female sportswriters face gender-exclusive challenges, I’m eager to join that 12.6 percent after graduation.

Until graduation, though, I’m appreciating my newfound position in the journalism world: I’m sports editor, and I’m a girl. No buts about it.

Will female sportswriters ever gain the “sports expert” status automatically awarded to male sportswriters?


8 responses to “Men still dominate sports journalism

  1. Taylor, I totally empathize with you here. In my earlier journalist years, I used to aspire to become a newspaper sports writer, or, ultimately, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. A seemingly rare hybrid athlete and journalist in high school, I applied for sports editor at the end of my sophomore year. It was listed as my first choice, followed by features editor. I remember some classmates telling me that I wouldn’t get sports editor because I was a girl, which only made me want to become the first-ever female sports editor even more. But, of course, a guy got the job.

    I was very happy to see you become the sports editor at the TD–it’s as if you finally proved to all of us girl sports writers that female leadership in the sports section is actually a real, feasible thing. Though I’ve veered down the features route, I seriously commend you for sticking with sports writing. I wish you the best!

  2. Meagan, I followed a similar journalist/athlete path in high school, which inspired me to pursue a career in sports writing. Your comment about proving yourself as a female sportswriter also rings true for me.

    Female sportswriters enter the profession with added pressure. Namely, before female sportswriters can wow audiences with their writing, they must prove their often-doubted knowledge. For example, when I discuss the latest statistics, developments and predictions with fellow fans, whether male or female, their faces regularly show surprise. Thus, respecting female sportswriters’ contributions first requires recognizing and respecting females’ sports knowledge.

  3. It seems unfair and sad, but sports writing is still seen as a men’s profession. I haven’t really understood that. A woman can cover a story just as well as a man. In fact, women usually write better than most men. I think it mainly has to deal with the fact that change is slow.

    I think some women will achieve that “expert status.” Unfortunately, they’ll probably have to work harder to get it. The trendsetters always have to work hard to blaze the trail for other to follow. I salute you for blazing the trail.

    • Thanks, Jeff! While the disrespect toward female sportswriters upsets me, it’s critical to remember your point about change’s gradual nature. My impatience won’t advance the status of female sportswriters, but focusing on gains, whether minuscule or monumental, will advance female sportswriters’ status.

  4. What a great topic. I think it is so true how women – in all aspects of the media – are often reserved for roles in fashion, looking good, and finding happiness in men. I don’t remember the statistic, but the difference between male and female protagonists in movies is interesting. Or at least, if you look at most female characters versus most male characters, what are their struggles, their goals, their triumph over tribulation? For males, it could be a quest, or finding themselves, or friendship. For females? Often it’s finding happiness in a man. There are not a whole lot of dynamic female roles anymore.

    Beyond the fact that it is awesome that you are a female writer in a male’s domain and that this topic was a very interesting one to read about, I really like the language you use in your post. “Like sprinkles on a cookie” was fun to read. I also really liked your photo!

    • Thanks, Chelsea! As your response details, the rigidity of female roles isn’t limited to sports journalism, unfortunately. When women do achieve “sports expert” status as media professionals, they’re often limited to covering women’s sports. The female sportswriter’s path to success, in my opinion, is more arduous than the male sportswriter’s path to success. After female sportswriters break one barrier (i.e. landing a job as a sportswriter), there’s another barrier (i.e. being limited to covering only women’s sports).

  5. One thing I have to say is GIRL POWER! I applaud you for not giving up! Having the title that you have here at Drake for the TD is an awesome accomplishment. Like you, I am a sports fanatic. My main interests being college football and soccer. My idol is Erin Andrews, and I admire her for what she has done in the industry. No doubt, she is a beautiful woman, but she is talented and knows her stuff. I mean she’s even willing to get hit by a baseball to get the story.

    It is sad to realize how underrepresented women are in the sports reporting fields. I don’t really understand it. It still bothers me when men and women make comments about how I like sports, and how its so rare. People shouldn’t even have to comment on the fact that women like sports. I think it’s time to get over it! Maybe I am a little heated, but that’s just me. I do always appreciate the support I get when I say that I would love to do PR for a sports team. My dad is a big support, and still tells his coworkers to look for me on ESPN in a couple of years.

    Good luck, and I know you’ll do well! Represent us women well! 🙂

    • I agree; people should get over it and accept women’s sports savvy. Plus, if our surprised friends accept our love for sports, we can all spend more time discussing games, predictions and players.

      I like your comment about Erin Andrews. She personifies femininity and sports savvy, showing future sportswriters (like myself) that womanhood complements sportswriting and vice versa. I would love to interview her about the challenges she has faced as a female sports journalist.

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