As my time spent watching sports ramps up dramatically (it’s playoff time – GO CAVS), I’m struck yet again by the lack of female presence anywhere around televised professional sports and sports broadcasting. I know this has been slowly changing for the better, with new female faces invading the boys’ clubs of the NFL, NBA and MLB with the addition of women like Jessica Mendoza, who is a studied, interesting, engaging addition to the MLB broadcast booth. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was as a woman to hear her voice during this year’s Opening Day games, although since her introduction to baseball broadcasting she has faced unending sexism after every appearance.
Or Jen Welter, the first woman to coach an NFL team, who was hired as an assistant coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals for the 2015 training camp and preseason, although that was the only time she was given the opportunity to do so and only one other woman, Kathryn Smith with the Buffalo Bills, has been offered any coaching position in the NFL since.
Becky Hammon is an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs and was the first woman to head coach an NBA Summer League team, although venerated sports commentator Mike Francesa said, when asking if Becky would ever be a head coach in the NBA in 2015, “No shot. I mean, the odds are a million to one. And if it wasn’t for Gregg — if it wasn’t the most the most dominant coach in the league doing that, I’m not sure anyone else would even hire a woman right now.”
Nancy Lieberman is also an assistant NBA coach, for the Sacramento Kings, and with good reason: she’s a Hall of Famer, a two time Olympian, three time All-American, and former WNBA coach.
Sarah Thomas was hired as the NFL’s first full-time female official in 2015, after two seasons of working as a line judge in preseason games. Tough as nails, she took a hard hit on the sidelines during a Vikings Packers game and came right back up, despite sustaining a concussion and two broken bones in her wrist during the fall. She always wears her blond hair in a ponytail under her cap, however, ever since she was asked to while officiating college games by Conference USA officiating boss Gerry Austin, a former NFL referee, “so she could just blend in and avoid stereotypes”.
All of this is to say that yes, absolutely, women are smashing right through the glass backboard, and things are better than they’ve ever been for women in non-female professional sports. This is not to say, however, that all is well. Please note that all of the above achievements happened in the last 5 years, and that none of these ladies have had their roads paved with good intentions and/or support by fans, teams’ organizations, or the teams themselves, at times. Are they at a disadvantage in the NFL, for example, because unlike the NBA, there is a women’s league with a large following that women can work within and grow from? There is a lack of opportunity for experience in general with women and football, therefore the chances of a female coach are slimmer simply because they don’t have the opportunity to rise to that level of expertise. Similarly, it’s argued that women are more often than not pushed toward softball instead of baseball, so their knowledge of baseball simply isn’t as encyclopedic as a man’s who has risen through the ranks of high school, college, and MLB baseball would be. I GET it. I HEAR you. Women’s differences in physicality make it extremely difficult to compete at a pro level with men. Also, women gravitiate toward the sports they can play professionally, so baseball and football tend to fall to the wayside. Okay. Even if ALL THAT is 100% true, what is the NBA’s excuse?
In consuming sports journalism, something I do almost daily, though, the disparity is even worse. It’s either SportsCenter, whose current 42 anchors include only 15 women, or shows men yelling over one another, sometimes with an impossibly gorgeous woman as ‘moderator’ (i.e. she never gets to inject much more than a few words, or has her minute to speak at the end of the broadcast), who is never welcome to really get into the conversation flex her knowledge and opinions, when she clearly has plenty of both. The men are experts in their field too, clearly, but there is no thought put toward what they look like in their hiring. The women, however?
ESPN First Take’s old cast:
First Take’s current cast:
I feel like the disparity in the expectations in appearance between these equally capable sportscasters is rather gigantic, no? To First Take’s credit, they tried doing an all-female panel one time. It didn’t go well with their male viewers.
How about Undisputed?
Shannon is a handsome man, don’t get me wrong, and looks should not matter when hiring experts to dissect the nuances of sports. Unfortunately, they clearly do, and cleavage and lipgloss is only expected on one of the three people here.
What about my main man Colin Cowherd’s show, The Herd?
…a Sports Illustrated swimwear model. Right. I’m starting to sense a pattern here.
Not to mention the endless parade of beauty pageant veterans on the sidelines. Here are the first results from a google image search for ‘female sideline reporter’:
Ugh. A regular search gets you these results, some of which I clicked on – and immediately regretted it:
I believe my point is clear. There is one bright spot amidst the ridiculousness, and that is SC6, featuring equal time and space given to Michael and Jemele,
but their show is absolutely the exception. Otherwise, as Chicago’s ESPN 1000 Radio reporter Sarah Spain said, as reported by Isobel Markham in The Daily Beast, “You can’t win either way,” she said. “Either you’re too beautiful and you don’t know what you’re talking about,” usually, I might add, from the sideline or from between two or more men,
“or you’re too ugly and I don’t want to watch you.” The only women outside of the narrow standards of beauty set by the male-dominated sports world allowed to speak are the greats, like Cheryl Miller and Martina Navratilova, and even then, they are usually a color commentator, a guest, or somehow an addition to the array of men at the desk.
I would hope by this point you can see why, although I love love LOVE LOVE love LOVE my Cavaliers, have since I was a little girl cheering on Mark Price and Craig Ehlo (Remember The Shot? I DO) there’s never been much space for women in the ‘wide world of sports’. I don’t want a pink rhinestoned version of my team’s jersey, I JUST WANT THE DAMNED JERSEY. The last time we went to a Cavs game, the (male) Rockets fans seated behind us scoffed at my knowledge of the sport. I am NOT here for the push-up-bra styling in journalism a la Fox News that is rampant in sports reporting, nor am I here for excuses from professional male sports (ESPECIALLY my favorite, basketball) on why there isn’t more parity between men and women on the court, on the bench, or at the mic. WOMEN LIKE SPORTS. WOMEN PLAY SPORTS. Sometimes in professional leagues, in games that could and should be aired, but aren’t. Sometimes there’s little opportunity (if any) for women to play the sports they love. Look. The status quo simply will not do, for women of my generation certainly, but ESPECIALLY for the girls growing up with few role models in the sports they grow up watching. Men, as in the rest of your lives, it’s high time for you to move over and give us an equal seat at the sports desk.
And in my mind’s eye, *swish* I drain a 3 over Bron’s head as the crowd goes wild and Mark Jackson shouts, “Mama, there goes that woman!”