by BREANA BACON
The equivalence of females to males has been a topic discussed for decades, especially in the sports sector. From Billie Jean King breaking the barrier to female athletes being compensated to Mo’ne Davis’ iron arm, the place for females in sports is still debated on.
With a surge in the visibility of women in the field of sports journalism, the question of whether the opinion of a woman on sports is valued or not has surfaced.
This weekend, Merrill College of Journalism and the Newseum collaborated to produce an all-female panel of distinguished sports journalists to defend their roles in the world of journalism and talk about the future of sports reporting for women.
Panelists included Mary Byrne, managing sports editor of USAToday, Marcia Keegan, ESPN’s vice president for production, Lesley Visser, sports reporter for CBS Sports and “The NFL Today,” Andrea Kremer, sports reporter for HBO’s “Real Sports” and the NFL Network, Monica McNutt, former Georgetown University guard and reporter for NewsChannel 8, and Rachel Nichols, sports reporter for CNN and Turner Sports. The event was moderated by George Solomon, director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and Christine Brennan, USAToday columnist and commentator for ABC News, CNN and PBS.
The panelists were asked to open the discussion with their views on the state of female sports journalism, to which Marcia Keegan told a short story about when Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked about there being four women on the Supreme Court bench. Keegan said the reporter asked Ginsburg how many women should actually be on the bench now that there are four of them of the nine justices and Ginsburg replied: “Nine.” Keegan used this reference to explain that women have come a long way in many fields, but there is still a long journey ahead.
Andrea Kremer used her introduction to remind everyone in the audience that the Newseum was a great reason to become a journalist. She also asserted that growing up, the idea of being a female journalist, much less a sports journalist was an anomaly.
A recurring topic on the panel was the possibility of making journalism completely gender-fluid and removing the title “female” from the beginning of a sports journalist’s title. Rachel Nichols included a statistic found in The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s AP Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card stating that as of 2012, 88.3% of sports reporters were men. Despite the statistic, Nichols, argued to be one of the most influential women in sports, stated that she was proud that the small percentage of women part of the sports journalism community have worked hard to make themselves “part of the national conversation,” but hopes that in the future, more women will be called upon to lead the national conversation.
Andrea Kremer raised the topic of the relevance the female opinion of sports and condemned articles such as the one published in Men’s Health Magazine explaining how to “properly talk to women about sports.” Lesley Visser, the only female in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, briefly discussed the importance of shows such as Kremer’s and her’s, titled “We Need to Talk,” the first nationally aired, all-female, hourlong sports talk show featuring Kremer and Visser along with pro sports greats Laila Ali and Lisa Leslie, and Tracy Wolfson, NFL on CBS lead reporter.
Another topic discussed was the need for female executives in the arena of sports journalism. Kremer and Nichols both mentioned the importance of young female journalists having more role models than just those who work on the sidelines of games. Keegan brought up the impact that Title IX had on the equality of women and men in sports and sports media, and also the opportunities that the act gave to place women like her in positions of power in sports journalism.
Kremer made an appeal for the less glamorized jobs in sports journalists and explained that although everyone wants to be on television, all of the panelists were first writers and still write, and those on television were once members of the production team. She emphasized that following that path can prove to be more beneficial than aspiring journalists may believe.
All of the panelists explained the importance of hard work and being patient and named them as some of the keys to being successful in this field driven by men. Mary Byrne chimed in with the importance of “kicking ass” and making oneself noticed by people like her. She also stressed that making sacrifices in order to become successful is a prominent part of being a sports journalist.
“It’s a tough life. With that being said, it’s pretty freakin’ fantastic,” Byrne said.