Why female sports writers may never break the mold

It’s a response I never hear in discussions about my day job, education, hobbies, or other seemingly neutral topics. For that, I’m grateful. However, should I mention I write for a basketball blog, it’s the response I’m certain to be met with:

“Oh. You must be their token woman.”

Being a female sports writer in a man’s world is a particularly challenging experience. On one hand, I understand why people might assume I’m the publication’s proverbial trophy of diversity. In fact, according to a 2014 study from Women’s Media Center, less than 10% (9.7) of sports columnists are females. And, a mere 1.09% of the sports talk radio hosts named to Talkers magazine’s “Heavy Hundred” list were women.

On the other hand, you’d have to be at least a bit delusional to believe there isn’t a difference between how men and women are perceived in the world of sports commentary.

Here’s the thing. I don’t mess with the topic of gender equality very often. No matter how pure a writer’s intentions may be, someone will always find a way to demonize them when that can of worms is opened. But, I just can’t keep quiet about how aggravating I find this particular topic.

For example, take a look at the results of an otherwise naïve Internet search. Recently, I attempted to compile a list of successful female sports journalists. I wanted to learn from them, study their work, and maybe even reach out for advice. Instead, the search results revealed articles I was not expecting.

Google’s results for “top female sports writers” include:

  • The hottest female sports reporters – Men’s Fitness
  • Top 30 Hottest Female Sports Reporters – Total Sportek
  • The 15 Hottest Female Sports Reporters – TheRichest
  • Top 15 Hottest Sideline Reporters In Sports – TheSportster
  • Top 10 Hottest Female NFL Reporters – TheRichest
  • 10 Hottest Female Sports Reporters In the World – AllRookie

female sports writers

 

In fact, of the first page of results, The Huffington Post and Bleacher Report were among the minuscule amount of sources that excluded the word “hottest” from the title.

Alternatively, take a look at the results for the male version of the search:

  • Top 50 Sports Writers to Follow on Twitter – International Business Times
  • 14 Sports Reporters Who Worked Ridiculously Hard to Get Where They Are – Business Insider
  • The 30 Best Twitter Accounts in All of Sports – Men’s Journal
  • SI’s Twitter 100 – Sports Illustrated
  • MLB Top Writers – Bleacher Report
  • The Best American Sports Writing of the Decade – Deadspin

female sports writers

 

Not only do these results lack reference to physical appearance, they don’t mention gender at all.

While there are numerous technical factors that go into the rankings of websites, the fundamentals of search engine optimization reveal that top articles:

  • possess frequently searched for keywords,
  • are linked to by other sources, and
  • have authority.

This is important because it means these “hottest women sports writers” articles appear in otherwise unrelated searches because people are looking for them, people are sharing them, and they originate from sites we recognize.

It also reveals that people are not searching for male sports writers with hot bodies or large assets. Likewise, publications aren’t writing about the bodies of male sports journalists. Because, what’s the point?

In the world of sports, there’s no denying that male athletes dominate in popularity. But just because women don’t play the game doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it.

So, what can we do?

If we want women to be equally respected for writing and reporting about subjects like sports, we have to make changes at the top. Only recently have women had the right to go into players’ locker rooms to conduct interviews. And even then, they face the fear (and unfortunate reality) of vulgarity and inappropriate commentary.

Of the 10 writers currently listed on NBA.com, none are women. At the time of the Women’s Media Center survey, 23 of 35 female writers worked for ESPN. (Of note: In an attempt to discover how ESPN helped close this gender gap, I searched: “ESPN female sports writers.” The first result was Men’s Fitness’ “The hottest female sports reporters.”)

To prove ourselves legitimate, we must first allow our voices to be heard.

Women, it’s time to speak up. Don’t keep your knowledge to yourself. Enter the workplace bracket. Yell when referees make a ridiculous call. Send me your writing, and I’ll promote it. Heck, I may even publish it right here on this blog.

Because, we have to recognize those female voices.

This applies to both men and women. If a woman joins your sports conversation, don’t brush her away or fact check everything that comes out of her mouth. And do your best to resist the evident temptation to legitimize her findings based solely on her looks or clothing. And ladies, we have to stop tearing each other down. I promise, every scenario is not a race to the top.

In order to succeed, we have to support each other.

It’s our responsibility to seek out and share the work of female journalists. If we don’t encourage others to break the mold, there may never be a collection of successful female writers from which our daughters can be inspired.

My fellow sports writers, I hope you won’t give up. You may not be in the results for “top female sports writer” right now. But someday, I hope you are. And I hope it’s for all the right reasons.


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