As I sat on the bleachers and watched a La Verne football game in the sun, two men approached me and asked what I was doing. With my reporter’s notebook and pen in hand, I told them I was covering the game for the school newspaper, the Campus Times.
Then they asked why and looked at each other with a lost look before one said, “Oh that’s interesting because you’re a woman covering sports. That’s so odd and unlikely.”
The guys wrapped up the idiotic conversation with a “good luck” because I was going to need it in a world “mainly for men” and my odds were “close to zero” for making it in my chosen career, so I should start looking for a different passion.
Then they walked up the bleachers to take a seat.
As ridiculous as it may seem, my feelings were hurt, and I was crushed for a few moments. I decided to reaffirm my commitment to sports writing. And I went to do some research of my own about it.
What I found gave me pause.
A 2015 report by the Women’s Media Center, titled “The Status of Women in U.S. Media Report,” found that women are assigned to report stories at a substantially lower rate than men.
In sports, the disparity was especially stark: women reported 10.2 percent of the stories, compared to 89.7 percent by men.
“I always want the most qualified individual to work in a position. This isn’t always the case in the sports media industry and it is unfortunate, but at the same time understandable because people are resistant to change,” Rhett Grametbauer, producer of the NFL documentary “25,000 Miles To Glory.”
Grametbauer wrote a blog post on the Huffington Post “Women Have No Place In Professional Sports.” He wrote the article because of a Cleveland sports radio show calling the Buffalo Bills hiring a female coach “absurd” and found their comments ignorant.
“In my opinion, this just perpetuates the image that women are less than men when it comes to sports media,” Grametbauer said.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s report compared data from 2010 to 2014, which showed the number of female assistant sports editors and sports editors increased. The number of female assistant sports editors went up from 10.5 to 17.2 and sports editors went up from 6.3 to 9.6 percent.
According to a census report by the American Society of News Editors, newsrooms in 2013 were composed of 64 percent men and 36 percent women. Out of that, 90 percent were male editors.
In my own informal survey among 40 athletes at the University of La Verne, 38 of them said a male reporter’s name comes to mind when thinking about famous sports reporters. Among the same group, all 40 agreed that women reporters are treated differently from men.
“I feel it’s unfortunate that female reporters are treated differently as they could be just as educated in the field they’re reporting on,” said Katherine Kibbe, a senior business administration major and pitcher for the La Verne softball team. “I could see why there would be a prejudice against women because we can’t play certain sports. So say a woman is reporting on football, she wouldn’t have the same insight as a man who actually played. However, I’m sure there are plenty of male reporters reporting on sports they didn’t play either, so in that instance the woman is no less qualified than that man and should be treated as such.”
This sort of thinking is just one of the many obstacles women sports journalists face.
One historic obstacle was getting locker room access. Women struggled to get into the locker rooms, while men did not, simply because of their gender.
After graduating from Wellesley College in 1973, Melissa Ludtke started working for ABC Sports, where she had what she called the “lowest job on the round,” the “gofer.” She just ran errands for the male broadcasters and producers she worked with. Then she got the job as a reporter-researcher with Sports Illustrated, after being rejected the first time.
“It was the place to be. It touched everything I wanted to do at the time,” Ludtke said in a recent phone interview from her home in Boston. She has been around sports her whole life and cannot remember a time when she was not. So working in the sports world was something she always knew she wanted.
What Ludtke learned quickly while being in the bullpen of rookie reporters was that most of the people who came to work at the magazine had worked for their college newspapers and did a lot of sports coverage. She had done none of that. It was all new to her, but she grew up around sports and knew it was something she wanted to do.
“While at the same time it was fun and exciting, it was also intimidating because of how far behind I was in terms of those around me,” Ludtke said.
A capable reporter, despite being the only one with no prior experience in sports reporting, Ludtke got into the middle of a controversy that many remember today for allowing women journalists to enter locker rooms.
In 1977, she was asked to cover the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, she was told by the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office she was not allowed in the teams’ locker rooms after the game because she was a woman. Ludtke and Time, Inc., the parent company of Sports Illustrated, filed a civil lawsuit against the Yankees, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn, American League President Leland MacPhail and the city of New York.
“That was pretty hard to deal with and very scary. It was crazy to open up a newspaper and see an article about this whole debacle and me, with many people wanting to interview me and having to do a six-minute interview live on TV,” Ludtke said. “It was very difficult to read the things that many people wanted to say about me and my lawsuit that were not flattering.”
On Sept. 25, 1978, U.S. District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled that the Yankees could no longer enforce an MLB policy that banned female reporters in the locker rooms on the grounds that it gave male reporters an unfair professional advantage and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
“That ended up being a situation where I was grateful we had the courts to turn too,” Ludtke said. “Obviously, it was great to stand up for myself and other women too. I grew up with parents who grew up with equality and taught me I could do anything I wanted to do if I believed in myself.”
The Yankees complied with the equal-access order by allowing all reporters 10 minutes to interview players, then asking them to leave for 30 minutes.
Today, female college reporters like Jen Ramos do not have much of an issue of conducting interviews after a teams cool down period and understands to give the players time to collect themselves.
Ramos, a freelance baseball journalist, is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California.
Ramos said when she interviews male athletes she is not treated differently because they know who she is and are aware of her qualifications.
But she said it’s still a challenge to get into the locker room for interviews.
“I know each team is set up differently and I don’t necessarily fault all teams for that, but I do know that some teams treat female reporters differently than male reporters,” Ramos said.
Jill Lopez, Fox News West Reporter, said that if one is qualified, the door should always be open for everyone.
“I can’t tell you how many sporting events I go to and I look up and it’s a room full of men,” Lopez said. “It depends on the sport, so there are plenty females in the industry. But sometimes you’re reminded there aren’t as many women in the sports industry as you’d think.”
Women’s sports journalists’ abilities are too often questioned and unappreciated. To those who judge a woman in that role are close-minded and not ready to see a woman take action. The men who questioned me, I learned their opinions were irrelevant and it did not change what I wanted to do. Instead, it was a fuel to my passion and drive to make sure I not only prove them wrong, but those who doubted me.
Jolene Nacapuy can be reached at email@example.com.
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