Female sports journalists discuss sexism, male bias in media

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Five minutes after the article is published, notifications flood Dan Solomon’s phone. A quick glance shows him the criticism that fans are tweeting, but it’s geared toward his female colleague and co-writer of the piece, Jessica Luther. Across the city, Luther’s phone stays silent. Having turned off alerts years ago, she keeps the “haters and trolls” at bay to focus on her work. 

“It’s always fascinating when a guy suddenly has to deal with my mentions,” Luther said. “They get to see sort of the difference in what the hate looks like”

In a male-dominated industry, female sports journalists often face discrimination and underrepresentation regardless of their knowledge or experience; they often have to work much harder to receive less respect than their male counterparts. From being questioned about their qualifications to interrogated about trivial facts, this is only a small part of the intense scrutiny these women face on a daily basis.

Freelance sports journalist Luther chuckles at these generalizations not because they’re humorous, but because they’re true.

“You talk to any woman who covers sports and she will tell you about the guy who wants to quiz her,” Luther said. “There’s famous tweets like ‘Oh, you think you’re a sports fan? What’s the blood type of Pete Carroll?’”

Disguised as jokes, the implications behind these seemingly harmless comments refer to the much more serious matter of gender representation in the field. Still seen as a men’s area of expertise, Jennifer McClearen, a radio-television-film professor, said the stigma that women face is only part of the problem.

“Any time you’re a minoritized group, the majority tends to support itself instead of cultivating talents of people who are not as often represented,” McClearen said. “So if there aren’t other women, then those women journalists are not getting the mentorship that they need.”

Luther cites mentorship as being “critical” to her success. McClearen refers to it as a “support system.” Texas Student Television reporter junior Madison Hager said she looks up to Samantha Ponder.

“Knowing that someone who has similar values and passions as me is able to be so successful yet grounded in this industry has helped me grow in my field,” Hager said.

Through giving advice and helping their mentees sort through difficult events, mentors are a key stepping stone for women in the business. Women can start to be confident in the work they are producing after encouragement and a few successes of their own. With that comes a responsibility.

“We can collectively advocate for each other and make people aware that women don’t always receive equal treatment in sports journalism,” McClearen said. “The more we can make everyone aware of these issues, the more we can start working to change it so there’s more gender balance.”

Lack of equal treatment comes in many forms. For a well-known commentator, regardless of prior achievements, a single mistake could mean endless online hate and a new reason for men to further analyze and attempt to discredit any woman in the field.

“If Beth Mowins gets something wrong in the booth, right then everyone’s gonna trash her,” Luther said. ”That will become the example of why all women should never be allowed in a booth.”

Luther said female sports journalists are hyper-aware of the impact they might have with every analysis and comment on not only their careers, but the careers of all women striving to enter the field.

“There is a way that your failure becomes a narrative,” Luther said. “You do feel these pressures, like never get anything wrong because then all women who cover sports are painted with the same brush that you are.”