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We need more women in sports journalism

As a senior in high school, I told my journalism teacher I thought I might like to be a sports journalist, and I was promptly shut down. “You’ll either be amazing, and people in this area won’t hire you because they know you’ll receive a better offer, or you’ll just be average and they’ll hire a man,” he told me. “That’s pretty much how it goes.”

Although I appreciated his pragmatic view of the job market (I get it, journalists are going to starve — I’ll defend my humanities major another day), what he was really saying has bothered me to this day. The imbalance between male and female sports journalists is outstanding, and it’s just one of several examples of the lack of representation women have in professional sports.

Last Saturday, former NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager was posthumously awarded the 2017 Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Although his basketball coverage was as unforgettable as his on-court outfits (think: interviewing LeBron James in a blue brocade suit), the attention he sought doesn’t even come close to the attention women must make to be recognized as sports reporters today. The annual Gowdy award, which was established in 1990, is for “outstanding basketball writers and broadcasters.” Given how recently it was created, it’s upsetting to see that only one female has been honored in either electronic or print media so far. Jackie MacMullan, a sports columnist, author and television personality who’s covered the NBA for ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated, won in 2010. She played Division I basketball at the University of New Hampshire and helped Larry Bird write his autobiography.

Although pro athletes often go on to become columnists and broadcasters, the best reporters are not those who have game experience, but those who know the strategies, are analytical, have good communication skills and are personable. There are plenty of female journalists with these skills, yet they’re not being recognized. Why aren’t as many women interested or permitted into the world of sports?

Part of the problem is that many things about professional sports — from the coverage to the coaching staff — reinforce the idea that it’s a man’s world. The Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) found that TV networks in March 2009 aired 60 stories about men’s NCAA basketball, compared to a whopping zero for women. Though Title IX has ensured that women have equal opportunities, those opportunities seem to go unrecognized. A lack of media representation makes it seem like women’s sports don’t matter that much — our society wants women to pick up a novelty t-shirt and find the kiss cam before they would ever think to pick up a basketball.

This goes for leadership, too. WSF reports that women coach only about 23 percent of all college teams today, and that while many female coaches deal with gender biases, few male coaches deal with the same issues. Representation is just as important within sports as it is with the systems surrounding them. In a time when the playing field has been leveled by sports technology, medicine and years of experience, women can offer new perspectives on games that will keep things fresh — and equal.

Women need much more representation in sports. Although representation starts within teams, the effects of gender bias have spread to affect real careers. It’s not just a game anymore.

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