Women have always been in the minority in the sports industry, but over the past few years they have broken barriers and accomplished things no man thought would happen. They integrated a field that was once male-only and made it their own.
Despite this, many women entered the sports industry unaware of the sexual harassment and gender bias they would have to endure.
One of the most discussed instances of gender bias in the sports industry happened in 2015 when former Olympic gold medal winner Jessica Mendoza call an MLB postseason game. The backlash she received was sexist, but predictable.
Popular Atlanta sports radio host Mike Bell took to Twitter to make his disappointment known: “Yes T— McGhee, when you’re up there hitting the softball you see a lot of 95 mile an hour cutters?” Bell said about Mendoza who played softball.
Many others also took to Twitter to show their disappointment. The reason behind their disappointment was not because Mendoza didn’t know the game of baseball, but because she was a woman and hearing a woman talk during a baseball game “ruined” their viewing experience.
While the number of women in the sports broadcasting industry may be increasing, the amount of gender bias these women receive is not decreasing. Not enough, that is, according to the people who know the industry.
“The only problem I tend to have is with viewers,” Breland Moore, who works for WHEC News10NBC as an anchor and reporter covering the Buffalo Bills, said. “They will send inappropriate mail, tweets and comments that are never constructive and are usually directed at my gender.”
She described viewers as ruthless and unfair.
“My [male] coworker and I have played a game during podcasts where we say the exact same thing, almost verbatim. It never fails, I’m always the one being called stupid,” Moore said. “Things like that bother me.”
Moore also noted there are only three women working for the Buffalo Bills compared to a room full of men, and at times they do have to prove themselves.
Laura Okmin, a reporter on FOX’s NFL coverage, who teams up with play-by-play announcer Chris Myers and analyst Daryl Johnston to call games, shared her experiences
“In the beginning of my career I experienced a lot of bias. Back then the first question from people was ‘Do you know anything about sports?’ and there were constant quizzes,” Okmin said.
“That was the biggest thing because people didn’t ask male sports reporters or broadcasters those kinds of questions,” she added. “Even 25 years later, those questions are still asked and there’s still the feeling of, ‘Oh, you’re a woman in sports, do you know what you’re talking about?’”
Okmin said being a woman in the sports industry means constantly having to prove yourself, your worth — that you belong, you know how to do your job and you know what you’re talking about.
“As a young woman and reporter, that was the hardest thing to get used to and to get out of my head so I didn’t feel that way,” Okmin said. “Other people can question if you belong, but you shouldn’t have to because women belong [in the sports industry] just as much as men.”
Even with more women in the industry now than when Okmin began her career, women are still asked the same questions and are forced to take quizzes to prove their knowledge. Okmin described this as “depressing and disappointing.”
As a result, Okmin launched her own company in 2011, GALvanize, to help train and mentor young women in the sports world. The idea behind the company was to give young women something she didn’t have growing up — a network of other women.
By conducting seminars around the country, GALvanize boot camps teach women to build their own foundations by establishing relationships, gaining confidence, going deeper in their interviews and empowering themselves and each other.
Okmin expressed she wants to use her company to get more women involved in the business and become better reporters, but to also deal with the bias in the workplace.
“I started this company for women in sports to become better reporters, but the bigger reason being I wanted to mentor and help women deal with and navigate all the bias,” Okmin said.
Guy Harrison, an assistant professor at Youngstown State University, holds his doctorate in journalism and mass communications from Arizona State University. For his dissertation, Harrison conducted extensive research on women in the sports broadcasting industry.
“It has always been an intellectual curiosity of mine,” Harrison said.
He explained the industry is still not a level playing field for women. It doesn’t matter if you watch ESPN and see a least one woman on SportsCenter, women still face issues behind the scenes that their male counterparts don’t have to deal with.
“Even if people say sexism doesn’t exist, we know that it does. It has just changed; it looks different,” Harrison said. “Not only is it [harassment] still happening, but it’s placed on women’s shoulders to overcome it without any sort of support from their superiors.”
Many will say if a woman is going to enter a male-dominated field, they have to expect some level of harassment, however, Harrison disagrees.
“What my findings show is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The fact is by telling women to just ignore it and get over it, the industry is kind of punting on fixing the issues,” he said. “When we tell women to get over it, or to just deal with it, it’s problematic.”
A 2018 report from Women in Sport, an organization that researches women in sports and their rewards, found almost 40 percent of women working in the sports industry have experienced some type of discrimination because of their sex.
“Prepare for it, so it doesn’t rock you. You will feel it, you will feel some type of bias or sexual harassment,” Okmin said. “You can’t talk to a woman in this business who hasn’t gone through it.”
For now, women can worry less knowing progress is being made and progress will not stop being made until the sports industry knows no gender.