Brew: Female sports journalists deserve recognition

Originally posted on February 4th, 2014. Printed in the University Daily Kansan February 5th, 2014.

Nothing grinds my gears more than hearing, “You’re a girl. You know nothing about sports.” Men don’t need to prove themselves before spewing a sports opinion. Why would I need to lay out my expertise and experience to do so?

These days, there are more and more female sportswriters and broadcasters. They didn’t come on the air overnight; there was some trailblazing.  Some of the earliest women sportscasters started their careers before my parents were in elementary school.

Jane Chastain is credited for being the first woman to do play-by-play commentary for the NFL and the first woman to work for a large network for sportscasting. She covered both college football and NFL, along with some coverage of NBA games back in the late 1960s to the late 1970s.

Jeannie Morris, the wife of Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Morris, covered NFL games in the 1970s, but she wasn’t given the same treatment as the men. Morris wasn’t allowed to work in the press box because she was a woman. Because of that rule, she had to cover a Vikings-Bears game in a blizzard while sitting above the press box.

Leandra Reilly was the first woman to do play-by-play commentary for the NBA in the late 1970s and once said, “The networks used to pick women for their looks, but now they require more qualifications. Some may still hire a woman just because she is a woman and the network needs a minority in the field.”

Some of the other early women pioneers in the field of sportscasting are Donna de Varona, Gayle Gardner and Lesley Visser.

Two of the more aptly known pioneers for women in sports media are Robin Roberts and Doris Burke. Roberts started her career with ESPN in 1990, while Burke started hers just six years later. Both women played college basketball and have been recognized for their achievements on the court and in front of the camera. Roberts is an inductee  of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and Burke was the fifth woman to be added to the Providence Hall of Fame.

All of the aforementioned women and others who went above and beyond what society expected them to do made way for the women who are in the field today. Now, it’s rare to see a televised game without a woman on camera.

Just to mention some names: Erin Andrews, Linda Cohn, Michelle Beadle, Sara Carbonero, Hannah Storm, Alex Flanagan, Lindsay Czarniak, Jenn Brown, Pam Oliver… need I say more?

Women are everywhere when it comes to sports coverage these days. At your very own Kansan, there are two of us girls on the sports staff this semester. I have the softball and swimming and diving beats. Ellen Balentine covers the rowing team beat.

Being female doesn’t automatically disqualify us from knowing, talking about or working with sports. Just because it could be a little “intimidating” to listen to a female talk sports, embrace it, because women in the sports journalism industry aren’t going anywhere.

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