Ignoring the stereotype
Just about every job has a stereotype associated with it – that picture we create in our heads as small children that we try to alter as we grow older. Many of these images we create and foster involve the gender of those in the occupation. People think firefighter and they imagine it being a man’s job. Meanwhile, many people associate being a nurse or a teacher with being a woman. We know that these stereotypes are wrong, but we still grow up believing them.
Out of all of those generalities, however specific they are to the gender of a person, very few have to do with the actual appearance of the person. That is what makes the stereotype about women in sports journalism so incredibly frustrating. When people think about sports writers and broadcasters, they assume that they are male – sports journalism is a male-dominated profession. But if female sports journalists are mentioned there is this assumption that they must look like models.
Male sports journalists are not held up to this standard, or at least the last time I checked they were not.
My frustration was reignited earlier this week when I read an interview that Sports Illustrated conducted with Charles Barkley, a former basketball star and current sports broadcaster. For the majority of the interview Barkley discussed different basketball players, his relationship with Michael Jordan and some of the storylines that will come out of the NBA this year. That was all fine, I have no problems there. Toward the end of the interview, however, Barkley started a slippery slope.
The interviewer asked Barkley for his opinion on sideline reporters in a broadcast. Barkley responded that he is not a fan. He does not think that asking a coach questions during halftime is a good idea because a coach has not even digested the problems that the team has had. I have no problems with this – that is a completely legitimate opinion, and it was well argued in the interview.
“That’s why I love interviews with Gregg Popovich,” the interviewer said. “He’s great television when he makes reporters uncomfortable.”
“Oh, he’s great,” Barkley responded. “But I will tell you one form of discrimination no one ever talks about regarding sideline reporters.”
“What’s that?” the reporter asked.
“If you are an ugly woman, you have no chance of getting a TV job,” Barkley said.
This would be the point in the conversation that lit a fuse inside of me, but I had not become truly frustrated.
“But if you dress like Craig Sager, you can still get hired, right?” the interviewer responded, referring to a sideline reporter known for wearing velvet suits and colorful ties as well as other unique clothing.
“Hey, I think you have to dress like Sager to get a job now. I will say this: They have hot, great-looking women on TV now. But if you are an ugly woman, you ain’t got no chance of getting a TV job.”
Good thing the interview abruptly ended there because I am pretty sure I would have become even more upset if the article continued.
Here is the problem with what Barkley said and how the interviewer reacted: Barkley referred to the situation as discrimination that what he calls “ugly” women are never hired as sideline reporters. Yet, at no point does he suggest a solution; rather, he continues to put down any prospect of a woman who is not “hot” getting a sideline job. Furthermore, the interviewer seems to take what Barkley said as a joke by bringing up Craig Sager.
“But if you are an ugly woman, you ain’t got no chance of getting a TV job.”
That last sentence needed repeating.
I did not enter into this field because I thought men would enjoy watching me talk about sports on their TV. I decided to become a sports journalist because I wanted to be the person delivering the news to people who look at sports as more than just a game. I want to be the person whose article gets clipped out of the newspaper and saved when a team wins the World Series. And 10 years later when that person finds that crinkled up piece of paper, browned with age and inevitably tattered on the edges, they will read that article one more time and remember a moment when they were truly happy.
I am not here so that you can look at me and judge my outward appearance. If that were the reason I was going into the field, I would not spend quite as much time and money on my education.
So here is what I have decided. I am not going to focus on breaking the stereotype, and I encourage other women in the sports field not to focus on it either. I think we should ignore it because I do not think we should become caught up in a battle of who is hot and who is not. Instead, let’s work on making our writing better, reporting better and leave the physical attributes behind. Then maybe, one day all of us can rest easy knowing that someone enjoyed our work because it was something we put effort into, and not because of how we appeared while we were creating it.