Accountability and evolution

I don’t think anybody has been under the illusion, at least in my 20 years as a sports journalist, that being a female in sports media was easy. All of us have horror stories, about the men who belittled, harassed, overlooked, and clearly meant us harm.

I have made a point of trying to be a role model in sports media, taking every chance to speak to kids, students, groups, etc. about being female sports journalist and what life is like. Nearly every time, I get asked about the locker room – why I can’t go in (wrong, I do), why men are not allowed into female locker rooms (wrong, they are at the pro level), why we are not further ahead in the business, or why I wanted to go into this as a woman.

I feel all questions are good, giving a chance to start discussions.

I had an appearance as a panelist Monday evening, at Michigan Radio’s Issues and Ale public forum. Author John U. Bacon, Fab Fiver/former pro player Jimmy King and I discussed protest in sports, issues like concussions, and just the overall landscape. It was a lot of fun, and the audience questions were fantastic.

Afterwards, a woman came up to me, and floored me with a question: Given the current crazy atmosphere of women and men revealing the sexual abuse they have endured in the workplace, why aren’t women in sports media coming forward with their stories?

That is a great question to ask, and I didn’t have the thoughtful answer right at hand. I still lack the killer answer, but some of my thoughts have come together a little more.

I don’t feel that we are owed, by anyone, their “story”. If they want to say something, please do it – we are here to believe you and support you. I think that is the biggest glacier that’s moved – we are hearing victims and wanting to have their back. Some parts of our society are not entirely on board with that, still looking to victim shame or throw darts.

I think I am pretty average for a woman in sports media. We’ve all been through some shit, from our work places, the sports/athletes/coaches we cover, and the worst offender- the public. There is no polite way to say it.

We all know the bosses who have made demeaning comments and held us back. The assignments denied because it was cheaper to send two men and put them in one hotel room and not get two rooms for a male and a female. The work function where somebody gets trashed and goes over to the “sports chicks” because he heard we were sluts as the only women in the sports department. The sports editor having a file in an internal editing system, rating all the physical attributes – and grading them – of all the women in the department. The other media members on a work trip all going out to dinner to the strip club, leaving you with the choice of staying by yourself or eating at a place that makes you feel awful. Being at a professional reception, where a sports editor is recruiting over a drinks, and then delivers a nasty proposition and a butt grab.  Co-workers looking at porn and openly sexualizing athletes (oh look, the tennis player is air kissing another athlete at the net…oooh!). The public sending rape threats, commenting on how you look – or don’t look – or dress – or don’t dress. Too fat, too stupid, too blonde,  too whatever, who are you screwing to get the sports job job, token hire, n-word lover…

It’s poison. Drip. Drip. Drip. Some of this stuff I told my editors and HR. Some I didn’t. Some I forgot because I had to – until I remembered.

I’ve never been badly assaulted because of my job. Thank God. But we all have damage on our armor. Most of the time we get out of the way of the wrecking ball, using sarcasm, avoiding that person in the future, lamenting the job opportunity we will never have because so-and-so is there, and telling other women we know who to avoid at their workplaces.

The HR response for many has been, oh, that’s too bad, but you are the women in the sports department. What did you expect? (sotto voce)

After a while, you don’t want to fight all of this to do your job. You develop a plan for what your limits will be. Ignore the comments after stories. Don’t feed the trolls on Twitter and try to block them. Forward threatening voice mails to your boss. Game plan for the creeps. The witty comeback.

I am grateful for all the wonderful men – gentlemen, big brothers, editors and bosses – have my back and helped me. They were saddened to see this crap, and angry. They listened and believed, which is great. Nearly every job I have had meant a man hired me, and some took a risk by hiring a woman. Having female mentors also made all the difference. They knew, and my older sisters in the business had been through it all – many had it much worse.

So where is our swell of horror stories?

I can’t tell others what to do. You can only have your personal truth, and express it in the way that is best for you.

I do not judge those who stay silent.

I do not judge those who only tell family members and close friends.

I do not judge those who go to HR.

I do not judge those who left the business.

I do not judge those who stayed.

I do not judge those who are angry and want more.

I do not judge those who come out and tell the world and scream their truth.

I do not judge. I support all.

I demand change for all women in business. I want change. I have tried to be part of the change in my industry through AWSM and making things better where I can.

So that’s long answer to a great question, but it’s not the final answer.

Let the good people prevail. And the strong survive.

That’s what I think.




News, lies and fake news

It’s a pretty wild time to be a journalist, heck, seems like wild times for all of us in this country these days. What I am learning – and seeing – in ways I didn’t before is the change in media literacy in our society.

I have people, in casual conversation, tell me about something outrageous they saw on TV or Facebook. “How can the media do that?” Or, “Reporters are terrible because…”

I go and find out what they are talking about and it is either A) straight up opinion or commentary (aka not journalism that is reported, fact-checked, etc.) or B) the garden variety fake news click-bait shit.

When I try to explain those nuances, to people I consider decently well-informed and capable of critical thinking…I get crickets.

Media is media is media. TMZ = New York Times = Joe the blogger = fake Twitter account = responsible journalist = responsible blogger.

Which is like saying fast food = home cooked meals from Mom = going to a 5-star restaurant.

Some of these things are truly not like the other.

But for some reason, the swamp is all the swamp. Media this and that.

As always, there are great journalists, mediocre ones, terrible ones who mean well, and straight up bustas. Like any profession.

Unfortunately, the stakes are always higher for us, because poor journalism can hurt people, start rumors, damage lives and institutions. And it can take down corruption, save lives, enlighten and be a force for good when done well by strong practitioners.

But the swamp has all of these journalistic creatures living in it these days, and I am getting tired of the poisonous snakes ruining it for all of us. I tell my students at Michigan State, who also see this and are getting concerned, that the only way we win the war of credibility is by witnessing and being the truth. No short-cuts, no trolling, no clickbait.

Hopefully they carry that with them into the real world, and the rest of the community will take a finer-tune on what they consume and judge it harder.

Learning and listening

IMG_6105I’ve been busy with some lovely opportunities to share knowledge, and more importantly, listen to what others think about concussion, sports and the media.

Speaking as part of a panel of journalists at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference provided an impact chance to hear from neurologists. Quick summary: many feel the media is doing so-so job in communicating medical information. They’re wondering why facts are wrong, studies misinterpreted, and news reports are too short. And their definition of media is everything: bloggers, tweeters, reporters, even athletes themselves who are interviewed. I believe very much in both sides of that free speech equation, professional media and citizen-driven media, as they have different roles to play in getting out information, thoughts and opinion. There are powerful journalists who are good at what they do, and there are bloggers/social media types who do great jobs too in serving the public. And yes, the other side is true too, there are incompetent journalists and non-professionals. It was good to hear from the neurology community about their perceptions, as it can help me think about being a better journalist and college professor.

The other side had their thoughts heard at the Association for Women in Sports Media‘s annual convention, where Dr. Kutcher presented on concussion/sports neurology for media, and we took some questions afterwards. The whole concept of privacy for famous athletes, as in…do we in the media have a right to know a player’s medical status/diagnosis?… is something the medical profession and journalists probably will not agree on. We seek information. The medical community is sworn to protect their patients. Having these debates, which are totally smart, friendly, and actually fun, helps both sides think about what the other is trying to do. They are important, because the media may need to think more about the impact on athletes as people, and the medical community may think why we are looking for that information.