Fat Jokes, Locker Room Bans and Slap Threats: The Life of a Female Sports Reporter
Soccer manager David Moyes threatened to slap BBC journalist Vicki Sparks, reminding us that the sexism female sports reporters face is far from over.
by A. Big Country
“Just getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself … You still might get a slap even though you’re a woman. Careful the next time you come in.”
That’s a quote from David Moyes, who manages Sunderland, a soccer team based in the northeast UK. He said this to BBC reporter Vicki Sparks after she did her job. Moyes was coming off of a 0-0 tie, helping the team maintain the worst record in the Premier League.
The statement is offensive and threatening, and Moyes apologized. Sparks did not make a formal complaint, but the outburst is the latest in an ongoing problem in sports: the treatment of female sports reporters.
Most people see female sports journalists on the sidelines or in a booth. They are often reduced to little more than pretty faces; it’s not hard to find an “article” listing the hottest female sports reporters. What people do not see is the challenges of the job that men do not have to deal with.
In 1978, a federal judge in New York ruled that the Yankees could no longer ban women reporters from their locker rooms. Considering how many interviews are done there, it was basically impossible to do your job as a female sports reporter before that. Afterward, it was no picnic, either.
There are endless stories from women who overcame sexism to achieve their dream. One of the most esteemed female basketball reporters, Jackie MacMullan, covered the Boston Celtics in the 1980s. She persisted in her career and became one of the foremost experts on a golden era of NBA basketball. Even so, she faced a great deal of resistance to her presence in the locker room.
There are other stories, like a high school coach offering interviews at his home — while his wife is out of town. And, of course, when reporters refused the proposition, he withdrew his offer.
It’s not just players and coaches that present chauvinist hurdles to an already challenging and competitive job. Jennifer Briggs was a reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram in the 1980s and ’90s. She wrote about a number of locker-room incidents, but what she didn’t expect was the sexism outside of those doors. Fellow reporters told her she’d “better be careful not to get fat” as she ate her lunch. She would date men, only to have them quiz her on her sports knowledge, incredulous that a woman could do that job.
Even in 2017, sports is perceived as a male domain, and women are not given equal footing. You can be sure that no managers are threatening to slap male sports reporters. But it’s time to face reality: female sports reporters are just as capable as men. It’s time to stop demeaning them for doing a job they love.