What is it like to be a woman in sports media?

Last week, I answered the question I get asked most by students looking to work in sports: should you go to law school? This week, I’m going to tackle the question I get asked almost as much: what are the advantages and disadvantages to being a woman working in sports media?

Let me start the conversation off by saying two things. First, I haven’t spent that long in sports media, and I can only speak to my own experience. Which, brings me to my second point – I was a lawyer before I was a sports business reporter. Another field often viewed as male-dominated. I’m not sure if that colors my opinion at all, but it’s worth noting.

Let’s start with the advantages, because I do believe there are some. I do think it was easier for me to stand out as a female. This might not have been true if I was aspiring to be a sideline reporter (where there are plenty of females to compete with), but it was true in terms of legal and business analysis of sports. I embraced being a female and how it might help me stand apart. That’ s part of why I chose the name SportsBizMiss on Twitter. Sports business is still a relatively small area in terms of journalists who devote themselves to it full time and even smaller when you count just the females.

That being said, being female isn’t enough.

You need to work hard and produce quality content. Maybe if you’re drop dead gorgeous it’s enough, but I still want to believe you have to back it up with talent and hard work.

Another advantage to being female – and I found this to be true in law as well – is that a lot of people are going to underestimate you. Some might file it under disadvantage, because it means I’ve been mistaken as an assistant instead of an attorney (on more than one occasion), but I have no problem being underestimated. Sometimes that means someone says more than they mean to or assumes you won’t understand the situation. Being underestimated can be used to your advantage.

Being a female in sports media is also fun because I get to talk to so many bright, talented young women. You seek me out for advice, invite me to your schools for speeches and share your wonderful stories. While I meet many talented young men as well (I love you too, guys!), I find young women aspiring to work in sports have different questions and concerns, and I really enjoy sharing my experience with you all.

One concern a lot of female students express to me is that they will be poorly treated by male colleagues.

I can honestly say that not once in my sports media career has a male colleague ever treated me with any disrespect or otherwise caused me to feel as though I’m being treated differently because I’m a woman. That’s a testament to all the incredible men I’ve worked with at ESPN, Comcast Sports Southeast, Forbes.com, Pulse Network and the dozens of radio shows who’ve had me as a guest.

However, some of the fears young women share with me are well-founded. Principally, the fear that being a woman in sports media invites scrutiny, both of your appearance and your intelligence.

Any time you put yourself out there for public consumption you’re vulnerable to attack. I’ve had my fair share, so I’m going to share with you the one time that most affected me.

Last fall, a message board post was started about me – primarily, about my appearance. Someone emailed me and said I was being discussed on a message board, and I clicked over to check it out. At that time, I read pretty much any and everything written about me or my work because I was always looking to improve. However, not everything out there is meant to be constructive criticism.

Here are some of the comments from the board:

she’s been beat with the bat she’s holding

She needs to stick with panned out shots. Way out

needs some work on her face

GEETH! Gums and tEETH

I’d been discussed on message boards before, but this time was different. First, the sheer volume of negative comments. I’d seen a post here or there, or received a random tweet, criticizing my appearance, but I’d never seen an entire message board full of negative comments.

Second, this one had the greatest impact because they found my weak spot. Since I was a teenager, I had hated my teeth. My gums did indeed come down too far, making my front teeth tiny. I complained (even if only in my head) every time I saw a picture of myself smiling. I had never wanted a nose job or breast implants or any other cosmetic work, but I had always wanted to fix my gum line.

In fact, at the time I read the post, I already had an appointment to fix my smile. Turns out it was an easy procedure I should have done long ago both for the health of my teeth and for my own happiness.

I don’t want you to misunderstand my message here. I’m not saying you should change anything about yourself just because of some dumb message board post. Months later on another board there was an in-depth discussion about my knees being ugly. I don’t even know if some sort of knee beautification surgery exists, but I certainly won’t be looking into it. I don’t even know what a good looking knee is supposed to look like.

What I am saying is that any insecurities you already have can be magnified when you put yourself out there for public consumption – and it’s not easy. Remember that anyone can say anything on a message board and that it’s more of a reflection on them than you. I don’t pretend to understand it, but I accept that it will happen.

I’ve also had my fair share of blogs, tweets, emails and message board posts regarding my work product. I’ve been told over and over I know nothing about [insert sport here]. I bet you can guess why? Yes, of course, it’s because I’m a girl. These types of insults follow a predictable pattern and almost always refer to you as a girl, not a woman.

That type of feedback will only bother you if you doubt your work. So, as long as you do your research and do your job, you can remain confident in the face of such ridiculous messages.

Most importantly, know that being a woman doesn’t define your career. Think of it more as a tool you bring with you, not the entire toolbox. Or maybe as an accessory and not the whole outfit. (I’m much better at sports analogies!)

All in all, I have a wonderful career, and I’m blessed to be able to share my experience with you all.

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