Earlier this year, RMNB’s Cara Bahniuk wrote about the fact that The Washington Post is the only newspaper in the world to have four professional sports beats covered by women. Recognizing how atypical that is, CBS Sports Network recently sat down with those four women to talk about the challenges of being a woman in sports journalism and the need for more representation within the field.
Isabelle Khurshudyan (Capitals), Liz Clarke (Redskins), Chelsea Janes (Nationals), and Candace Buckner (Wizards) all joined the Post at some point during the last 20 years, and have all been part of a pioneering group of talented women paving the way for future female sports journalists.
The women have an array of impressive educational and career experience in the field, but still noted in the interview that they often feel the need to prove themselves to their male counterparts, and even to their audiences.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 6, 2017
Janes acknowledged the need as a female beat reporter to “[prove] that you belong, and that you can talk about the game the same way.” With this, she shared an anecdote proving that she had made her worth as a writer known to at least one person. Janes said that she recently received an email from a 77-year-old man who had once refused to read her pieces because of her gender, but who now is a fan of work based off of the undeniable strength of her writing.
Additionally, the women ruminated on their experiences with having to engage in sports journalism a bit differently than their male counterparts. For example, while male beat reporters might not see a problem with going out to get a drink with a player in order to get to know them and work more effectively with them. Female sports writers often stay away from doing so for fear that their intentions will be misconstrued.
Buckner said “I’ve heard from some of my peers who are male, who have gone out to bars after games with players that they cover, that have been to barbecues and other venues that I cannot… I think it’s easier for a guy to get to know them on a personal level. They can go through the front door but I’m going to go around another way.”
Janes echoed this, saying “Maybe it would be harmless, but it’s just not worth even broaching” because of the potential consequences and ramifications.
The four female beat reporters featured in the interview weren’t the only women in the room who have played a part in opening up more doors for female sports journalists. The interviewer, Lesley Visser, is a trailblazer herself.
Visser was the first female beat reporter in the NFL, assigned to cover the New England Patriots in 1976. Reflecting on how much has changed for women in the sports world, Visser said “When I started at the Boston Globe, there wasn’t even a ladies’ room, because there were no other women.”
It’s obvious from Visser’s comments that representation of women in sports writing has come a long way in the past few decades. Even so, there is still massive room for improvement. A 2013 Associated Press Sports Editors-commissioned report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that although there are more women engaged in professional sports journalism now, the field is still overwhelming comprised of white males. Most of the progress in the endeavor of increasing gender representation has come from the efforts of ESPN to diversify their hiring. With ESPN’s recent progress taken out of the equation, the situation looks far more bleak for women.
It is inarguable that representation matters. Buckner recently expounded on this in a perspective piece for The Washington Post expressing her excitement for this week’s tennis match between two black women, Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens. In the piece, Buckner said “It’s about being inspired and seeing someone like you succeed.”
“You have to be able to see somebody that looks like you before you can even have that mental image and say ‘I can do that,’ Buckner elaborated in the interview with CBS. “So I’m proud that in a small way, there are younger journalists who look like me, who can look at me, and say that they can do the exact same thing. Not that I’m on a pedestal, not that I’m doing some great thing, but that they can see somebody who looks like them.”
Like Buckner expressed in her piece for the Post, it’s the time that we “unabashedly root for representation and role models.” Let us praise the fact that our city has provided a venue for four talented women to do that, and let us always continue to strive towards more equal representation in order to inspire the next generation of great female sports writers to continue covering the sports we all love.
Headline photo: @CandaceDBuckner
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