Tuesday, July 21, 2009

To have come so far, with so far left to go . . .

Years ago, The Monk was a sports reporter. Not a "professional" journalist, I was an associate editor and editor of the sports section of The Cavalier Daily, Virginia's college newspaper. And considering the talent I worked with (four of my six associate editors became professional journalists; the smart ones became lawyers) and the accolades the paper routinely received, we were certainly legitimate reporters.

One endeavor I attempted was to attract female reporters to my department. It was a boys' club, no question, and that was a turn-off in recruiting. And in the late '80s and early '90s, there were not many young women interested in writing about sports at Virginia generally -- football was a dating event and drunkfest, basketball games were covered by editors, and other than soccer, the other sports were uninteresting. I made little traction. My successor as editor did groom a reporter for our section and she became the first female associate sports editor at the paper in about five years and maybe the third or fourth ever. She was also too smart for the business -- she's a partner at a law firm in the Tidewater area.

Access to the players was another issue: after a game at Kansas, Virginia's strength coach barred a female reporter from the football locker room by physically blocking her path. And if a female reporter gained access, the default for jocks is to see "female" and not "reporter" -- just ask Lisa Olson or Suzy Kolber.

There are a lot of obstacles for female sports reporters to achieve success and respect, not just the old warhorse men who think women and sports reporting don't mix. Some are their own colleagues, like Carolyn Hughes who committed adultery with pitcher Derek Lowe, and Lisa Guerrero -- a pretty face with vacant space above her neck. Some are the network fools, like the ones at ABC who decided to axe pioneer Lesley Visser because they thought she was too old (after that backlash and Guerrero's incompetence, ABC has used old pro Michelle Tafoya on NBA broadcasts). Some, unfortunately, are the ones who've achieved decent positions but are not good at their jobs (Pam Ward -- seriously, why doesn't ESPN just replace her in all assignments with Beth Mowins who can actually call a game?).

And heaven forfend if: (1) you're a female sports reporter; (2) you're good at the job; (3) you're attractive. Melissa Stark had to fight for acceptance. But she never faced this: getting videotaped nude after undressing in her hotel room by a stalker.

That's what happened to Erin Andrews, the extremely popular and perpetually genial ESPN sideline reporter. Andrews is pretty good at her job, and that's not easy because sideline reporting is a job in which it is more difficult to be good than to suck. She's also off-the-charts popular because she's attractive, friendly, and covers primarily college sports.

Whoever taped and posted that video should be prosecuted criminally. Andrews has vowed to kick his a** through the legal system. Good. If so, he'll get what he deserves.

But female sports reporters will have another inconceivably heinous thing to worry about while fighting for respect in a male-dominated business.

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