Recap: Women, Sports and Media conference

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Recap: Women, Sports and Media conference
Apr 25, 2018

By Jackie Budko

The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and espnW teamed up for a conference April 20 to bring together women working in sports media and those researching women in sports.

The Women, Sports and Media: Careers, Coverage and Consequences conference was a first-of-its-kind event that brought together women of all ages for a day of inspirational and motivational lectures and conversations at the University of Maryland.

SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan opened the conference with remarks on the importance women coming together in support of one another.

“We are an absolute force when we join together,” said Duncan.

Journalist and author Lynn Povich, espnW senior vice president Laura Gentile and Philip Merrill College of Journalism Dean Lucy Dalglish echoed Duncan’s sentiment as they welcomed more than 100 attendees to the conference at Knight Hall.

“No matter how slow change feels, know that change has been made,” said Gentile of the progress made by women in the sports media industry.

The first panel, “The Current Landscape for Women Sports Journalists,” acknowledged how far women have come in sports media but also how far they still must go to reach equality.

The trailblazing career of one of the panelists, Golf Channel executive producer Molly Solomon, served as an example. When she was promoted to her current position in 2012, she became the first woman to serve as an executive producer for a national sports network.

Still, despite Solomon’s success, barriers remain. “The biggest hurdle is getting women to the highest echelon,” said Solomon, referring to getting women into similar decision-making positions.

The two keynote addresses, one by Purdue University associate professor Cheryl Cooky and one by ESPN coordinating editor Claire Smith, expounded further upon challenges women in sports have overcome and those still to be faced.

Cooky has researched coverage of women’s sports by local and national media over since 1989. Her research showed the share of segments on women’s sports declined since her first time conducting the survey: 5.0 percent of segments surveyed talked about women’s sports in 1989, compared to 3.2 percent in 2014.

Her research also showed changes in the tone of women’s sports coverage. In 1989, Cooky observed the “humorous sexualization and trivialization of women and women’s sports.” In 2014, she found little sexualizaton or trivialization but instead “gender bland sexism” that portrayed women’s sports as boring and lackluster.

Going forward, Cooky suggested identifying the market for women’s sports and producing content directly for that audience.

After Cooky pushed for better coverage of women athletes, Smith highlighted the importance of increased diversity in the newsroom.

“The light needs to be shown on progress that we’ve made in diversity but also on the work that’s still needed,” said Smith.

Smith, who in 2017 became the first woman to win the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing, talked about her time as the African-American woman to cover Major League Baseball on a daily basis. While on the beat in 1984, she was thrown out of the the San Diego Padres’ locker room.

“You can legislate away rules but you can’t legislate ignorance,” said Smith on sexism and racism in the sports media industry.

A day full of panels and research presentations ended ended with an excerpt of “ESPN Films Nine for IX: Let Them Wear Towels,” and a post-film discussion that included Smith, former sports reporter Melissa Ludtke, ESPN play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins and New York Times sports columnist Juliet Macur.

The panelists discussed their lives as female sports journalists and gave advice to the rest of the women in the room.

“If you are going to be a trailblazer of any kind, you have to want the ball,” Mowins said.

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