Today, more women are sports fans than ever before. Yet, women in sports journalism and media are still facing discrimination for trying to step into the traditional men’s club.
With the help of her employer, Kate Fagan of ESPN optimistically see’s her gender as an asset to help her change and diversify the industry for the better.
According to the Women’s Media Center’s report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014, only 14.6 percent of sports media staffers are women. However, without ESPN in the mix, these numbers would plummet.
“It’s not a coincidence. ESPN wants people from different backgrounds talking about sports,” said Fagan, a regular panelist on the ESPN talk show Around the Horn.
“It’s the right thing to do and it makes business sense too. You want people to turn on the TV. Viewers connect better when they can relate to whom they’re watching.”
Though she’s a talented journalist, with her work having been noted in the anthology of The Best American Sports Writing2013, some still believe that a women’s opinion on sports shouldn’t be broadcasted by a major media outlet.
“When I think of a woman in sports media, I picture a well-spoken smokeshow sideline reporter. Women do a great job there,” says Joey Colton, a senior defensive back on the UMass football team.
“I don’t think they’re qualified to analyze or commentate on men’s sports though. I’ve never met a woman who knows more about sports than I do, and I don’t think I’m even qualified to do the job of some of these guys you see on TV,” he added.
Fagan is used to hearing comments like Colton’s, but doesn't entertain them. She thinks that since it’s culturally embedded that sports are traditionally a male path, people are afraid of the change and resist in attempts to maintain the status quo.
“I feel kind of sad for these people. I think I like reading things from people who have seen the world differently than me. You can learn about new spaces, and be introduced to new feelings and emotions you didn’t have before,” said Fagan.
“I feel like that’s where we’re heading, and I don’t put a ton of credence into [opinions like Colton’s],” she stated.
With working for a progressively diverse outlet like ESPN, Kate thinks that these sexist opinions about women in sports media are outdated.
“I don’t care what gender an analyst or commentator is,” said Brett Layman, a student at Boston College.
“I know of plenty of male ESPN personalities who have never played sports at a high level and still know what they’re talking about so I don’t think that you can make that argument against women in sports media. If a woman has a position in sports media that means to me that she’s qualified enough to get hired.”
Fagan is certainly qualified. Before being a columnist and feature writer for espnW, ESPN.com, and ESPN The Magazine, she spent three years as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s 76ers beat writer.
During her time writing about the 76ers is when she experienced the disadvantages of being a female journalist covering male athletes.
“A lot of other beat writers after the game would go out for drinks with the trainer or sometimes an assistant coach,” explained Fagan.
“I couldn’t as easily say yes to those invitations because if I say yes and go out drinking because I’d have to think, am I putting myself in a bad situation? Am I conveying some type of availability that I’m not trying to convey? And if I say no all the time then I seem standoffish and I won’t have as much information.”
Fagan explained that every decision she made was based on the fact that her actions could be interpreted differently than if she were a man, and she had to face that every day covering basketball.
At ESPN, she deals more with the internal conflict of not letting negative feedback on social media dictate what she talks about, especially when it comes to women’s sports and female athletes, who deserve much more media coverage than they receive.
“The state of sports media and coverage of women’s sports is an issue,” said Lauren MacLellan, a senior on the women’s soccer team at Boston University.
“More often that not, the coverage women are getting is focusing on the wrong things. Rather than being represented as tenacious, skilled and formidable athletes, women are often used as sex symbols to appeal to the public. It’s completely different than how male athletes and their sports are portrayed by the media,” MacLellan added.
Fagan wants to change that.
“I think I’ve landed in a space where I realize that if I want to change what we talk about in sports, if I want to introduce new topics about female athletes and women’s sports, then I have to have a bigger platform. I guess I see doing First Take or Around the Horn as a way to build a bigger platform so that one day I can have more control and dictate the content of what I’m talking about. I guess I see it as an investment in a lot of ways,” she said.
“Maybe sometime down the road I’ll be able to talk about women’s sports and people will think that’s interesting.”