Women reporting in sports; evening the playing field

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Susan Slusser (left) shakes hands with Bill Shaikin (right), as she takes over the presidency of the BBWAA.

Susan Slusser (left) shakes hands with Bill Shaikin (right), as she takes over the presidency of the BBWAA.

Photo courtesy of SF Gate

Photo courtesy of SF Gate

Susan Slusser (left) shakes hands with Bill Shaikin (right), as she takes over the presidency of the BBWAA.

Jasper Goodman, Staff Writer

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Photo courtesy of sportette.com

With the United States professional sports world primarily dominated by males, women aren’t given much of an opportunity to step up. Women’s sports have low TV ratings if they are even on TV, are paid next to nothing, and don’t have much of a following. However, one place where they can be heard is in the press box.

In 1978, Sport Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke took Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to court for not allowing her into the clubhouse of the New York Yankees. On April 2, 1975 Kuhn wrote the general managers of all MLB teams to enforce his now “unified stand” as to allowing women to cover the game in the same way as men. This was groundbreaking for women reporters and started a movement th

SI reporter Melissa Ludtke. Photo courtesy of the Newseum.

at is credited with giving women equal access to cover the game of baseball, and several other professional sports leagues such as the NHL. According to former BBWAA president Susan Slusser, currently there are hundreds of women covering the game of baseball at all levels.

While women have had the same credential access for men for more than 40 years, it wasn’t until last year that the Baseball Writers Association of America, who votes on who should go into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, recognized their first women president. The woman to take on the task was long-time Oakland A’s beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Susan Slusser. Slusser maintained her presidency for a year before handing the job off to LaVelle E. Neal III. There were no major changes to the organization under Slusser, but it showed that women were just as capable as men.

An old MLB media credential. Photo courtesy of Ebay.

Slusser, who has been covering the game for 26 years, finds being a woman in sports journalism to be a non-factor. “I am just a reporter like everyone else,” Slusser said. “Women are doctors, and pilots, and politicians. There are women running some of the biggest countries in the world. Being a woman covering sports is nothing in comparison.”

While it was a big deal for many others in the industry, Slusser was far from flattered about getting attention for being the first woman president of the BBWAA. “It makes me uncomfortable to get attention for it because of my gender,” she said. “I have served numerous roles in the organization for years and did not get the position because of my gender but because of my longtime service and my ideas for the position.”

While for Slusser it may not be an issue at all, for many other women journalists such as Katherine Knott, student journalist at the University of Missouri who covers Mizzou football and wrestling, the issue is more important. “In how you are treated, sports can be very cliquey,” Knott said. “There are a lot of older men, and if you don’t break into that group, it’s harder. Being a woman, I found it harder being on the outside of all of those cliques.”

Knott also had a recent experience covering the San Jose Earthquakes where she was not allowed into the locker room to do interviews following the game while male reporters were in the locker room getting quotes. “My inner-feminist was coming out,” she said. “I understand why thats the case,” Knott said about the not being allowed into the locker room. “It’s a men’s locker room. Women really shouldn’t be in a men’s locker room. Just like if there is women changing, there shouldn’t be guys in the women’s locker room.” While Knott understands why she wasn’t allowed in, she says that there needs to be and will be a change that is coming in the MLS’ policy to make covering the game as easy for women as it is for men.

Slusser says that she doesn’t find any difficulties being a woman in the industries, but the issues are for other reasons. “Some athletes and coaches hate reporters, but the people I have had trouble with have been the people everyone has had trouble with,” she said.

With 30 teams in Major League Baseball, there are different environments for reporters in every clubhouse. At AT&T Park in San Francisco, home of the Giants, according to the media relations department, there are no issues with women journalists being mistreated. “Currently, we don’t have too many issues with that, especially here in San Francisco,” said Baseball Information Coordinator and media relations staffer Liam Connolly. “We have a lot of different female reporters that cover the team, and they cover it real well, very professional. According to Connolly, the two women on the media relations staff for the Giants work very well with the players and team, and know the game just as well as the men do.

Another common role where you will find many women reporters is on the TV, where sideline reporters cover the team for the TV affiliate. There are lots of women who serve as sideline reporters for teams, including Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Amy Gutierrez. “I know there are definitely some stereotypes where people think it’s about looks, not necessarily their knowledge of the game,” Conolly said about woman sideline reporters. He says that in his experience, those stereotypes are not accurate and that Gutierrez, who he works closely with, knows the game very well.

Despite everything that woman have done to get this far in sports journalism, they are still hugely outnumbered by men in every press box in every professional sport. Even though more than 52 percent of our population are women, according to US News, they account for less than 10 percent of staff journalists on sports publications.

 

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