All of the women covering NBA teams for SB Nation’s team brands have had unique experiences covering the sport because they’re women. You can meet all of the women we’re featuring in this series in the first post, which you can find here. The second post details how each woman fell in love with basketball and the team they cover.
In this third installment of our series celebrating these women, here are some of the challenges they’ve faced covering the NBA for SB Nation sites and the advice they’d like to share with other women looking to break into the field.
Bailey: I imagine, as a trans woman, that my experiences are probably fairly unique. When I first started writing about the Mavs, it was pre-transition. Since I’ve transitioned, my experience has changed somewhat. The primary challenge is just that men are much more willing to say awful things about me or my writing. As I’m sure most of us know, this wears on you. I don’t cover the team in the locker room or at press conferences or anything, so I cannot speak to the challenges there.
The only advice I would have is to engage with the fans who appreciate your work and make strong use of the block option for those who are only looking to troll.
Sarah: I have faced a lot as woman in a male-dominated industry. I’ve been propositioned to sleep with men for jobs, sexually harassed, been told women have no place in sports and I was never going to amount to anything because I wasn’t good enough. My advice for women coming into this profession is to never deter. Yes, men will place roadblocks in your life, but you know yourself better than anyone else. You’ve relied on your talent all these years, so don’t ever stop doing you. Be known for your work and everything will fall into place.
Courtney: Intimidation and underestimation. My abilities, interest and understanding have been underestimated as a woman in a male-dominated industry. I frequently hear “Oh. I didn’t know you would understand or care about that.” Or “YOU know sports?” No. I know basketball. As for the intimidation … well, I think that is just a normal aspect of healthy competition, which I think most of us agree isn’t necessarily gender-specific. (I have had tiny little 4’10 ballerinas fluff up and try to intimidate me with the same effort as any man in a sports environment.) I don’t take any offense. I just smile at the expression of surprise on their faces when I follow along with their conversation, or when I give my own perspective about a game or strategy. I see the challenge of being a woman in a typically male industry as exactly that — a challenge. This is just a cultural norm that has begun to slowly change over time. Challenges make us grow and growth makes us strong. That is all good as far as I can tell.
Ashley: The only challenges I have faced are the challenges I have set up for myself. The team I write with at the Denver Stiffs is welcoming and encouraging, and even though I’m new to the roster they’ve made me feel very comfortable. I’m not as technical as some of the other writers, and I sometimes feel like I need to change my style, but then I remind myself that we all have a unique voice to bring to the site.
My best advice for another female trying to make her way in the sports blogging world is to not worry about the fact that you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry. Have confidence in your perspective, because if you try to write like someone else it typically hinders your quality from what it really can be. People want to know what you think. So tell them.
Kayla: I’m very lucky in the fact that I have not faced many challenges in this industry as of yet. For a couple of years, I was the only female on the Denver Stiffs staff, but I never felt out of place because of it. I think it helped that I had been active on Twitter for years and people knew that I was an avid fan of the team and because of that, I never really felt the need to prove my passion for the Nuggets. That being said, I’m all too aware that females that are far more active in the industry than I am are obviously way more subjected to those challenges. The few times I have had the opportunity to attend a Nuggets game as a member of the “media,”
I’m aware of the fact that females in this industry are outnumbered by males in a big way. I think the experience that a female has in this industry is entirely dependent on who they are surrounded by — I’m lucky enough that I am surrounded by great people that do not question the fact that I am a female writing about a basketball team.
Grace: Not only have I been pretty much the only consistent female writer for the site during my career there, but I also have been by far the youngest. Especially at first, it can be a little intimidating. I’ve never had anyone make fun of the fact that I was a girl to my face, but guys definitely didn’t try to include me in conversations about sports growing up. I interject myself into the conversation, and they begin to realize I know what I’m talking about. In the dating world, many guys shy away from career girls, especially ones that know about sports, so that was a little frustrating in high school that guys didn’t appreciate that about me. They seemed to find it intimidating.
Working for GBB, I’ve always felt really welcomed and respected by my peers and editors. I’ve been encouraged by those closest to me to pursue writing about sports. I’d advise other girls looking to get into this industry to just go for it. You have nothing to lose. Let the haters make their comments, but they’ll respect you as your work speaks for itself. You have to gain some credibility to be taken seriously, but that will come with time! Just work harder than everyone else. If you’re treated poorly, take your talents somewhere else. There are plenty of sports sites that are run by or greatly respect female writers.
Jannelle: My biggest challenge is being heard sometimes. I can say things on Twitter, for example, and for the most part, they are overlooked by some fans. My opinions are overlooked and dismissed until I’m proven right. Then I have no problem letting people know about it and telling them to put some respect on my name!
My advice is to stick to your convictions and beliefs no matter what. If you feel like you know your stuff regarding the NBA and sports as a whole, you keep talking, keep learning, and keep sharing. You may have to talk some trash, but eventually, you will be heard and respected.
Marilyn: I’d be lying if I said I had come across any such issues so far, at least at SB Nation. I will say back during the 2010-11 season, I was covering the Spurs for Bleacher Report (back when it was a fan-operated site), and there was always this one Lakers fan who would comment on my articles about how clueless I was and how women shouldn’t cover sports. He would get banned, then create a new account and be right back the next day with all his shenanigans, blaming me for being a wimp and getting him banned.
In reality, it was other commenters who were flagging him and coming to my defense, but my advice to others would be don’t be afraid to flag or report someone if they cross the line. That is a common issue women face in general these days, so don’t feel like it makes you any weaker. Also, don’t stoop to the level of those types of people. If you’re going to respond do it with class and dignity in an educational manner. Going low doesn’t help the cause.
Renee: The only issue, not really challenge, has been that people don’t believe that I understand or know as much as I do about basketball and that I can contribute to such a prestigious site like PTR. My only advice is to own your skills. Know and believe that you are just as knowledgeable and skilled as the next “guy.” It has taken me a while to get to the point of owning my skills and knowledge, and I’m grateful for the leadership and mentoring of my editor-in-chief.
Michelle: Personally, I’ve been lucky not to have experienced sexism in the industry, although I certainly know sexism exists. I’ve worked for two sports news websites in addition to SB Nation, and really enjoyed the people I’ve worked with and never felt like my opinions or writing were treated with less value. I’m based in Los Angeles, where the sports media market it is fairly diverse, with women involved meaningfully in broadcasting and reporting at various levels (high school, college and pro sports). I would encourage others to not shy away from the fact that the industry is still male-dominated, as the face of the industry is changing. If you have an interest in sports and want to make that a career — GO FOR IT!
Tara: It’s been a big responsibility and a huge challenge to step in as a cohost of the Blazer’s Edge podcast. I have a male cohost who is basically my polar opposite. I’m a little bit country, he’s a little bit rock and roll. I’m relentlessly optimistic, he’s in eternal pessimist. He is extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the game and I’m still learning how to watch it critically. Despite our differences though, the biggest challenge hasn’t been working with a vocal alpha male, it has been overcoming my own self doubts. How could anyone possibly want to listen to what I have to say? I must sound like an idiot! I’m a total fraud. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how great my co-host has been to work with, but he doesn’t get it when I say, “if I say something wrong, I’m letting all females who host sports podcasts down.”
One thing I do to counteract those negative feelings is I keep any compliments I get. Tweets or emails or message that say anything positive go into a file on my desktop called “Atta girl.” Its a reminder that if people I like and admire say something nice, who am I to tell them that they are wrong? I’d say I 75% believe them.
The other challenge has been trying to fit into a culture that isn’t particularly encouraging. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard “You want to get into sports journalism? Don’t.” This pessimism is so far out of my normal experience. This isn’t true on my site, but outside of the group of writers I regularly interact with there is no collegiality if you are not already a part of the in-crowd. I have experienced that at Summer League. I sat on press row during a Blazers game one time and the only person who talked to me was the woman who brought me there and the one guy I knew from Blazers Edge. Its not like everyone is actively unfriendly, they just expect you to make all the effort.
Marissa: My advice for other women in any male-dominated industry is to find allies in other women, then help lift each other up. I have found that no one is more willing to elevate women’s voices than other women.
Caitlin: Looking back on it now, I’m confident that growing up as a coach’s daughter probably afforded me free and unlimited membership in the boys’ club of talking sports that I, and others like me, probably wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise. That is, at least when I was surrounded by those who knew whose kid I was. All hands were on deck one summer when I jumped in to run the clock at some pick-up games my school was hosting. It wasn’t my first time doing the job, but the coach who happened to be filling in as an official from an opposing team wasn’t familiar with me. When there was only a handful of seconds left to play in the game and the player inbounding the ball rolled it onto the court, I was given animated instructions to wait to start the clock until a player on the floor touched it, almost like a crossing guard walking out to halt traffic for crossing children. I laughed it off, thinking it strangely funny that he assumed I didn’t understand the rules, until later in the day when I noticed that he didn’t find it necessary to patronizingly gesticulate in the same scenario when some of the much younger brothers of players had taken over for me.
That experience was eye-opening because it revealed to me for the first time that the way in which my understanding of the game had been perceived up until that point was linked, at least in part, to the fact my dad was my dad. It was always, “That’s the coach’s daughter; therefore, she knows sports.” Never just, “She knows sports.” My authority wasn’t my own, and apparently it mattered in the eyes of some that I was female.
I’ve posted 450+ articles at Indy Cornrows. By choice, my first name has been abbreviated on the byline of all of them. This was never done with the intention of purposely deceiving anyone. Rather, I made the conscious decision to create an environment where first-time readers would notice my writing and ideas before they made note of my gender. Now that most are aware of both, I’m extremely grateful for the support of our site manager Tom Lewis, the tolerance of our fan community, and the countless words of public encouragement from fellow bloggers and outlets like Jared Wade, Tim Donahue, Ben Gibson, the Miller Time Podcast, and Locked on Pacers — all of whom are men who have empowered me and my writing.
China: I may be a bad person to ask this because (knock on wood) without exception everyone I have ever worked with at Posting and Toasting and interacted with on Knicks Twitter has been incredibly cool and supportive. I know there are ugly corners of this world but they have been hidden from me thus far. I can’t say enough good things about Seth and Joe, and (most of) the commenters on the blog.
THAT SAID, I stay so entirely in my (non-technical, non-aggressive, mostly lighthearted) lane that I don’t think there’s much testosterone that would spill on to me in any event. And so the challenges I have faced are mostly internal — trusting that what I write is informative or entertaining, and that my voice might be valuable, maybe because it is different. And to trust that even though I might not be a basketball expert, I’m a pretty serious fan and that’s an important perspective. Hell, Bill Simmons made a fortune off it.
I’m afraid I have no specific advice other than 1. Figure out your voice (mine is slightly husky), and 2. As unbalanced as it is (and it is), there are a lot of people, many of them men, who might love to help you out and give you a platform, so don’t be afraid to try.
Kelsea: Honestly, just the comments so far. I haven’t been doing this long enough for someone to tell me to “get back in the kitchen,” but it seems like any time I write an article with even the tiniest example of a stat, there is always one guy who has to tell me I’m wrong. Thankfully, there are also usually some who defend me and tell said guy that he is wrong and I am right (duh).
Romy: Our industry is notoriously old school, but it’s started to break open. Personally, I’ve been lucky to have many women to look up to at UMass Amherst (where I did my masters in Sport Management), an incredible network I could tap into (which is one of the largest hurdles women have to overcome), and male bosses who also acted as sponsors.
Shirley: When I first started posting on the message boards, I hesitated to mention that I was a woman. I know at one time it was considered that sports were a man’s domain and I had seen some comments to that effect. On one message board I was even told ”to go back into the kitchen because my opinion didn’t count.” Over the years, I’ve seen more of an accepting attitude toward women in sports although a lot of times people address me in comments as “man” or “he”, never considering that it might be a woman posting the article. I don’t usually correct them but often other posters will do it for me.
As far as advice, I would just say to follow your heart and if it is sports you want to get into, go for it. These days, just about every major sports show has a woman reporter on it and they are very much accepted and in demand.
Rachael: I could count on one hand the amount of basketball conversations I’ve had with a male that didn’t include some sort of ignorant or sexist comment. The thing is, a good chunk of guys don’t even realize they’re being offensive — so I’m quick to let them know. Between, “So, do you really watch basketball?” and constantly being quizzed and tested, it’s exhausting. I’ve dealt with ignorance regarding basketball knowledge endlessly in person, but nothing compares to how completely ugly and hateful the internet can get over a simple basketball opinion.
I’ve encountered a lot of discouragement on my journey, but I’ve found that succeeding has felt all the more sweeter after you have been doubted. My best advice is to maintain your confidence no matter how many times you get knocked down. Realize that you are just as knowledgeable — probably more so — as any man in this industry. Know your worth and don’t let anyone take away the love you have for the game of basketball.