By Heather Nelson
To all female sports lovers, to my fellow female sports reporters, this is for you:
For so long, I’ve been a part of the problem. I’ve added to the mix of bad blood. I’ve thought that to make it in sports I had to be the only woman, so that I stood out. Or I thought I had to be the only woman who knew everything about sports in her social circle.
It started while I was growing up: I envied boys. It seemed boys had this innate knowledge of sports I didn’t have. I was jealous. In fifth grade I had a male teacher, who used sports in our activities. I picked up baseball; I started playing soccer; I asked my dad a million questions while watching sports with him. By sixth grade, I felt confident enough to talk trash with the Yankees fan in my class. (Thankfully the Red Sox won the World Series that year, because I could’ve looked pretty dumb. I even skipped school to watch the Duck Boat parade on TV.)
I became more confident with my sports knowledge — my guy friends even started sharing their Sports Illustrated for Kids magazines with me. (I later subscribed to the magazine through my freshman year of high school.) I started collecting trading cards: WBNA players, first — I added baseball players to my mix later. I felt a strong connection toward women in sports; I was inspired by their tenacity. Posters of Sue Bird and Becky Hammon hung in my room. I donned a Diana Taurasi t-shirt occasionally. I wanted to be Mia Hamm. And then I grew up.
I liked boys. Cliché , yes, but by middle school, I’d gone boy crazy. I liked to pick out the most attractive men on the sports teams I liked. I enjoyed watching sports, but the attractive men gave me more incentive. So, I left my female role models behind. I entered the male-dominated world and never looked back.
I also struggled with this odd fact that I liked boys, but boys only saw me as a friend — one of the guys. I spent so much time in between worlds. Who am I today? Sporty Heather or girly Heather? I put on a different hat everyday. I could never be myself because I was too worried about what others saw in my personality. I was just a weird girl, who knew some stuff about sports. I shouldn’t have had to feel this way.
Women are allowed to have the same sports knowledge that men do. And it doesn’t have to make us more or less girly. Last week, I wanted to jokingly tweet that I was painting my nails and watching baseball. Then I realized that there’s nothing weird about that. It’s normal. I like my nails painted, and I like baseball. Same thing: I was born a girl, and I was also born a sports fan. Neither of those will change.
It doesn’t make me less girly and more of a “bro” because I like sports. My sex/gender shouldn’t determine how much respect I get in the industry. And it shouldn’t determine my qualifications. I’ve often felt “lesser” because of who I am. I shouldn’t feel this way. I should be an equal among my male colleagues. But I’m not.
Only a week ago, a radio host bashed Jessica Mendoza for being a female analyst. Yet, she’s qualified and great at her job. Curt Schilling has even praised her. She’s become the first female voice on Sunday Night baseball and postseason baseball. She’s breaking barriers where sexism threatens to persist. I hope that this trend continues.
Katie Nolan spoke out last week about Greg Hardy’s return to the NFL after being suspended for domestic abuse. His comments about women (among other things) just reaffirm the idea that women are not taken seriously. This needs to change. (I should also note that some male colleagues aren’t helping much either by asking worthless questions. That’s a tangent, though.) And yet, I still saw tweets following Katie’s commentary that tried to pit female journalists against each other. It shouldn’t be this way.
I will not rest until my voice is heard and until women feel comfortable covering sports. I hope that one day when my career is long over — hopefully it’s a successful, enduring one — young girls growing up won’t fear going into sports journalism like I did.
I love writing and will never put down my pen, or rather, close my computer, until all my questions are answered, and all the stories in my head are written. Until that day, I’ll keep fighting, hoping that my voice is heard.
**This post doesn’t even mention the fact that women are completely forgotten, but integral, to fan bases. Just know, that I recognize you. Let’s continue to stand together. Let’s continue to let our voices be heard. Because we do exist.**