“I’m a big believer in that there is enough room for all of us. And it is incredibly important for other women to lift the people up beside them. That’s part of the job.”
– legendary broadcaster, Doris Burke.
In 2017, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton responded to reporter Jordan Rodrigues’s question about the play of wide receiver Devin Funchess with, “It’s just funny to hear a female talk about routes…”
For women, like me, who work in sports media—women who thought they’d come a long way since the days when pink-washed jerseys were the only team-related gear you could purchase—Newton’s comment was a stinging reality check. If you’re a woman in sports media, you’re still going to have to outwork and outsmart your male counterparts every step of your journey.
That’s business as usual for the numerous women working in sports media who have Duval ties.
In 2009, I was working a side hustle as a part-time sports/entertainment blogger with most of my days spent behind a keyboard and not in a locker room. Therefore I was somewhat oblivious to sports media discrimination until watching the 2014 ESPN documentary “Let Them Wear Towels.” The short film profiled female journalists as they attempted to gain locker room access in order to get quotes from athletes quote for assigned stories. Now as a broadcaster for the first football show in the country hosted by an all-female panel, the trek of female journalists both past and present resonates deeply with me.
Though women now have locker room access, it doesn’t mean we still don’t face a set of unique challenges.
Sports anchor Alyssa Lang, formerly of First Coast News who was just promoted to the SEC Network, says that in today’s world, you have to be an MMJ, or multimedia journalist. In her job, Lang can be seen around the football field, often carrying a camera, microphone, tripod, cables, and her sports media bag all at once.
Most MMJs develop the story they want to tell, and then it’s up to them to execute the writing, the shooting, the on-camera work, and the post-production edits before that two-minute clip ever hits your TV. Oh, and since you’re on camera, you have to look as presentable as possible even after working all day in the Florida heat and humidity.
“For training camp, my [sports media] bag is huge. You’re out there from 9 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Some days you might have to shoot a standup and other days you’re just shooting practice. But if you shoot a standup, you probably just experienced four hours in the Jacksonville heat,” said Lang. “I have crazy frizzy hair that I have to manage every day before ever stepping in front of a camera so my sports media bag has hair brushes, hair spray, sunscreen, makeup, and Cliff Bars so I’m not passing out on the sideline. It’s like summer camp out there and you just hope your makeup hasn’t sweated off your face before you step in front of the camera.”
That’s not the only behind the scenes prep required to work in sports media.
Former 1010XL radio host and current Orlando Magic Sideline Reporter Mackenzie Thirkill says she’s landed more than a few jobs simply based on the after-hours hustle.
“After I got off of work, I’d go home and get on Linkedin to follow people in the industry. I would add 40-50 people every night and naturally, those people would check out my profile. This new type of networking led to working in NYC, for ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, and eventually working sidelines for the Orlando City Soccer Club before joining the Magic,” Thirkill says.
Having different jobs with increasing difficulties gets you those valuable on-air reps needed to hone your skills and move up the sports media ladder. But based on the job and your career goals, you have to decide if you want to strictly read the news or be an analyst—aka opinion-haver. And if you’re a woman giving sports opinions, you have to be prepared for the trolls.
Kelly Hawkins, former PGA TOUR host and now co-founder of The Daily Rally, a newsletter that delivers the top sports headlines every weekday via email, has walked that tightrope of news vs. opinions.
“With TDR, I usually try to give you the news and [readers] can figure out how they feel about it. But there are topics I get fired up about and will inject my opinion. I wrote a fiery snippet about the whole Roberto Osuna thing,” says Hawkins.
“He went to the Astros but they traded for him when he was in the middle of a 75-day suspension for allegedly beating his girlfriend. He’s a great player and he’ll be productive on the field for them, but they’re [Astros] putting out all this PR about how they ‘thought about this really hard’ and I’m like, ‘just call it what it is.’ Don’t act like you considered if he’s a good guy or not. You got him to win games and that’s it.”
“And if someone disagrees with me on that, I don’t particularly care,” Hawkins says.
Even when you’re simply sharing the stats or rehashing plays from the game, it doesn’t free you from criticism.
One of the most accomplished Duval women working in sports media in Jessica Blaylock, formerly of 1010XL and current FOX Sports sideline reporter for the MLB’s Miami Marlins and NHL’s Florida Panthers, prepares for each game with a clipboard of notes she’s kept throughout her career. She admits she hears more positive than negative when it comes to her reporting, but if she gets one stat incorrect, it eats at her for days. But trusting in her level of preparedness is what has and will continue to set her apart.
“You’re not just showing up for a ballgame with a 7:10 p.m. first pitch at 6 p.m. and winging it to go on air. You’re at the ballpark at three o’clock in the afternoon, going into the clubhouse talking to players, you’re talking to the manager, you’re in the production truck editing what pieces you want to put together, and you’re keeping these stories to use this game, this season or years down the line,” Blaylock says.
After talking to all these women, it was difficult for me to choose from the valuable advice shared about their on-going sports media journey. However, one common theme throughout each interview was that, despite the unique challenges faced, it’s imperative for us to continue to work hard, show up prepared, and give credit to those who came before us, in order to help those who will come after us.
This feature originally appeared in Void Magazine Vol. 9, Issue 5 The Sports Issue under the title “Females Talking Routes: And Getting Paid to Do it.”