Commentary: News groups need more women’s voices in sport

By Kristen Gehrke
Guest Columnist

It wasn’t long ago that women were barred from post-game locker room interviews following sporting events.

In fact, it was October of 2013.

I hadn’t been covering sports very long–just a blog post here or there–before finding myself at BC Place in Vancouver to cover a MLS match between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers. The press box was, predictably, 90 percent male.

After the game I accompanied my Vancouver counterpart to Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie’s presser before heading out on my own to get a few quotes from the Portland coach and players. A few of us from the Portland press, including the female beat writer from The Oregonian, were escorted into the locker room without incident.

But my Vancouver host was blocked from entering the lockers when she arrived moments later, told by security that she would have to wait in the hallway outside because “men are changing in there.”

The team later apologized, promising to look into the incident and make sure that stadium security was all on the same page.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve been allowed the same access male reporters have without incident. But that game in Vancouver will always be in the back of my mind: every time I approach a locker room door I’ll wonder if this will be the time I’m not allowed in.

In a piece published recently by the Society of Professional Journalists titled “Getting Women Into the Game,” Marie Hardin, Dean of the College of Communications at Penn State, is quoted as saying there are fewer female sports journalists proportionally than there are women serving in the US armed forces. She and others place the blame on the division of domestic labor (women chose family rather than the extensive travel sports writing often entails) or the fact that women’s professional sports aren’t as widely followed as men’s, thus not providing the same opportunities for retired athletes in media roles.

While we do still see many professional women take time from their careers to raise their families, assuming female athletes might be better suited to covering only women’s sports is problematic. The knowledge base is the same regardless of the gender of the athlete or the reporter.

Regardless, with many professional leagues followed by a fairly equal number of men and women, it only makes sense that the sporting world will see and hear more female voices in sports coverage.

People will read and watch reporters they can identify with, those whose voices are similar to their own. Because of this, news agencies will need to actively recruit a more diverse cross section of voices.

Kristen Gehrke is a freelance journalist in Portland, Oregon. Find her on Twitter at @nomadpdx.

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