Sexual harassment toward female sports reporters is far too common
There was the Major League Baseball player who dropped his pants in the locker room and called out her name so she’d turn around and see his penis hanging out. Then there was the player who started flirting with her at the venue before graduating to calling her room on the road, repeatedly asking her to “come down and watch a movie in his room.” She said no, of course, but the player in question wouldn’t speak with her for months after she declined his advances.
But the worst part was the rumors. At one point there was an NHL player who pulled her aside to say that one of his teammates was telling everyone on the team she covered that they had slept together.
“There was no paper trail, just my word against his, and since I was fighting an unknown enemy, I couldn’t even defend myself,” said the female television sports reporter, who has worked at the network level.
If you think such stories are uncommon, think again. Most women who work in the sports media have similar stories to tell.
When a female sports reporter who works for a major east coast outlet was new to the business, an MLB team employee asked for her phone number, which he said was for another media outlet who wanted to have her on one of their shows. Turned out, it was for a starter on the team. She didn't know this until the player started calling and texting her, asking her to send photos and to talk to him before games. She tried to explain the boundaries, but he kept contacting her regularly, despite her pleas to him and to the team employee who had passed on her number. It finally ended when he got hurt with a season-ending injury and left town.
“I've been invited to hotel rooms while on the road more times than I can count,” said one east coast-based female sports reporter who has worked for newspapers and websites. “One agent was fixated on me giving him a number of how many penises I had seen in locker rooms through the years and how they compared. I eventually stopped calling him, which meant that sometimes I was unable to get information I needed. I also recall trying to build a relationship with a team executive who I was pretty sure was a source for other reporters. We were supposed to meet up for a drink during a big work event, but he kept changing the subject away from work to my personal life and whether or not I was dating anyone. When he put his hand on my back, that was my cue to leave. I stopped trying to communicate with him, which was a professional disadvantage since he was most likely helping my competitors.”
Then there’s the female sports reporter based in a major market who has been asked out repeatedly by coaches, agents and players of various sports. Once, an NFL player told her that it was cool she was married because so was he. There was also the time a source offered to let her sleep in his hotel room during a championship game. Then there was the time the Division I basketball coach hit on her.
While covering hockey, one west coast-based sports television reporter recalled a player skating by during a practice to say, “Nice lip gloss, it'll look good on my c--- tonight.” There were the GMs over the years who told the woman that females should not be sports reporters. When traveling on the road with pro teams, the reporter said she had players knocking on her door at 4 a.m.
“Lots of the time it all starts on Twitter,” she said. “I follow athletes for information, they follow me back, they message me, continue to message me, etc. I've had a lot of good interactions on Twitter with athletes, professional relationships, but lots take them too far. They call at 5 a.m. They Snapchat inappropriate things. On the road, I make sure to not even make eye contact with players or even really talk to them unless I'm doing an interview. You block everything out or else you become a ‘whistle blower’ and no one wants to have you around.”
And on and on and on it goes.
Those who read this column likely have no idea how often such harassment happens to females who work in the sports media. Last week, after Norwood Teague resigned as athletic director at the University of Minnesota following two university employees accusing him of sexual harassment, Amelia Rayno, who covers the Minnesota men’s basketball team for Minneapolis's Star Tribune, wrote a first-person piece on Teague’s behavior toward her. Bravo to Rayno for giving light to the issue. She declined to speak further on the topic to SI.com, opting for the piece speak for itself.
The women in this story asked for anonymity, and it was granted. Why grant it? Because in the real world, there are repercussions, among colleagues, employers and especially with the teams they cover, for naming names.
Many women in the sports media are the only female reporters in a locker room (or one of a few) or at a press conference. All the women quoted in this story, and the other female sports media people with whom I spoke for it, have excellent journalism reputations.
What about taking legal action against those who create a hostile work environment?
“The problem with any of those suits, and I once considered one, is that proving it is so difficult and the repercussions in the business could be fatal,” a prominent reporter told me. “Who is going to hire a reporter who sues her employer or a team?”
In a well-done roundtable last week compiled by Kami Mattioli of the Sporting News, USA Today college sports reporter Nicole Auerbach offered a cautionary note for those in her field: “I have noticed that female reporters will often share stories of inappropriate behavior with other female reporters as a sort of warning—be careful of this guy, try this line if you're in a similar situation, etc.” Auerbach said. “Having other women in the industry to rely on and reach out to about various experiences is vital.”
To that end, Rayno had reached out to ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, one of the nation’s top college basketball reporters, for advice about how to proceed regarding her allegations of Teague’s harassment. O'Neil, Rayno said, advised her to immediately alert her editors.
I asked Jennifer Overman, the president of the Association for Women in Sports Media and an ESPN news editor, what she would have advised in the same situation.
The first and probably most important thing to do is to make your employer aware of what is going on,” Overman said. “Share any information you have—text messages, voicemails, emails, etc.—and keep copies for your own records. Even if you’re not entirely sure you’re reading a situation correctly, do not wait until it escalates or becomes a bigger problem. Do not try to handle it on your own, or ignore it, because it’s an important beat or a new job or you don’t want to be perceived in some sort of negative way. Maintain your professionalism with all involved and remember that harassment is never acceptable, whether this is your first job or your 10th.”
Something many women have told me, and something I’ve witnessed myself, is athletes flashing female reporters in the locker room and men in the sports field sending female reporters photos of themselves in various states of undress. Then there are the “grabbers” during live shots for women who appear on sports television. I could also write multiple columns on what women in the sports media deal with on social media.
“It doesn’t happen often, but I have had my breasts and butt squeezed, the old ‘hand at the small my back’ that slides down and/or across, a stolen kiss on the cheek, etc.,” said one female sports anchor in an east coast market. “While it all seems innocent enough, it can be really uncomfortable, particularly the subtle touching. It makes you feel like you are not even human but instead an object for someone else to ogle or fondle.”
On the issue of what responsibility a media entity such as the Star Tribune has for creating a safe workplace environment for female reporters, including when the harassment comes from an outside source, Marcia L. McCormick, a professor of law and director of the Wefel Center for Employment Law at Saint Louis University, said that a media company is like any other employer in that it is governed by state and federal law that prohibits employment discrimination.
“Maintaining a workplace free from harassment on the basis of sex for both men and women is part of that legal responsibility,” McCormick said. “The level of responsibility depends on the context in which the harassing conduct occurs. An employer is more responsible for the conduct of its managers and supervisors. It is less responsible for the conduct of those outside the employer’s control, like a source in the context of a reporter.”
McCormick said one way in which Rayno’s case is especially challenging is that it involves a female reporter in a male-dominated field.
“Reactions of some people to this story will be that the media entities should protect female reporters in ways we don't worry about when it comes to male reporters.” she said. “And that protection may take the form of not assigning them to beats that might expose them to men who might act in sexually provocative ways. The possibility of harassment has been used to limit opportunities for women to cover men's sports, which means fewer opportunities in general for women to be sports reporters, or reporters of any other predominantly male field.”
I asked McCormick how strong a case Rayno would have, if she indeed had one, against her employer on that grounds that her employer should have pursued action against Teague independent of what its employee did.
“Given the information currently available, it is not likely that Rayno would have a good case against the Star Tribune for discrimination,” McCormick said. “The Star Tribune only had to act reasonably, and not perfectly, to protect Rayno from Teague's harassment. Although there may have been some action the Star Tribune could have taken against Teague, perhaps by notifying the university of his conduct, it's hard to see a way it could do so without endangering Rayno from some sort of retaliation or backlash. The details of what happened, which the Star Tribune would probably have to reveal, would likely have revealed her identity. And a choice to do so might, in fact, make the Star Tribune liable if its action caused Teague to escalate his harassment or if its action caused others to harass or retaliate against Rayno for coming forward. The Star Tribune's independent action could have made Rayno's working environment worse.
“Where an employer provides no alternative, or no real alternative to the employee pursuing the claims on her own, the employer probably isn't acting reasonably to prevent or end the harassment," McCormick continued. “But giving an employee a real choice is likely going to be seen as reasonable. Again, this may seem like it doesn't protect female reporters enough, but supporting them to make decisions that will protect them and allow them to progress in their careers is a positive way to promote sex equality.”
SI.com examines some of the biggest sports media stories of the week
1. ESPN named college football analyst Danny Kanell to be the new co-host with Ryen Russillo for the ESPN Radio slot from 1–4 p.m. ET. The new three-hour show, Russillo & Kanell,debuts Aug. 31 and will be televised on ESPNews starting at 1 p.m. When Kanell isn't doing his anti-SEC, wrestling-heel-trolling shtick on Twitter, he can be a good college football thinker and radio host. Of course the shtick helped him get paid and get a plum assignment. Now we’ll see where he goes with a position of prominence at his company. Bro or pro? Choice will be his.
1a. In January 2011 I wrote a media column for SI.com that focused on the curious departure of ace analyst Mary Carillo from ESPN’s tennis coverage. The subtext of the piece was conflicts of interest in tennis and the soft coverage (which Carillo objected to) given to most U.S. players. As I wrote then, “No sport does conflicts quite like tennis, dating to former agent Donald Dell, who provided commentary of matches involving players he represented and tournaments his firm owned and managed. That's morphed today into ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez interviewing a player (Roger Federer) represented by her IMG agent husband. The affable Fernandez also draws a salary from being Fed Cup captain, where the Williams sisters' commitment is often the key to winning or losing. Patrick McEnroe, who this column enjoys as a broadcaster, makes a six-figure salary from the USTA, which puts him in a tricky situation when questions come up yearly about the U.S. Open scheduling and the stadium's need for a roof.”
More than four years later, little has changed in tennis broadcasting. This bothers intelligent tennis fans and critics—see this Jon Wertheim piece from 2012—but most of us have come to accept that nothing will change with the current broadcasting executives in charge. But even within this incestuous world, last week saw a spectacularly poor choice by the Tennis Channel when it comes to optics. John Isner is now coached by Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob (who is also an ATP Board Member, another massive conflict for a broadcaster given, for example, he’d be part of meting out the penalty for Nick Kyrgios while commentating on Kyrgios) and for some insane reason, TC opted to film Gimelstob screaming about Isner winning a match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Thus, TC viewers were treated to Gimselstob channeling his inner Bobby Heenan without Heenan’s flair for comedy. I think Gimselstob is a bright guy who no doubt cares about the sport, but he’s being put in a position where as a viewer (and I’m just speaking for me), I can’t take much of what he says seriously right now given his connections.
1b. Great work by (Canada’s) Sportsnet’s Arash Madani asking Kygrios (on the court) about comments he made about Stan Wawrinka's girlfriend during their Rogers Cup match last week. Madani treated tennis fans like adults.
1c. Fox announced last week that it had hired former ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd. The plans for Cowherd include hosting a three-hour sports talk program called The Herd beginning Sept. 8, a show that will air simultaneously on Fox Sports 1 and the Fox Sports Radio Network, weekdays from 12–3 p.m. ET. Cowherd moving to Fox has a significant impact on the New York City-based The Mike Francesa Show, which currently airs on Fox Sports 1 weekday afternoons when not preempted by world soccer coverage. With Cowherd's radio show being simulcast daily on Fox Sports 1 in the afternoon, Fox said Francesa's show will now morph to Fox Sports 2 and Fox Sports Go. The move reunites Cowherd with Fox Sports National Networks's Jamie Horowitz and Scott Shapiro, the vice president of programming for Fox Sports Radio and Premiere Sports. Cowherd worked closely with both at ESPN.
• DEITSCH: How Fox plans to use new hire Colin Cowherd
1d. In a move with cynical overtones for Olympic viewers, NBC Olympics announced last week that Ryan Seacrest will serve as host for NBC’s late-night coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The network will hype Seacrest’s work as a correspondent for NBC’s coverage of the 2012 London Games as pretext for the move, and no one doubts Seacrest’s ability to serve in a hosting role on television and his talent in a live setting. But the assignment is an insult to sports viewers who expect Olympic hosts to have year-round sporting gravitas. It’s not even about performance: NBC will set it up Seacrest not to fail and he will no doubt exceed the lowest expectations. He’s also known in the business as a hard worker, so it’s not about his effort. What is it about? The Olympic host is supposed to be an intellectual bulwark for coverage of the Games. As CBS Sports producer James Ward tweeted, “That announcement patronizes anyone with serious interest in the event.” It also will make NBC Sports look like a horse’s ass if serious news breaks out during Seacrest’s shift.
2. The NBA season will tip off on Oct. 27 with a doubleheader on TNT featuring the Cavaliers at Bulls (8 p.m. ET) and the Pelicans at Warriors (10:30 p.m. ET). ESPN will begin its coverage the next night with the Spurs-Thunder (8 p.m. ET) and Timberwolves at Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET), which will presumably feature Kobe Bryant in his 20th NBA season. TNT will televise 18 Thursday night doubleheaders as well as the NBA All-Star 2016 festivities in Toronto from Feb. 12–14. ESPN’s schedule has 38 games on Wednesdays and 31 on Fridays.
2a. Christmas Day will feature five games including a rematch of the 2015 Finals between the Cavaliers and Warriors at 5 p.m. ET on ABC. Other games include Pelicans-Heat (12 p.m. ET, ESPN), Bulls-Thunder (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC), Spurs-Rockets (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) and Clippers-Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
2b. The ABC national television schedule consists of 16 exclusive regular-season broadcasts, with eight of those games airing on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
2c. The Warriors, Bulls and Clippers will appear 10 times on TNT. The Cavs, Lakers, Thunder and Spurs will appear nine times, with the Rockets making seven appearances.
2d. The Cavs will appear a league-high six times on ABC. The Warriors, Thunder and Bulls will appear five times.
2e. The Bucks will appear on TNT for the first time since the 2002–03 season, with a game at the Cavaliers on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. ET.
2f. The Warriors, Cavs and Spurs will appear on NBA TV nine times during the season, the most among the teams in the league.
3. The guest for the 15th episode of the SI Media Podcast, which features members of the sports media talking about their work and interesting people talking about the sports media, is Grantland writer David Shoemaker (aka The Masked Man), who writes about professional wrestling for the site and is the author of the book The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Pro Wrestling.
In the podcast, Shoemaker discusses how he started writing about wrestling, how he goes about choosing his subjects, why Roddy Piper struck a chord with so many fans, the future of Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker as characters, whether wrestling fans should feel guilty about supporting the enterprise, his “Cheap Heat” podcast and why wrestling is such valuable digital and audio content, our shared love for Paul Heyman and much more.
4. Sports pieces of the week:
• The Indianapolis Star columnist Greg Doyel on a police officer working Colts camp.
• Elena Delle Donne, on her sister, Lizzie. Beautifully done.
• NYT sports columnist Michael Powell destroys the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks and Wisconsin’s politicians for a sweetheart arena deal.
• The Sporting News's Jason Foster looks back at the Braves-Padres brawl from 1984.
• The Economist obit on Natalia Molchanova, the world’s greatest free diver.
• Excellent piece by CBS Chicago's Tim Baffoe on the Patrick Kane allegations.
• Kansas basketball coach Bill Self called Nancy Dorsey the day before she died.
• SB Nation’s Spencer Hall traveled to Myanmar to examine Chinlone, the traditional sport of the country.
• The New York Times reporter Ben Shpigel dove into Ikemefuna Enemkpali’s past to get some answers about his punching Geno Smith.
• From Tom Haudricourt of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Brewers minor-leaguer makes baseball history by coming out publicly as gay.
4a. Non-sports pieces:
• Via The New York Times Magazine: Every year, thousands of innocent people are sent to jail because they can't pull together $500.
• The Cauldron’s Jim Cavan on the loss of his son.
• An Iowa barber gives free haircuts to kids who read to him while he cuts.
• How the Brat Pack got its name—and spoiled celebrity journalism forever.
• Georgetown merchants are being accused of racial profiling, according to The Georgetowner.
• Former NWA manager Jerry Helle, on Straight Outta Compton, by Grantland’s Amos Barshad.
• The Los Angeles Times revisits the Watts Riots.
• Via The New York Times's Rukmini Callimachi: ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape.
• How an upstate New York journalism legend approached the hardest choice.
• A devastating look at Amazon’s work culture from The New York Times staffers Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld.
5. NBC said 4.2 million people tuned in to six telecasts on NBC, NBCSN and USA on Aug. 7 and 8, the most ever for an opening Premier League weekend in the U.S., and up 25% from the 3.3 million total for five games on NBC and NBCSN last year.
5a. Showtime announced last week that it will follow Notre Dame football for the 2015 season as part of a reality series entitled A Season with Notre Dame Football. The series is set to premiere Sept. 8 at 10 p.m. ET, three days after the team's season-opener against Texas. The show will run in 30-minute episodes throughout the season over 11 weeks.
5b. The first episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp With The Houston Texans drew 826,000 viewers, up 34% from last year’s first episode.
5c. Congrats to former SI.com staffer Pete McEntegart on the launch of Charactour.com, a new website based on a character-based algorithm intended to match consumers with entertainment content.
5d. NBC’s telecast of last Sunday’s NFL Hall of Fame Game averaged 11 million viewers, the most-watched preseason NFL game on any network in five years, since NBC’s telecast of the 2010 Hall of Fame Game (11.4 million for the Bengals-Cowboys). Last week’s game (Vikings-Steelers) topped last year’s Hall of Fame Game telecast by 29% (8.5 million viewers for Giants-Bills) and NBC said it was the most-watched sporting event since the Women’s World Cup Final on July 5.
5e. We’re starting to see more and more women in the sports media host or co-host their own podcasts. That’s an excellent trend, given the rarity of women actually employed in sports as opinion-makers. One of the newest is The Lana Berry Show, hosted by the popular Twitter follow and baseball-centric writer, Lana Berry.
5f. Andy Roddick announced last week that he has left Fox Sports 1 as a studio analyst. The former tennis player was brought in as part of the initial group of on-air talent for Fox Sports Live. Roddick and Fox said the parting was amicable.
“Andy was a key figure in helping us launch Fox Sports Live,” said Michael Hughes, the executive producer of the show. “We appreciate all of his contributions and wish him and his whole family our very best wishes.”
5g. Universal Sports Network and NBC will air more than 48 hours, including 42 hours live, of the 2015 track and field world championships from Beijing. The meet will run from Aug. 21 through Aug. 30 and sprint double king Usain Bolt is expected to compete.
5h. Former Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke will co-host SiriusXM College Sports Today twice a week (4-7 p.m. ET) throughout the college football season alongside Mark Packer. Hoke will make his debut on the channel on Tuesday. SiriusXM College Sports Today airs on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, SiriusXM’s 24/7 college sports channel.