The stereotype that won't die hurts women sports reporters' credibility

OTHER VOICES

August 17, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich

SHE WAS a petite reporter with blond hair, seemingly perfect skin and tan, and toned legs that caught the players' eyes as she wandered around the Philadelphia Phillies' locker room in a knee-length skirt.

I remember wondering if she was sleeping with any of them.

Then, I wondered if she thought the same thing about me.

Truth is, it happens. But not like the media or Hollywood might lead you to believe.

It doesn't make it any easier to establish credibility, though, when someone like Fox sports reporter Carolyn Hughes allegedly crosses the line.

Hughes, whose supposed affair with Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe has been splashed throughout the national media recently, was appropriately reassigned from her position as co-host of the Dodgers pre-game show on Fox Sports Net West 2. She is expected to continue hosting the nationally televised FSN Across America.

Hughes' recent publicity isn't a setback for women in sports. It just proves we still have a long way to go.

One of the first questions Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen asked me was, "What do you know about football?"

In 2003, my first season covering Penn State's Joe Paterno, I remember his saying, "You can't cover Penn State if you have a boyfriend."

A year later, Paterno was quoted in Frank Fitzpatrick's book, The Lion In Autumn, as saying: "I sit there and I've got to answer questions from a young lady who's never played football. She's got all the answers. She's 27 years old and she's quizzing me. Why did you do this, why did you do that? Challenging this and challenging that. Fine. She wants to make a reputation. She wants to do a job. But I'm not going to pay any attention to her."

There are lots of ways to make a reputation.

After you learn what zone blocking and skinny posts are, and soon after you've filed countless game stories on a tight deadline, you earn some credibility. But sometimes, after you've scooped the competition, only then do you see the smirks that suggest it came through the bedroom, not the locker room. Building relationships with "sources" can be easily misconstrued, especially when you're not male, balding and overweight.

Speaking of stereotypes ...

Other media outlets and Hollywood have only endorsed them.

There was ESPN's sorry excuse for drama called Playmakers, in which Thea Andrews played the role of sports reporter Samantha Lovett. Andrews also happened to work as a national correspondent for the new ESPN2 morning show, Cold Pizza. In one scene, Lovett entered the locker room and flirted with an athlete, touching him suggestively on the shoulder. If nothing else, her role blurred the line between fiction and reality.

More recently, there was Angela Bassett, who played ESPN reporter Mo Simmons in the movie Mr. 3000. She had a fling with Bernie Mac's character, Stan Ross.

And that is what has translated into the public perception - not standing on a practice field at 7:45 a.m., or leaving a press box alone after midnight. It's Playboy.com's poll to find "America's Sexiest Sportscaster," not an Emmy for the work they've done. It's Jason Whitlock's most recent column on ESPN.com that stated: "Women don't belong in male locker rooms." It's old-school coaches like Paterno who don't let reporters in, anyway.

It's Carolyn Hughes becoming a story instead of reporting one.

The Association for Women in Sports Media, which is widely regarded in the industry as a credible association, has roughly 400 members, and there are probably fewer than 1,000 women in the industry. There are more women writing and editing the sports stories than becoming them, which is why AWSM president Joanne Gerstner said Hughes' situation wasn't a setback to those within the profession.

"There are hundreds of very skilled, professional and well-respected women doing our jobs successfully every day without problems like this," said Gerstner, who covers the Detroit Pistons for The Detroit News. "That more than speaks for itself. Since Carolyn is not a member of AWSM, we really don't feel the need to comment any further on it."

Sports is all about boundaries, and it's up to women to enforce them. It's a rare occasion when an attractive female sports reporter doesn't have a coach or player inappropriately flirt, but it's usually nothing a funny, sarcastic remark can't take care of.

Then there's no reason for anyone to wonder.

Heather A. Dinich is a sports reporter for The Sun.

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