Study highlights lack of diversity in sports media

JAMIE CHEN / AGGIE

While people of color are trending upward, a strong gender gap remains

A recent diversity report card put out by the Institute For Diversity and Ethics in Sport highlighted and confirmed a serious lack of diversity across the Associated Press sports editors. The study, which was spearheaded by Dr. Richard Lapchick, showed that 85 percent of people holding key sports reporting positions at newspapers and on major websites in both the United States and Canada were white men, and while the representation of people of color is on an upward trend, women are still underrepresented. Across the APSE, women make up just 17.9 percent of sports desks, getting Fs in every category except for assistant sports editors, where they got a C- with 30.1 percent of the jobs going to females. It was the only upward trend in the whole study.

Though the study doesn’t cover every field, the lack of women in sports media continues to be a problem for employers. Organizations such as the Association for Women in Sports Media have been formed to combat sexist hiring practices and, according to its mission statement, to “serve as a watchdog, [promote] fair portrayal of female professionals in sports media, [encourage] diversity, positive workplace environments and equal access to opportunities.”

For those women who are in the industry, the struggles do not end when they are hired on or allowed to join the other media covering events. For four years, TJ Macíashas been a beat reporter for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks for Hardwood and Hollywood, and just this year she began to cover the Texas Rangers for D210 Sports TV. According to Macias, there is a culture of masculinity which can shift depending on the environment she’s working in, starting with professional basketball.

“In my case, [breaking in] wasn’t actually that difficult,” Macías said via phone interview. “At least not in the Dallas/Fort Worth area — but only when it came to breaking into the NBA […] I had to recap a few televised games before I was allowed to cover a couple practices and shoodstarounds with the Mavericks. From there, they allowed me to cover single games before eventually giving me season media passes.”

Upon getting regular access to the locker room, a new set of challenges arose. Early on, Macías began to sniff out who was okay with her presence in the locker room and who had been uncomfortable. Aside from the issues with diversity, she noticed a pattern of older writers giving a cold shoulder to the younger ones rather than helping them enter as they once did.

“When I first started out, I was put off by one or two of [the senior writers], and completely ignored altogether by others,” Macías said “I was noticed if I got in the way of them in the locker room, and was either pushed to the side — I almost fell into Devon Harris’ locker once when one older white writer moved to take my place, then glared at me as if I had been the one in the wrong. All of this would happen before the players would get into the locker room. Usually if they witness something like that, they’re the first to jump in and right the wrong.”

Though Macías eventually felt more comfortable inside the Mavericks, her recent transition into a major league locker room has proven a far more difficult. After her initial inquiries into getting press passes for the Rangers, it took Macias years of attempting to get a press pass from the Rangers before the team would finally relent, and while it was a step in the right direction, she noticed an immediate difference.

“I believe that the Rangers are attempting to become more open to bloggers and are playing catch up with the rest of the sports world in terms of diversity in the press box and the clubhouse, but baseball is still pretty behind,” Macías said. “When I first walked into the press box, I noticed that I was one of only two women in there, including [TV reporter] Emily Jones. It was a sea of white men. It’s like a millennial Twilight Zone episode where everyone is either hipsters wearing reading glasses and plaid or overweight old balding guys. They’re all friendly for the most part, but the scene isn’t diverse at all.”

While much of the problem lies on the hands of the employers, the masculine culture which often drives sports goes far beyond the media, or even the players. Macías learned this with the rest of the nation of Feb. 20, when Sports Illustrated put out a scathing exposé regarding a toxic work environment which had grown within the Dallas Mavericks. Though the scandal touched on many different facets of the team’s executive branch, it was one particular issue which caught Macias’ attention.

Earl K. Sneed, who had worked side-by-side with the media, and who Macías knew on a first-name basis, had been knowingly kept on by the team despite a violent past which included an assault on his then-girlfriend and getting arrested at the team’s facilities. Though the team admitted its past transgressions, Macías believes that there’s a long way to go before the past can be forgiven.

“Shortly after the scandal broke, the Mavericks rushed to rectify their already damaged name, but some things still went unnoticed,” Macías said. “There were still men in the locker room that had a history of harassing women covering the team who were only booted when the women came together and did something. This has got to change. Women in sports need a safe environment and while things are slowly changing thanks to the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, they’re not changing fast enough.”

Despite her struggles to break in, and despite a locker room environment which can often lead to unpleasant interactions with men, Macías hopes that the findings of the TIDES report can change in the next few years and is hopeful that girls across the world will choose to enter the profession.

“Keep fighting,” Macías said. “Don’t let anyone push you around — mentally and physically — and never lose your passion for the industry, because a lot of people will try to come in and sever that passion with a hacksaw. Be stronger than them. Shut your mind off to the online trolls, not matter how hard that may seem, and outright defy the in-person trolls. Band together with other women in the field because they are the ones that truly know what you’re going through or what you will go through and always have each other’s backs.”

While the TIDES report offered a troubling perspective on the floundering diversity in sports media, women like TJ Macías are working to break the barriers open and pave the way for those who are interested to follow in her footsteps in the future.

 

Written by: Bradley Geiser — sports@theaggie.org