The Female Sports Journalist and Her Newfound Advantage
By: Melanie Watson
When Robin Herman made history by becoming the first woman to enter a locker room back in the 70s, she had to blaze quite the path. Almost forty years later, her female successors have created highways and back roads to get into the industry. The challenges of sexual harassment, inferior expectations, and groupie labels have not gone by the wayside, but things are a lot less hostile than they were in Herman’s day. Seeing a female in the locker room is much more commonplace but interestingly enough, it’s still unique. While you can see them in any league at any game on any given night, you’re still likely to see only a handful. But that’s not exactly a bad thing.
“I started going in locker rooms in the early 90s and often was the only woman,” says Vicki Michaelis, the John Huland Carmical Distinguished Professor in Sports Journalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. “If you would have told me then that twenty years later, there would still be locker rooms where only one woman was present I was be like ‘why?!’”
Michaelis, 44, worked for The Denver Post covering the Nuggets and the Broncos, before covering the Olympics for USA Today. She’s been in a variety of locker rooms having covered the NBA, NFL, NHL and various other sports for 22 years. In her opinion, the limited number of females in locker rooms is a huge advantage for the female sports journalist.
“When you show up to interview someone, they're going to remember you because you're probably one of three women who have come through that door during the season,” says Michaelis. “They can relate to you more than they can middle-aged white men. They warm up to you a lot faster.”
In my personal experience, when I walk into the NBA locker room, it’s all eyes on me and the two other female journalists who may be present. I still view myself as rookie having gained media credentials only two years ago. However, I’ve still been able to relate what Michaelis mentioned about being distinguished and favored. Even in the midst of a media huddle surrounding a player during postgame, I’ll often catch the eye of the athlete being interviewed regardless of whether or not I even open my mouth. If I do ask a question, it almost always gets answered, sometimes over the question from a male counterpart. I feel as though it’s not so much about me being assertive, but rather a minority in the locker room.
A common argument across various aspects of life is that looks can get women anything they want. It’s a superficial argument, but there’s certainly truth behind it, especially in the realm of sports. Males would much rather look a female in the eye before and after a game than yet another man. In all honesty, it’s something that a female sports journalist could and should use to her advantage. There are right ways and wrong ways to go about it of course, but it’s something that is acknowledged and practiced by several media outlets already.
“I've seen a few stations who will have a lot of people [at the game], including men, but the men don't go in the locker room,” says Jameelah Johnson, an African-American freelance sports journalist for the Atlanta Hawks.
Johnson, 27, attributes this pattern to the law of attraction.
“If you're an attractive woman, you're going to get a better response - not with every player - but with a lot, you're going to get a better response,” she says. “As far as material goes, it's an advantage because your work becomes that much easier to do.”
However, if not done subtly, it can set women back from the respect they worked so hard to acquire.
“Other media members or team personnel are going to look at you like 'oh, she's just here to get a player' or 'she's not really here doing real work,’” says Johnson.
It’s still a treacherous path for the female sports journalist to walk on. One mistake and all credibility becomes lost. However, if she handles her business respectfully, then there is a lot to be gained for herself and her career. The locker room is no longer new and uncharted territory, but the female sports journalist can still be a novelty herself. The sports industry may be a man’s world but women are finding ways to navigate it more efficiently for themselves.