Creators by Isabella Weiner June 25, 2019
Growing up with a brother, I’ve always been into keeping up with sports. I cheered on a weird roster of teams, including the NY Giants, the NY Rangers, the Red Sox, and the Celtics, though I do also feel for the perennially awful Knicks.
My dad went to high school in Boston, while I grew up in New York, which partially explains my weird split in fandom between New York and Boston teams.
For me, part of being a sports fan, other than going to MSG since the days David Lee sported a Knicks uniform, or Metlife stadium when Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs were the running backs– Eli was throwing just as many interceptions then– is reading the NYTimes sports section, or any number of SI, ESPN and Bleacher Report articles online.
But the sad fact is that I’m pretty much exclusively reading stories written by men. Stats from 2012 show that 90 percent of sports editors are male. Ninety percent of them are also white.
This scarcity of female sportswriters underscores the obstacles women in the profession face that their male colleagues just don’t have to deal with. Women are subject to sexism and harassment online and by the players in a way that their male counterparts simply are not.
We also have a much harder time being taken seriously in the industry. But there are some who’ve broken down the barriers. One female reporter who stands out to me is the Bleacher Report’s, Taylor Rooks.
In her new show, Take It There With Taylor Rooks, the host talks with everyone from DeMar DeRozan, the former star of the Raptors, who was traded to the Spurs as part of acquiring Kahwi, to Saquon Barkley, the NFL’s rookie of the year in 2018. She also highlights female athletes, like WNBA star Elena Delle Donne.
Out of the controlled, highly impersonal setting of the post-game interview, Rooks gets every athlete she interviews to open up by traveling to their homes. The goal, she says, is to have “deep, introspective and personal conversations with these athletes.
“It’s more of a people show than a sports show and after watching you get a better idea of who the athletes are.”
Rooks wants to show her viewers the human beneath the superstar athlete, to afford these players the chance to be “real people and give answers that we never see them give anymore.” She gets her guests to open up and be vulnerable– no “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”
Rooks also discusses the importance of having women’s voices heard in sports media. Especially the voices of women of color.
She has backed up her words with action: the entire staff of her show (save for her field producer, a white dude named Jonathan) is female– something that Rooks is “really, really proud of.”
Another female reporter I’ve watched for years is ESPN’s, Doris Burke and it’s not just me. She’s won the admiration of many celebrities, including Drake, who sported a “Women Crush Everyday” shirt with her face on it, and KD, who once called her “the greatest.”
At games, fans line up to get her autograph. Analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who has known Burke for more than thirty years, argued that “there’s no better basketball analyst in the world,” and Deadspin published an article entitled “How Doris Burke Became the Best Damn Broadcaster There Is.”
Drake with the custom Doris Burke "Women Crush Everyday" tee on Drake Night was 🔝🔝🔝 pic.twitter.com/iF0rb8V0OU
— Matthew Contreras (@MattySaid) November 17, 2016
Rooks herself admitted that she “totally fan-girled” over Burke when she saw her and, given the chance to name 2-3 people in the sports world she’d like to interview, selected the trailblazer.
Burke is the first female broadcaster to win the basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award, given each year to reporters who have made outstanding contributions to basketball.
In 2017, she became the first woman to be a full-season NBA analyst on the national level. Previously, Burke had worked about 10 games a year as an analyst, and also as a sideline reporter.
Stephanie Ready had been selected to be an analyst at the regional level for the Charlotte Hornets in 2015, but despite being told she was doing a good job, was once again relegated to the sidelines– a decision Burke said was “difficult” to watch.
In receiving the huge promotion, Burke said,
“This is exciting to me because I think the perception of what a woman can do, should do…how we are looked upon is absolutely changing.”
In the same interview, she also painted a different picture of her career in sports journalism than the dispiriting statistics would suggest.
She praised the forward-thinking NBA and its commissioner, and also noted, “Going back as far as I do covering men’s college basketball, the objections to me being an analyst never came from inside the game. The players and coaches have always showed me the utmost respect and quite frankly my gender has never felt like an issue inside the game.”
But Burke also knows that being a woman means that her time in the league is limited:
“The reality is that I’m fifty-two years old. And how many fifty-five to sixty-year-old women do you see in sports broadcasting? How many? I see a lot of sixty-year-old men broadcasting.”
She’s also been subject to dismissive treatment by coaches, including by the Spur’s Gregg Popovich. When she asked him to describe the problems the team was facing in the game, he responded with one word, “turnovers.”
Popovich gave Burke the same answer to her second question. Several years later, when Pop again tried to give her a blunt answer, Burke responded, “Happy Mother’s Day to me, I’m taking the reprieve, sir,” and cut off their interview. (Yes!!!!)
More women are breaking the glass ceiling in the sports world. In 2017, Beth Mowins was the first woman to call a “Monday Night Football” game, and in 2015, Jessica Mendoza became the first female commentator for an MLB game.
Maybe these watershed moments are a result of Burke’s trailblazing, or due to female networks of support and mentorship in the industry. Rooks pointed to Cari Champion and Maria Taylor as hugely influential forces in her career.
Still, it’s also clear that we have a long way to go.