Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Column: From the women on The State News' sports desk, today we celebrate

February 3, 2021

Dear readers, it is from the women on The State News sports desk that, today, we celebrate.

Those who came before us, nearly 50 years ago, are smiling down from the heavens at the progress we have made in today’s society, where women are now allowed to actively participate in things otherwise seen as “manly” and where discrimination based on sex has been barred.

In honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, here are our perspectives.

Words from Sara Tidwell, men’s basketball beat writer

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Co-ed programs were always a challenge. I hated co-ed gym classes, always feeling like a sore thumb that stuck out. I carried this weight on my shoulders that made me feel as if I had to constantly prove myself, my position and my ability, to not be overshadowed by my male counterparts.

And having male leaders in these programs wasn’t always the most helpful, as they often kept a careful watch on you and would layer an extra amount of pressure if they saw you had capability “for a girl.”

I practiced martial arts from sixth through 12th grade. It took four of those years, 15 different belt ranks and a brutal 10-hour test to be able to tie that midnight blue belt around my waist.

Yes, spoiler alert, the belt isn’t actually black. Black means end and in martial arts, we never stop learning.

I competed in roughly 12-15 tournaments over the years, going up against both women and men. Older and younger than I and collected tens of hundreds of medals, trophies and other honors that honor my accomplishments.

I remember being told countless times from masters and grandmasters, which were mostly wrinkly old men, that martial arts were my path.

However, I don’t recall seeing my first female master until I was roughly halfway through training. I only remember a select few women who were running schools of their own or on their own – not including the wife of my male instructor, Mary Weir, and their daughter Taylor.

I had a close-knit group of girl friends I trained with, as there weren’t that many of us to begin with. This made it hard, especially when it came to partner work and to double up because if your girlfriend wasn’t there you had to work with a boy and many of those boys didn’t know their own strengths.

Or were often confused by detailed techniques. Which made it harder on me, personally, because I would have to wear both the mask of a mother to teach and the mask of a student to learn.

It was hard to have somebody to look up to in my practice, when many of the historical names and celebrity-made figures were male, like Chuck Norris. (Yes, he trained in the same type of martial art I did. Crazy, right?)

When I was promoted to black belt, I tried as best I could to change that, to show the little girls and the grown women I was leading that it was possible to get where I was, where I am.

I wanted them to know that it was possible to be both pretty, smart and strong. That strength wasn’t solely a male quality and that men weren’t always the ones who had to save the day.

Women can kick some ass too, in case you didn't know.

Words from Jayna Bardahl, men’s basketball beat writer

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You probably read my byline and have a question, I’ll assume. Men’s basketball beat reporter… I mean, did she even play men’s basketball?

Spoiler alert – and I can’t believe I sometimes have to clarify this – no, I have never played men’s basketball. Not even women’s for that matter, unless you’re counting the sixth grade YMCA youth league, which got a little chippy if I do say so myself.

Your next question might ask me how many athletes I can name in the NFL or MLB and you’ll laugh at me when I can’t name every player, position and college of every athlete on every team in the country.

But, I hate to break it to you Chad, neither can you. 

I’ve dealt with the stigma around women in sports my entire life. Growing up as a cheerleader, it was as if I handed people the megaphone to question my sports knowledge and constantly remind me of the numerous reasons why cheerleading wasn't a sport and I was stupid for ever thinking it could be.

Disclaimer: Don’t doubt a cheerleader’s sports knowledge. Attending a football game every weekend and basketball games twice a week will teach you a thing or two. Whether you want to learn it or not.

But I won’t sit here and nag. I love sports and I love my job working in them. 

As a sports reporter I’ve been given opportunities I could have never imagined and I’ve told stories that I present proudly on my portfolio.

I’ve traveled to states and arenas I would have otherwise never seen and I’ve spoken to athletes whom I would have otherwise never known.

And for the most part, I’ve been lucky thus far.

Former New York Mets general manager Jared Porter never sent me unsolicited texts as he did to a female reporter in 2016, ultimately driving her out of the business. 

I’ve never been paid significantly less than my male counterparts like the twenty-eight members of the world champion United States women’s soccer team have been. 

No source has ever questioned me or denied me an interview, an experience that countless other women in the industry have endured.

But I’ve often been looked at as "the sports girl," "the female in the press room," "the female representation."

I’m more than that though. I’m a journalist – and a pretty good one sometimes. 

So I ask you this. 

Support the next woman you see in the press room. Network with her, read her work.

She’s more than just the woman in the press conference.

Words from Rane Claypool, general assignment sports writer

As this is my first semester on the sports desk at The State News and being new to the “women in sports” realm, it has been an exhilarating journey thus far.

I recognize that this career path was never paved for women, but we continuously defy the odds.

Women like Gayle Sierens, in the December 1987 game between the Seahawks and the Chiefs who became the first female broadcaster to do play-by-play for an NFL game. She paved the way for women like Jenny Cavnar, Beth Mowins and even the great Doris Burke.

Women in these roles have been the exceptions, rather than the rule. 

But strides have been made. When Sarah Thomas became the first permanent female NFL official, it was groundbreaking. She made her debut in the September 2015 game between the Chiefs and the Texans and is now in her sixth season as an official. 55 years into the Superbowl's existence, she will be the first woman to officiate it in a trailblazing moment. 

Men make up more than 90% of all sports broadcasters, commentators and editors, while women only compose less than 10%, according to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Finally, in 2017, Debbie Antonelli became the first woman since Ann Meyers Drysdale in 1995 to broadcast an NCAA tournament game. Another groundbreaking moment for women in the sports world. 

Even though progress has been made, there is much further to go. Women belong in sports, women belong in sports reporting and most of all, female athletes deserve the same respect as male athletes. 

95 days before the U.S. women’s national soccer team's first World Cup match, they sued the United States Soccer Federation. And I have to say, rightfully so. 

As time goes on, women in sports still face the gender pay gap, from players themselves in the WNBA and the women’s national soccer league to sportscasters and editors across the country. 

Thankfully, I have yet to experience this, and neither have the other female sports writer at The State News. But I recognize that this is not the standard for women in sports. I recognize that there will be times where we work twice as hard as the men in the room in order to just be respected. 

Fortunately, I work alongside two women that I truly admire and look up to. From asking for advice, knowledge or just helping pave the path for me, they have shown me the strength that comes from being a female sports reporter. I hope to one day do the same for other girls in my shoes. 

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