Saturday, May 21, 2022

Column: Women belong in sports, deal with it

<p>The Michigan State University women’s basketball team celebrates as they have taken a lead over Minnesota, and the game is inching to a close on Jan. 23, 2022.</p>

The Michigan State University women’s basketball team celebrates as they have taken a lead over Minnesota, and the game is inching to a close on Jan. 23, 2022.

Photo by Tyler Smith | The State News

With Title IX’s 50th birthday on the horizon, we’ve found ourselves wondering: What do the late Patsy Mink, Edith Green and Birch Bayh think of their legislative baby? Is this where they pictured their anti-discriminatory amendment to be in 2022, in terms of advancements and new-age thinking?

Because, truth be told, behind every leap of progress comes another missile of setback from those disgruntled over the thought of women being out of the kitchen.

In honor of the 36th National Girls and Women in Sports Day, here are our perspectives, our stories, and the struggles and triumphs we have been through, and are going through, still, as female athletic reporters and former athletes.

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Words from Sara Tidwell, women’s basketball beat writer:

On Nov. 18, 2021, I received the worst hate email of my early media career from an anonymous male source attached to a now-deleted Gmail account.

It was a lengthy “critique” – and I use that word lightly – which ripped apart a harmless column I wrote about how Suzy Merchant’s team deserves the same acknowledgment as Tom Izzo’s, which sucked because I was actually really proud of it.

Sure, I’m sometimes a sensitive human being, but I can take constructive criticism from those in the field to better my craft. Being a student also means I’m learning and growing. I knew from the start getting into this field would mean dealing with this type of stuff more often than not.

However, this email was neither constructive nor criticism, and this sender actually had the balls to introduce themselves as a “State News alumnus who keeps in contact with some of (my) current and former co-workers.”

There I was — a target on my forehead, a red cape waving in front of this angry bull.

The sender not only attacked my writing; they also attacked my person; who I am as a reporter, how I dress for game coverage, how The State News had no one better to put on the men’s beat last season, so they were stuck with me and how they only then put me on the women’s beat this year because I was, yet again, a last-resort option.

They bashed and belittled me until I was wallowing in self-pity and self-hatred. I’ll be honest, it hit me really hard, and it still triggers my anxiety pretty badly to think about two months later. I did my best to keep going, out of pure f------ spite, but days do go by where I sometimes wish I was doing something else.

Though, I know that if this weren’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I would have moved on already. I wouldn’t have pestered former editor-in-chief, Madison O’Connor, through countless forms of contact about a job on the sports desk. I wouldn’t have sat through a semester on the city desk, covering weather and construction updates in East Lansing, just so I could eventually move up where I wanted.

I know I’m talented. I know my worth as a female sports reporter. I deserve to be here just as much as the weak sports reporter behind that email.

So, to my superfan “Luke Hayes,” thank you. For showing me that I need to keep going. For showing me that I’m doing something right. I hope you’re not sending love letters like this to anyone else, XOXO.

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Words from Jayna Bardahl, managing editor:

Last year, I wrote this column with a chip on my shoulder. 

I wrote to prove myself to those who doubted me.

This year, however, I’m not writing to those who questioned me. Instead, I write this to other young women in sports, perhaps at MSU, going through experiences like mine. I write this to my freshman self.

Support student media! Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.

Dear 18-year-old Jayna, 

It’s early January, and you're searching up, down and all around Grand River Ave. for this weird back entrance to The State News. You’ll eventually find it; you’ll interview and get offered a spot on the student government beat. It’s not where you want to be, but it’s a foot in the door. That’s all everyone says you need, right? 

You’ll learn from this beat and actually start to enjoy it, besides the fact you miss out on Thursday nights with your friends… little do you know how many other nights you’ll sacrifice for your job. But, still, your intentions are set. You want to work in sports, so chase it. Make your goals clear to those who can help you achieve them. 

Next semester that’ll happen. You’ll move to the sports desk as a general assignment reporter. You’ll be one of the only “newbies” on the desk, but don’t ever think that makes you less qualified to cover the games you want. Approach each desk meeting with confidence. Put yourself out there. 

Next, you’ll be hired as the men’s basketball reporter. You’ll be full of emotion. You’ll write about getting this job on your cover letter, taking a shaky angle about how you doubted your abilities as you accepted the position, but you’ll change this after some wise advice from a professor.

You were ready for that job and more than good enough for it. 

You’re just as qualified for every opportunity that comes your way. You’re just as deserving as anybody else. 

Stop doubting yourself and start acting on your goals. Be proactive, and, most importantly, be yourself.

You’ll enter senior year with experiences you wouldn’t have imagined as a freshman. You’ll have met amazing people along the way, and you’ll realize your greatest memories from college come from those nights you sat on press row instead of at the bar. You’ll never think twice again before sending in an article or asking that question in a press conference. You’re confident, and you’re talented, and you won’t ever let that dull.

You’ll feel ready to tackle the world in front of you, and for others that follow in similar footsteps, you’ll be there helping lead the way, as so many others did for you.

With love,

Your senior self. 

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Words from Jenna Malinowski, women’s basketball beat writer:

Sports have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Whether it was watching a friend or family member compete, watching professional sports with my dad or competing myself, I’ve loved every second of it. Even now, my favorite thing in the world is sitting down with my dad to watch a big game.

Growing up, I tried almost every sport offered to me, such as basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, tennis and softball. Although I enjoyed playing up to the high school level, I had no aspirations to take my athletic career any higher but still hoped to remain a part of the sports world.

In addition to playing sports, I also liked to stay in the know about what was happening in professional sports. When I was in middle school, I used to write my own articles on Detroit sports stars and keep track of MLB stats on flashcards in my spare time, so no one who knew me was surprised when I decided to pursue sports journalism in college.

I knew it was a male-dominated industry, but the female sports journalists I saw on TV gave me hope that I could do what they do. Having grown up a baseball fanatic, seeing Jessica Mendoza on TV calling an MLB postseason game for the first time made me realize there’s nothing in the sports media industry that women can’t do. From that moment on, there wasn't a doubt in my mind I wanted to be a sports journalist.

Today, we celebrate all the talented women, like Mendoza, who have paved the way, those who helped them along the way and the girls who look up to them. Women belong in sports.

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Words from Melanie Soverinsky, general assignment sports writer:

Growing up, sports were always something I enjoyed but never felt completely comfortable in. Name a recreational sport, and I probably played it. I was never a starting player but loved to be a part of the team.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve shared that love for sports with my dad. Some of my favorite childhood memories are attending MSU football and basketball games and spending that time with him over the years. Oh, and getting a Melting Moments ice cream cookie sandwich. Those are the best.

This is where my love for the world of sports has stemmed from. I value this interest that my dad and I share and hold it close to my heart. There is no greater feeling than being able to share my accomplishments with him and knowing how proud he is.

This passion has grown throughout my time on the sports desk at The State News. I am grateful to be surrounded by brilliant women on the desk who continue to pave the way for women in sports. 

As a general assignment writer, I’m fortunate to be given the opportunity to dip my toes into different sports. Over the past semester, I’ve done reporting on women's soccer, field hockey, cross country, men’s hockey, gymnastics, and men's tennis. Each experience has taught me something new and exciting.

As I continue on in this field, I hope I will continue to receive the same respect as my male counterparts. While I have yet to face any discrimination based on my gender, I know this is not unexpected. I will continue to hold my head high and treat everyone the way I want to be treated, regardless of appearance. 

Each day in this role, I consider myself lucky — lucky to work alongside such a supportive group of women who make me feel like I belong in the world of sports; lucky to feel passionate about what I'm doing. And above all, lucky to be given the chance to go up against the odds. 

We’ve still got a long way to go, but, if you ask me, we’re doing pretty damn good. 

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