Sunday, June 16, 2024

COLUMN: Why we celebrate being women in sports

<p>The State News sports desk for the Women in Sports Day column on Jan. 31, 2023. </p>

The State News sports desk for the Women in Sports Day column on Jan. 31, 2023.

In honor of the 37th National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the women of The State News sports and multimedia desks share what the day means to us. Here are our perspectives on being women in sports and why we celebrate today.


Words from Jenna Malinowski, sports editor:

From a young age, I knew I wanted to work in sports. Saturdays were always my favorite day of the week because I would get up early, turn on College GameDay and watch football all day with my dad. 

I was really lucky growing up because my parents saw my love of sports and encouraged it. They were both at every game I ever played in and have been nothing but supportive of my decision to pursue a career in sports. My dad especially is a total “girl dad” who taught me to pursue my passions without ever worrying about what people would say.

Last semester, I got to experience the opportunity of a lifetime when I was selected to be one half of the Michigan State football beat. Having grown up watching football every weekend, I was ecstatic to get to write about the sport. Like most other jobs I’ve had, I showed up with first day jitters.

Unlike my other jobs, including covering the MSU women’s basketball team, these jitters didn’t subside after the first day. They followed me throughout the season. Taking on a bigger beat where there was rarely another female writer in the room added a level of pressure I hadn’t felt before.

Granted, a lot of the pressure came from myself, but it was still something I had never experienced before. I constantly second-guessed everything wrote, religiously checking every term and statistic that went into a story to make sure I wasn’t messing up, because if I messed up, I thought people would discover that I didn’t deserve to have the job.

It was a long road that required me to reflect and work on my confidence in my writing. Although I never confided in anyone about what I was feeling, one of the sports journalism classes I was taking at the time taught by Joanne Gerstner forced me to reflect on and work through these feelings. I'll never forget the impact that had on me.

Although it was hard, I finally got to a place at the end of the season where I was confident in my abilities as a football writer. I felt like I had come out on the other side of the doubt I was feeling. If I could do that, there’s nothing in this industry that I can’t do as long as I have the hard work and dedication to back it up.

Now, being in a position of leadership, I hope to be a guide not just for other beginner sports journalists, but also for female sports journalists who felt the way I did. I want them to know that even though it might be intimidating at first, if this is something you love, you just have to go after it with everything you got and never let self-doubt deter you.


Words from Melanie Soverinsky, men’s basketball beat writer:

On Oct. 25, I received the news I had been yearning for all year. The State News’ editor-in-chief informed me that I had been selected as one half of the Michigan State Men’s Basketball Beat for the 2022-23 season. 

Call me dramatic but I began to tear up. It was a dream of mine to cover a program with as much history and culture behind it as MSU men’s basketball. 

Immediately I called my dad, the person who taught me all there was to know about MSU hoops.

Growing up, we would attend games at the Breslin Center together. There was always something special about those memories. I’m unsure if it was the connection I felt to my dad or the love for the sport. Likely a mix of the two. 

Every time I enter the Breslin Center to work for The State News, I get the chills. 

I imagine the girl watching with her dad, dressed in the t-shirt toss souvenir that went down to my knees and covered in stains from my Melting Moments cookie sandwich.

If only she knew that one day she would be down on the floor, doing what she loves. 

While working on the beat, I have discovered a lot about myself. At first, it was difficult for me to become entirely confident in my abilities, especially as the only woman present at most press conferences. 

I have received degrading criticism from others via social media while working on sports desk, implying that my male counterparts would be a better fit for the position. My gender has no correlation to my journalistic abilities.

Over the past three months, I have watched myself flourish into a more assertive reporter who is confident that despite the odds, women belong in sports. 

So, to the girl sitting up top of the lower bowl who felt a sense of belonging but was unsure why or if it was acceptable to feel the way she did: I am SO proud of you. Proud of the way you have persevered, proud of the growth you have made and proud to be a part of a sports desk with a majority of women writers, all striving towards the same goal.

Being a woman in sports isn’t easy, but someone’s gotta prove society wrong. 


Words from Maddy Warren, hockey beat writer:

One year ago, I was the academics reporter on campus desk who cried while reading the women in sports column, feeling lucky to work with such inspiring women at The State News. This year, I get to write part of it.

Growing up, I was never much of an athlete, but I’ve loved sports for as long as I can remember. As an East Lansing area native, I attended Michigan State sporting events often – my first was a women’s basketball game when I was four years old.

In high school, I spent my Saturday mornings watching Samantha Ponder on ESPN College GameDay, dreaming of becoming a sideline reporter.

I intended to study sports journalism in college but fell into news writing and was happy there. Meanwhile, I continued admiring the work of women in sports media.

After spending my first three years of college covering non-sports news – experience I’m grateful for – I was looking for a change of scenery. After much consideration in the weeks leading up to fall semester, I took a leap of faith and sent in my application for a general assignment reporter on sports desk. You only live once, right? 

Thanks to the support of my editors, I’ve spent my senior year living a childhood dream, covering athletics at the university that taught me to love sports. Now in my final semester, applying for internships and full-time positions – in both news and sports – I can’t help but reflect on how I got here. 

Truthfully, I hesitated to switch to sports with all the discrimination women face in the industry. We know the challenges going in, but nothing prepares you to experience them firsthand. 

After I was selected to be one half of our men's ice hockey beat in October, I learned quickly, there aren’t a lot of women in the sport. Even fewer are reporters. Some days, I’m one of only two women in a room full of men. I was intimidated at first. Not to mention, the pressure I was already feeling to prove myself as a rookie sports reporter.

Day by day, my confidence grew each time I raised my hand to ask a question in a press conference and took my seat in the press box. I kept reminding myself — I deserve to be there as much as any of my male colleagues. With three weeks left in the season, I’m proud of how much I’ve grown in a few months. I know little me would be proud, too.

So, if you’re a woman who plays sports or one who works in the field — and no one's told you lately – you’re doing amazing. Somewhere, there’s a young girl looking up to you. They see you. I see you. Keep taking up space. You’re making an impact on the world every day.


Words from Bella Johnson, women’s basketball beat writer:

If you told eight-year-old me that in 12 years I would be sitting at a football press conference wearing a Taylor Swift cardigan I would have only believed half of what you said.

When I was younger, I used to swear up and down that I was not a fan of sports because none of my best friends were, but that didn’t stop me from getting distracted every time a game was on. I loved the thrill and fast pace of a close game, and most of my earliest memories are surrounding watching Michigan State games with family and friends. 

Despite how much I obviously enjoyed watching sports, I felt like I wasn’t supposed to. I was a competitive dancer for most of my childhood, and in my young brain, I was convinced that liking sports and liking ‘girly’ things couldn’t coexist.  

Naturally, I was wrong, but the ideology was so popular, and it stuck with me for so long, that I just convinced myself otherwise. 

I figured out a few years ago that I couldn’t be more wrong, but there are still so many people surrounding me that have that same preconceived notion. 

It is a tale as old as time — a woman or girl expresses interest in a sport, and someone is following close behind to ask her to name ten players. I have heard it many times and I have many friends who have also.

It used to get in my head, the expectation from some people that, as a woman, I am expected to know everything to even be considered a fan, but now that I’m a little older, I get kind of excited when someone asks.

I don’t know everything — that would be insane — but being able to answer stupid questions like that and see the look of surprise on someone's face is something that never gets old.

The idea that I need to be able to ace a quiz to be taken the least bit seriously is ridiculous, but until that is no longer a social norm, I will pride myself on the little victories of going out and proving people wrong. 

To my eight-year-old self and to any girl who needs to hear it: We live in a world where it is entirely possible and normal to want to spend all day doing your makeup and shopping for the most disgustingly pink dress you have ever seen in your life and then go out at night and scream at a hockey game. Interests and hobbies are not assigned to a single gender, so do not let anyone or anything make you think otherwise.


Words from Audrey Richardson, multimedia editor: 

As a former student athlete here at Michigan State, I understand the sacrifice and the determination it takes to be one at the collegiate level. Having that understanding gives me a different perspective when it comes to a sports assignment. Capturing the sweat and grit of the Spartan players was something I was excited about when I joined The State News as a photographer. What I didn’t realize until I joined The State News is how little women are included in the sports industry. 

Unfortunately, there is rarely a decent group of female photographers at any sports game. Most times, I am the only woman in the court, field or building. It is a surreal feeling when you make eye contact with another woman on assignment. An instant sense of relief and understanding is communicated. The issue of not being welcome on a sports assignment is never something I expected to deal with.

My two favorite sports assignments for The State News have been the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, Indiana with men’s basketball beat reporter Melanie Soverinsky and the Ohio State vs. Michigan State hockey game in Columbus, Ohio with men’s hockey beat reporter Maddy Warren. For both assignments, we road tripped together, had a great time and most importantly published amazing content. It felt natural. It felt right. So why does the industry not seem to accept us?

A woman’s perspective in the sports industry is just as important, if not more, than a man's. Because our voices have been so underrepresented in the past, it’s time for some fresh perspectives. There is no doubt that women see the world differently and showing this in the way we report at The State News will not weaken our content but strengthen it. 

If I didn’t have Mel and Maddy with me, I’m not sure I would have felt comfortable. That is why it’s so important for women in the industry to stick together. There has been a long history of women not in sports, so on this Women in Sports Day, I wanted to share my great experiences I’ve had with fellow State News members.

I felt powerful at those games. I felt like I belonged. I have loved the world of sports since before I was five years old. Being put in a box that doesn’t include sports would be heartbreaking. I would love for more women to feel powerful in the sports industry like me. There is so much opportunity for inclusion and I will use my voice to spur that conversation in the right direction. Acknowledging this day is a step in the right direction for a better future within the sports industry.


Words from Sonya Barlow, multimedia reporter: 

With moving around so much growing up, sports have always been one of the constants in my life, whether that be watching or participating in them, and now thanks to The State News, I get to cover them alongside some amazing female sports reporters. 

Throughout my life before college, I participated in a variety of sports including swimming, tennis, gymnastics and bowling. I did sports for two reasons: My mom wanted me to get involved and be healthy (you know how moms are) and because sports are great for your physical and mental health. While these are valid reasons for doing sports, I wasn’t ever good at them, so I never continued. But I later learned that the world of sports is more than just participating in them.

Growing up outside of the U.S., the main sport I watched was soccer (football to the rest of the world). It was constantly playing in restaurants, bars and people’s homes, especially when the World Cup tournament came around. 

I will never forget the time my dad, sister and I went with my sister’s friend and her dad to watch the 2014 World Cup game between Italy, where they are from, and England, where my dad is from. We went to this pub in downtown Shanghai and watched the game alongside other passionate fans. This was the first time I experienced something like this. People – women and men alike – from different nationalities came together to enjoy a soccer game on TV. 

In the past few years, I’ve really kept up with the soccer world, it’s what my dad and I bond over. I’m currently taking a Global Soccer class and he was so excited to hear about it that he even asked for my notes. Even though it’s a male-dominated class – unsurprisingly – I’m happy to be joined by a few fellow female classmates who love learning and talking about the sport. 

Although I’ve never really been interested in participating in sports, I do love watching them. Whether on a screen or in-person, there’s a sense of unity that brings people of all genders together. Not just from the fans, but the sports teams and reporters themselves. There’s a real camaraderie in sports. That’s what makes sports reporting so special. There’s something for everyone.

Although there has been some progress in women's sports reporting, there is still a long way to go to being an inclusive and welcoming space for everyone. 

That is why I’m proud to be another woman in sports reporting. As a multimedia reporter, I’ve had the greatest opportunities to combine my passion for photography and watching sports. 

I get to share an underrepresented women’s perspective from the sidelines through my storytelling. More perspectives deserve to be in the world of sports.

I’m always intimidated by the male-dominated group of sports reporters at every game that I’ve attended, but I’m always amazed and proud to see women – especially young women – participating in sports reporting. 

At the recent men’s basketball game against Purdue, it was refreshing to have met and seen a female high school senior photographing the game and following her passions. 

In honor and celebration of women in sports day, let’s keep pushing and changing the status quo. Women belong in sports. 


Words from Denille Reid, multimedia reporter:

Just a year ago I was a senior in high school who played sports all four years. Sports were a big part of my family and life growing up. Being born in the Caribbean, coming to America the sports culture was completely different. I wanted to learn more about it and instantly fell in love with sports like football, basketball and soccer. 

I got my first camera senior year of high school and the first thing I shot on it was sports — track and field to be specific. I immediately realized this was something I was interested in and wanted to do more of. I made sure when college applications came out to apply to all the D1 schools where I could get an opportunity to advance my photography. MSU was number one on my list, which was hard being out-of-state, but I was ready to take that leap.

Coming to MSU changed a lot for me, the sports culture here is everything I wanted and working at The State News made that a lot more exciting for me. My first time on a Big Ten field was a night to remember. 

It was my first-time photographing football. It was against Wisconsin and the energy on that field was beyond memorable. Though it was intense and a little scary, I felt my editor prepared me for any hiccups. It was one of those core moments you never forget. Hearing the echoing chants from the stands and the roaring cheers and insults was a reminder of how beautiful sports can be. 

The reality of being a female photographer is that there aren’t many of us. Sometimes I am the only female photographer at most events and sometimes the only POC photographer. This makes it so much more special when I do see more female photographers at games, not only does it make me more comfortable, but they are the kindest and most helpful people you will meet.

Still a freshman, there's so much I want to learn, and this is just the beginning for me. Sports not only opened a wide door of opportunities for me but also allowed me to meet so many amazing people.


Words from Chloe Trofatter, visual director: 

For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in photography. Growing up, a camera was always the first thing on my Christmas list. 

In high school I got my first actual camera, joined the yearbook and got to experience the excitement of sports photography. 

Football, basketball, wrestling - the sport didn’t matter. It was being there, on the sidelines, surrounded by the cheering fans. The energy was electric then - and that was long before I stepped foot on the grass of Spartan Stadium. 

I was first taught by my high school art teacher, Mrs. Spence, learning alongside my largely female class. 

In 2018 I graduated and came to Michigan State where I began learning photojournalism under Judy Walgren. My class was still largely made up of other women, but this is where the tide started to shift.

By 2021 when I first joined The State News, I walked into a newsroom that was and continues to be largely women-led and I began my first dive into professional sports journalism. 

For my entire education up until this point, I was led, taught by, and learning alongside other women. However, walking into professional environment - that all fell away. 

Shooting sports, or being a photojournalist in general, really, I quickly got used to being the only woman in the room. It was intimidating at first, 20-years-old walking into a media room of grown men. I was easily dismissed and viewed and treated as someone who could be pushed around. 

However, I didn’t let that stop me.

I had a job to do, one that I was passionate about, and nothing was going to keep me from doing it well. 

When I finally started seeing other women on the sidelines, they were my age. Fellow SNewsers, Sarah Smith from WDBM Sports and Kelly Branigan from Big Ten Network — it was then that I realized we were creating the representation I always felt like I was missing. 

That space was left for me by SNewsers that have since graduated and moved on. Photographers that continue to inspire me like Alytė Katilius, Annie Barker and Sylvia Jarrus. 

I only hope I can be that for the next generation of female photojournalists, the one that lets other women and girls know that they’re right where they’re supposed to be. 


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