Friday, June 14, 2024

COLUMN: Women sports journalists navigate challenges, triumphs of the field

February 7, 2024

In honor of the 38th 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 stories, our struggles and our victories to give a little perspective on why today, and every day, we celebrate women and girls playing and working in sports. 

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

I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted to write for this column this year. I thought about writing about my journey, or my struggles, but none of that felt sufficient enough this time around. When thinking about my time as a sports reporter, what stands out the most to me are the fellow women I have found myself connected to. 

When I made my switch to sports journalism, I knew that it was a male-dominated field—it was a challenge I was ready and excited to take on, but what I didn’t know was the community I would gain as a woman working in sports.

From the minuscule interactions while trying to find press seating in a new arena, the seasoned professionals who are nothing but eager to help me kick start my career and the lifelong friends that I have made as a student—there has always been at least one other woman full of nothing but kindness

I walked into my first meeting at The State News and was relieved that there was not one, not two, but three other women on the desk. They instantly welcomed me and made the transition into sports journalism so much easier for me than I thought it would be.  

Having those three around to support me and find my bearings made me into the journalist that I am today and I could not be more grateful for them.

My fellow women working in sports are some of the most welcoming and supportive people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. In every class, club or social event I find myself at, there is always someone willing to help. Now, I know that not everyone is like that, but in my experience, most have been.

To the women who blazed the paths before me and the women and girls that I am sure will come after me, thank you. Thank you for contributing to such a welcoming space and making it easier and easier every day for girls new to this field to find their footing in the industry

To my sports desk girls past and present: I quite literally could not thank you enough for answering all my dumb questions—because, yes, I know I asked them—and cheering me on every step of the way. I would not be the person or reporter that I am without you guys, and I truly hope that I make you proud every day

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Words from Madi Warden, hockey beat writer:

If someone had told 15 or 16-year-old me that I was pursuing a career in sports, I probably would’ve told myself that I was insane

I grew up with a dad who, as all-girl dads do, wants at least one of them to understand what he’s talking about when he mentions guys like Steve Yzerman, Barry Sanders or Lou Whitaker. My dad deserves just as much, if not more credit for my career, and I thank him for that every chance I get

I received the call from our editor-in-chief that I was hired the night that I moved back into my dorm to begin my sophomore year. It was an emotional day for me to yet again leave my hometown and move back to a place that has gone through so many ups and downs. As I turned down the music playing loudly on my television and heard the words, “We would like to hire you as a sports general assignment reporter,” my eyes quickly began to water as my hands shook while holding my phone pressed to my ear. 

What I also didn’t realize was that a few months later, I received the news that I would be in charge of working on the hockey beat, a sport that I had grown to fall in love with. Through the rush of working at this newspaper and seeing the players and people around me who have the same passion, the drive for the work I was putting in began to explode immensely.

Working from rock bottom to the top was something I have always had a mission to succeed. And being a woman in sports, that was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have had to consistently overcome many obstacles in the industry. However, the confidence I have gained from asking questions to coaches, players and my peers still blows my mind, although my hands still get sweaty every time I do it. 

If little me were to ask me for any advice, the only words I would be able to tell her is to shoot for the stars. There is absolutely no stopping you from getting to where you want to be and if you are persistent (and just keep bugging people) you can do whatever you want to.

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Words from Jania Clowers, women’s basketball beat writer:

My love for sports started when I was younger when I would watch basketball and football with my dad and older brother; I wanted to be just like my older brother in terms of being involved in sports: it was essential

Looking back, I didn’t see myself going to college to write or talk about sports, but I will never forget choosing my journalism major before coming to Michigan State. My family was supportive but I could tell they were apprehensive. So, being able to show them everything I have been doing is amazing

With the sports industry being so male-dominated, it’s hard to be able to voice your opinion. Sometimes you have people who feel the need to give you trivia or see if you really know what you’re talking about. There are always shocked faces and reactions when I tell someone my dream career is to be a sports broadcaster, but I want to change the belief that women in sports are outlandish or not common. 

Increasing representation for women, especially African American women, in sports has always been my goal. Seeing women on television who looked like me was a driving factor in my decision to pursue this career, and looking forward, I hope what I am doing inspires young women to never give up, no matter what adversities may come.

The year 2023 was a difficult time in my life but sports helped me pick myself back up. The excitement and butterflies I get when I envision my future in sports are crazy. Five years ago, I couldn’t imagine going to basketball games sitting courtside or covering a field hockey game

I am proud to be a woman in sports and we are rising to the top. I love that for us!

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Words from Maya Kolton, multimedia reporter:

I've always been indifferent to sports, unlike my dad and brother who are both deeply immersed in sports culture. Growing up, my dad coached soccer and my brother played soccer, basketball and baseball. While they revealed the excitement of games and matches, I found myself drawn more to activities like dance and art. At my brother's baseball games, I often felt like an outsider, unable to comprehend the fervor surrounding the sport.

In high school — as a reporter and eventually editor for our school's yearbook — I was tasked with covering numerous sports events. Despite my exposure, I still struggled to grasp the allure. It wasn't until my first college football game this school year that everything changed. Standing in the tunnels, camera in hand, I was engulfed by the approaching band. I had never experienced something so loud and filled with so much energy. As the game unfolded before me, I found myself captivated by the intensity and camaraderie on the field. 

My passion for sports photography blossomed when I began capturing soccer matches. Immersing myself in the intricacies of the game, from understanding the rules to analyzing state news reports, I became deeply invested. The thrill of capturing pivotal moments — the ecstasy of a goal or the agony of a missed opportunity — ignited a newfound appreciation for the sport within me.

What I cherish most about photographing these games is the opportunity to freeze raw emotion in time. Whether it's the determination etched on a player's face or the unbridled joy of a young fan, sports provide a canvas rich with human emotion. Through my lens, I strive to capture the emotion of the game. It is my favorite feeling.

But there are aspects of being a female photographer that aren’t talked about a lot and definitely aren’t my favorite. Often, while on the field, I find myself receiving comments and instructions that I rarely see directed at my male counterparts. Almost without fail, I'm touched on the shoulder by a security guard to guide me in, or I'm reminded to smile more by someone working on the sidelines. Despite these subtle reminders of gender bias, my passion for the game and my dedication to capturing its essence remain unwavering. I refuse to let these moments detract from my love for the job I'm doing. I'm grateful to have found my own connection to sports, not only through photography but also through a genuine love for the game itself. In each snapshot, I hear the symphony of emotions that make sports truly special and I'm honored to be able to capture it. 

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Words from Emily Martin, multimedia reporter:

There is so much I could write about being a woman in sports. The coolest thing is the personal journey of each individual and the relationships that form. I started in sports journalism as a freshman in high school, taking photos, keeping statistics and directing social media operations for our high school sports teams. It led me to countless incredible opportunities when I got to Michigan State, as well as making the most important connections I may possibly ever make in my career

When people ask what it is that I am studying, or where I am working, it is the same reaction every time: a chuckle with the same degrading comments about how “hard” the career is and how women never make it as far as men. Unfortunately, it is all around us, but the right people will persevere and contribute to breaking gender barriers. There have been some instances, where I have been yelled at and pushed over, amongst other things. But, some people have lifted me up, like the press security at Munn Ice Arena, Spartan Stadium, my friends, family and mentors. Yes, it is a male-dominated field, but each day we get the privilege to prove the world wrong. Being a woman in sports and a part of The State News, I have never felt so lucky and like I am taking an active role in making a positive change. 

It is the most special feeling to be a part of something like sports journalism and for each of us, it means something different. I grew up in a sports family from all directions. Sports are an escape from reality, a place to be with others if you choose, watch competitions and not have to deal with life for an hour at a time. To this day, I cannot believe that what I see as an escape from reality, I can now say is my personal reality. Ever since the day I was born, my family and I would walk down to my grandparents' house to watch the game that was on, every week, every season.

Some of my best memories are sitting outside with a big group of family, watching the Detroit Tigers at my grandparents’ house, grilling burgers and hot dogs, while snacking on watermelon and screaming about Miguel Cabrera’s wild homerun. Don’t even get me started on the best holiday of the year for my family: the Michigan State vs. University of Michigan football game. I went from yelling at the TV with my family and friends to being asked to wear a bright color so they could see me on TV at the game

You will always be feared, doubted and seen as an enemy of some sort, but it is up to you to decide whether or not you want to feed into those views or prove the opposite through the work you accomplish. As most journalists do, I have doubted my drive once or twice, but I am also extremely lucky to have the support system that I do. For that, I say thank you to my family, friends and sports journalists all around me. Women in sports are stronger than anyone can ever imagine

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