How many women ditch sports journalism because they decide, and understandably so, that it’s not worth all the bullshit? Being called “difficult” or “shrill” or “bitchy.” The energy and time wasted turning down unwanted advances from athletes, fans, and fellow journalists (regardless of if you are single or not). The “get back in the kitchen” emails; the “shut up cunt” tweets; the harassment that comes, daily, from all sides.
That question and the pretty awful answers are the subject of a piece in the Athletic by longtime newspaper reporter and columnist Lisa Olson. Olson was covering the New England Patriots for the Boston Herald when in 1990 several players intentionally sexually degraded her. Today, on top of her own work, Olson writes that she now hears nearly weekly from young women in sports journalism asking for “advice on how to deal with a volatile situation.” They include physical assault, obscene comments, and an unnamed NFL player who “is all but stalking” one woman.
In her piece, Olson talks with Amelia Rayno, who was sexually harassed by the then-athletic director for the Minnesota Golden Gophers while she covered the basketball team for the Star Tribune. When Rayno spoke publicly about what happened, she told Olson, she was called a whore by fans while her own colleagues “wondered why she didn’t just brush off” the harassment. After her conversation with Olson, Rayno added this:
“As I mentioned, after I wrote my piece, I was dogged for months, whether it was emails, tweets or casual ‘jokes’ about the subject from people in my office. I think everyone thought it was ‘over,’ even when I told a couple editors I was really struggling in the aftermath. But it definitely wasn’t over for me. So that’s one thing I’ve been thinking about as all these stories come out. What these women went through then, yes, but also what they’re going through now. Speaking up unleashes another avalanche of reactions and emotions and forces women to relive those events and the feelings they elicited over and over. That’s why after I wrote my piece I didn’t speak publicly about it again until just very recently. It was just all so much.”
Rayno is now a features reporter for the paper; it was her decision to leave the basketball beat.
Lisa Guerrero spoke with Olson about her time working at Fox Sports and Monday Night Football. Now an investigative correspondent with Inside Edition, Guerrero said it was a roast of John Kruk that “nearly broke me,” because the roast ended up being less about Kruk and more about her colleagues mocking her, saying she slept her way into interviews and that athletes marveled at her breasts.
“It went on and on, my own network treating me like a sexual object. They had to change the camera angle at the break because I was in tears,” Guerrero said. “I demanded to be cut out of the special. How dare they? They planned it to make me look like a fool.”
Check your dignity at the door, Olson warns young female sports reporters over and over again. It’s all too similar to the advice I’ve gotten from my friends in sports journalism, and I shudder as I find myself passing it along to young reporters now. How many times can any one human being be told to just, again, let it go. It’s all too easy to forget that what happened to Olson happened in my lifetime, that it is not a tale from the dark ages or even from my parents’ generation. It happened in 1990. And 27 years later, not much has changed for women in sports journalism.
The entire piece from Olson, which is well worth your time, can be read here.