By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
A few weeks ago all this gender stuff started rattling around the empty space in my brain. Andy Rooney, the 83-year-old 60 Minutes mainstay, was the impetus. Well, not so much the crusty old reporter himself as the strange thoughts that escaped his lips. He's a cranky bag, Rooney, but damn if he doesn't speak his mind.
In case you missed it, he was on the MSG Network and he blurted out that--although he isn't a sexist person--"the only thing that really bugs me about television's coverage [of sports] is those damn women they have down on the sidelines who don't know what the hell they're talking about." Atavistic beliefs are common in my biz among the old-heads. Normally, I would have laughed it off as the misogynist babbling of a former Stars & Stripes reporter who still believes it's June 6, 1944. But shortly thereafter I was in the Dallas Cowboys locker room, and I was reminded of the unnecessary b.s. women reporters have to deal with every day.
Dallas Morning News writer Graham Watson was there. She was trying to get running back Troy Hambrick to answer a few innocuous questions. Turned out to be a tougher racket than she might have expected. Hambrick was more than willing to give her the time, but he was also trying to make time, too. (Is that even a saying anymore?) He was trying to hook up, hit on her, whatever you want to call it. Hambrick answered her questions, but he flirted, too. This went on for a while, mostly in circles. Watson was professional; Hambrick was goofy and obvious. And I was annoyed because I had to sit there and wait it out.
It wasn't overt sexual harassment or anything--it was pretty innocent--but it required a lot of patience on her part because Hambrick didn't give up. He was that guy at the bar, the one who keeps trying to get some girl's number even though she keeps rolling her eyes.
"It's uncomfortable to a point," admits Watson, who had to get clearance from the DMN higher-ups to speak with me. (Even then, several co-workers advised her against it. For some reason, the Dallas Observer doesn't have the best rep with the Belo people. I can't imagine why.) "I don't like colleagues looking at me and thinking that I'm flirting with the players, because I'm not. I don't endorse it. It can make my job harder, but it can make it easier, too. Sometimes, they may try to impress me, and I might get better quotes because they're more open. But it's not really uncomfortable with the players, because I don't fall for it."
That's all so crazy. It's not that I think Watson had to bear some terrible burden; it's that the whole experience is so foreign. I've never been hit on in the locker room, thankfully. My work has never been stigmatized because of my gender. I've never had to justify my position to some drunken sports nut because I have long hair (which I don't) or nice legs (which I do). I can't empathize. Prior to this, I hadn't given it much thought. Actually, I hadn't given it any thought.
But now I'm beginning to understand what a huge pain in the ass that must be after a while. In retrospect, I was, at times, the root cause of some of that ass pain. In the interest of full disclosure, I've hit on female reporters. I've dated them. It's not the most professional practice, but it happens. I work at an alternative newspaper; when we show up sober or remember to wear pants, we get gold stars.
So I wonder: Is being a woman in a mostly male profession such as sports journalism something that has to be overcome? Are they objectified and criticized without cause?
"Sometimes, there's a double standard, yeah," says Gina Miller of WFAA-Channel 8. Before she can continue, one of the Fox Southwest guys rolls over--the loud, annoying one with the loud, annoying hair. What's his name again? Captain Obnoxsour? Anyway, he flashes a bunch of teeth and says, "Gina, you're way too sexy," and then slithers along. "That doesn't bother me," Miller says, pressing on. "It happens. It happened more when I worked in Knoxville than it does here, but it's no big thing. Sometimes the players do it, sometimes other reporters do it, but you just try to stay professional.
"The hardest thing is, what I was saying--the double standard. If I mess up a name, or if I screw up a score, all of a sudden I've got people calling in, yelling, 'What the hell is the sports girl doing?' Everybody makes those mistakes, right? But you can't really if you're a woman, or, if you do, people say things. That's why I'm so anal about the details. The learning curve for women...I think it's shorter. Because you do have people like Andy Rooney out there making cracks. It doesn't help, either, when you have certain incidents."