Open Court publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you sports, life, and the stuff we need to talk about with author and sports journalist Joanne C. Gerstner. Subscribe here and get Open Court straight to your email! If you're part of our subscriber fam, feel free to share this email and get your friends involved. We welcome your comments too, please share at the end of this piece or @joannecgerstner.
It’s one of those “days”, where we like to point out something important is up, like donuts, lizards or margaritas. I'll argue this one has a little more value for me:
Happy National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
In reality, this is Wednesday, a day like any other - save for the 10 inches of snow that is blanketing the still-unshoveled driveway in this Great White Michigan land. (Don’t worry, the snow dudes are coming later to do the big dig with snowblowers.)
It’s lovely to have a day for Women and Girls, to celebrate and acknowledge us for being part of the sports world. We have a lot of women and girls to mention, from the athletes to the coaches to the administrators to media. We’re all in this together, even if we don’t think we are. Our gender and the entrenched lingering status of being minorities in the sports worlds automatically puts us in the same ships sailing for the New World.
Before we all get pink drunk on the #gogirl and #ngwsd HTs, I see the clear truth of our history as a sustained existence of too little credit, restricted funding, and too many opportunities/dreams denied and deferred.
You go girl. Until you don’t - or can’t.
It can be a frustrating view if you constantly look at what is wrong or missing. My entrance ramps into this conversation are three-fold: as a former college athlete who played many sports growing up; now a sports journalist and a college professor teaching sports media; and a longtime advocate through the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) and being a commissioner on Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Women in Sports Task Force.
My vision is both a little cloudy and still quite clear. I know I am lucky to be born in the 1970s, meaning I never knew a world without Title IX. Sports teams were open to me. Being a basketball player, swimmer, tennis player, figure skater, golfer and whatever else my parents signed me up for was there. I didn’t have to fight for a spot to play, and then only be with the boys. I had great coaches, many being dads of my teammates, who wanted the best for their daughters. I never felt I was the B-team, or the gender equity balance of the equation to support the boys.
We ran, sweated, screamed and acted as crazy as the boys. Amen.
As I got older, around high school, the scales fell from my eyes. Things weren’t the same, because they never were in the first place. Boys football and basketball mattered more in the media, for the schools, and the girls were the cheerleaders…the accessories. (Having cheerleaders for girls sports or as a competitive sport wasn’t yet a thing in my GenX land.) My college tennis team played on outdoor courts that had basketball markings spray painted over them for a summer basketball camp. Nothing like mixing up the service line for the alley. We didn’t matter enough to get an adequate playing surface.
The not-quite-said-aloud-but-clear message was, you’re lucky to be here, but know your place behind men’s basketball. All will be well, just don’t ask for too much.
My crazy idea of being a sportswriter always made sense in my head, even when I was 14 and started writing. I saw female bylines in the Detroit News and Free Press sports sections, so the whole issue was settled. Women journalists wrote sports like the men. Except, again, I was the one with the illusion that was actually the delusion. I get to college and realize there are actually very few women writing sports. And the ones I saw in front of me were the rarity, not the mainstream.
I think of amazing and brave women in like Robin Herman, who passed away yesterday, for breaking down the barriers in sports media. Thank you to her, and so many others. Our allies. Billie Jean King. Washington Post sports editor George Solomon. Christine Brennan. So many had to do things for me to have a chance.
I worked hard and hacked my own path forward. I can say I have made it.
But I can count on one hand how many female bosses I have had over 30 years now in sports media. And I need no hands to show how many women have been the main sports editor or columnist of my hometown Detroit News and Free Press. Zero.
My work with AWSM showed me the struggles women have across the industry, fighting for better and equal pay, trying to be a working parent when the overlords treat childcare as an issue to be ignored, and our desire to move into power positions of being a columnist or editor or executive producer.
I was quietly smiling when I read yesterday’s blockbuster lawsuit filing by Brian Flores, accusing the NFL and three teams of racial discrimination and unethical practices. I can think of three big metro newspapers, then powerful and a big deal, that wined and dined me for job openings I was never going to get. I had the steak, ordered the dessert, and got paraded around the office so the editors could tell HR they considered a female candidate. The reality was the job was already filled, likely by a white male, and they needed me to make the process look better.
Flores is alleging the same happened to him, and more, during his interviews for head coaching jobs.
Yep. Yep. Go break it all down.
I see every day as Women and Girls in Sports Day, because that is my life. I am teaching my sports journalism students - of all genders - at Michigan State to be strong in their craft. I want them to be woke: see the issues, make the change. Be the difference. I want my women at the student newspaper and radio station to be brave in seeking opportunities to grow.
I am still very much out here plugging away, trying to make a difference with Open Court, and writing pieces for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and others.
The Women in Sports Task Force work is ongoing, and we are going to have big things to suggest this summer to the Governor and leaders to change the landscape at all levels.
In a lot of ways, I am still the 10-year-old who loves to swim and play tennis, watch sports on TV, and read really well-written pieces on athletes. Those things have nothing to do with gender. It’s just an appreciation of sports, and me being an athlete at heart.
My gender leads me to see different things, and now that I am 10 plus a few more decades, I am empowered make things better for the girls and women coming after me. They shall be the athletes, coaches, sports journalists, sports media professors, doctors, agents, referees, presidents of teams or whatever else they want to dream about in sports.
So happy #ngwsd. Let’s keep going.
It’s not enough any more to be happy because we're "allowed" in the game.
We want to win it, and hopefully, reap the same rewards.
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