I attended the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón’s reading at Emory University’s Glenn Auditorium on Feb. 11. The event was part of the Rose Library’s annual Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series. While I enjoyed the entire reading, which covered topics such as nature, gender norms and the power of poetry itself, a poem titled “Sports” stood out to me.
In the poem, Limón explores the difficulties she experienced as a child constantly moving between her parents’ homes. Despite their differences, she writes, her father and stepfather always “looked like they were on the same team” when they talked about sports. The poem made me think about how joking about sports is viewed as the great mediator for men, but why aren’t women part of this conversation?
My dad watches ESPN every morning without fail. I join him on the rare occasions I wake up early. It’s always refreshing to watch accomplished women like Linda Cohn, Elle Duncan and Nicole Briscoe co-anchoring “SportsCenter” and covering major stories of the sports world. However, men dominate many of the talk shows that run for the rest of the day with Stephen A. Smith’s and Max Kellerman’s dramatic arguments on their shows serving as buzz-worthy coverage. With the growth of women’s leagues like WNBA and NWSL, I wonder why women remain underrepresented on popular talk shows — they deserve a louder voice.
An Associated Press Sports Editors’ (APSE) 2021 Sports Media Racial and Gender Report Card evaluated over 100 newspapers and websites and reported that of APSE’s members, women consisted of 16.7% of sports editors, 24.2% of assistant sports editors and 14.4% of reporters. Former APSE President Lisa Wilson told ESPN that the survey’s findings show that “we need more women in this industry” to make important “coverage and hiring decisions.”
In addition to the challenges with representation in sports media, female coaches are often outnumbered. Across all three NCAA divisions, women coach 41% of women’s teams and 5% of men’s teams. At the youth level, women coach less than approximately 20% of teams. These numbers drop significantly at the professional level. Eleven women coached for MLB and MiLB organizations as of 2022; 15 women had been assistant coaches for NBA teams up until December 2022; and Emily Engel-Natzke became the first woman to coach full-time in the NHL when Washington Capitals promoted her to video coordinator in June 2022.
A similar pattern emerges when looking at refereeing statistics. There are currently three women who referee in the NFL and eight in the NBA. Stéphanie Frappart made history when she led the first all-female referee crew at a 2022 men’s FIFA World Cup game last November.
The more positions women gain as coaches and referees in professional leagues, the more avenues will open up for women hoping to achieve success in the sports world.In fact, significant changes have happened at an astonishingly fast rate. It’s hard to believe that women weren’t allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972. It’s equally surprising that Cohn became the first female sports radio anchor in the U.S. as recently as 1987. Four decades later, women anchor sports shows across all the major cable networks, including Molly Qerim on ESPN’s “First Take,” Kate Abdo on CBS Sports’ UEFA Champions League broadcasts and Rebecca Lowe on NBC Sports’ “Premier League Live.”
Although women have made progress in recent years, there is still a long way to go for sports media to accurately reflect the voices and perspectives of female athletes. Since 2021, WWE announcer Charly Arnolt, NFL reporter Kimberley Martin and SportsCenter’s Elle Duncan have hosted their own ESPN-sponsored podcast, “First Take, Her Take,” a play on ESPN’s popular show “First Take.” I hope other sports networks can take it one step further and give women-led podcasts like “First Take, Her Take” airtime on live television.
My hopes may not be too far-fetched. I tuned in to ESPN on March 8 and was excited to see a sports panel made up entirely of women for International Women’s Day. NBA Today host Malika Andrews, WNBA Coach of the Year Becky Hammon, reporter Ramona Shelburne and Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike formed the “NBA Today” panel leading up to the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks game, followed by the Los Angeles Clippers hosting the Toronto Raptors. For the coverage of the NBA double-header, over 70 women contributed to ESPN’s all-female broadcast crew.
“As a society, we’re moving forward and listening better and uplifting women in a more meaningful way,” Andrews told PBS, in reference to ESPN’s all-female broadcast crew for International Women’s Day. “But, we still have progress to make. We still have not had a woman who is a head coach in the NBA. I’m hopeful that those strides are going to happen in my lifetime.”
I also believe that as women continue to assume positions of authority in sports, whether in sports journalism, coaching, refereeing or other management roles, we will have a louder voice in the sports conversation.
Madeline Shapiro (she/her) (26C) is from Stamford, Connecticut and is planning on majoring in creative writing and classic civilizations. She enjoys playing low-stakes games of soccer and spending time outdoors, as well as watching as many Premier League games as possible.