…but maybe you’d like to give it a try? Partial inspired by Duncan Keith and Don Cherry’s dual dismissal of radio reporter Kaen Thompson, The Daily Beast’s Isobel Markham muses, “As an aspiring sports reporter myself, I have often wondered where I would fit on the spectrum. Am I beautiful enough for on-camera work? Am I ugly enough to be taken seriously?” ESPNW columnist and ESPN 1000 (Chicago) mouthpiece Sarah Spain doesn’t consider these crazy questions (“society’s first way of valuing women is beauty,”).
Being attractive can cause almost as many problems for female sports journalists as being unattractive. Spain had barely been reporting two weeks from the Blackhawks locker room in Chicago when a male veteran reporter on the same beat insinuated that she must have been sleeping with one of the players. Another mentioned to the PR department that he found her breasts “a distraction.”
Spain now works in one of the toughest fields for female sports journalists to break into: talk radio. Despite being closeted in a recording booth, her presence reduced to just a voice, she still received tough criticism that her looks got her the job. “I’m on the radio,” she said drily. “You can’t even see me.”
In fact, Spain believes the very thing that most critics find offensive about a female sports journalist on talk radio is that you can’t see her face. “A lot of men are happy to get their sports from women if they’re beautiful and they get to watch them at the same time,” she said.
This is where the sideline reporting jobs—the one spot in sports journalism increasingly reserved for women—come into the picture. “That role is either filled by actual journalists,” said espnW reporter Jane McManus, “or Miss Florida, who is, you know, an attractive young woman.”
While Spain admitted that the atmosphere today is a lot less hostile toward female sports reporters than it used to be, there’s still a struggle to find the right balance between looks and qualifications. “You can’t win either way,” she said. “Either you’re too beautiful and you don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re too ugly and I don’t want to watch you.”