Now is the time for women to make a presence in the sports world, as women have begun to hold positions that were formerly held by men in other areas.
In 1894, Sadie Miller became the first female baseball reporter in the country. Miller covered the Baltimore Orioles for the Baltimore Telegraph. Due to the stigma that was still attached to women in sports, Miller disguised her identity by bylining her articles with her initials, S.K.M.
It wasn’t until almost a century later that women would be recognized as sports reporters and allowed access into Major League Baseball locker rooms. In 1977, Melissa Ludtke, a sports reporter for the New York Yankees, sued the baseball commission for violating her 14th amendment rights and denying her access to the New York Yankees clubhouse while reporting on the 1977 World Series. Ludtke would win her lawsuit in 1978, ultimately opening up a whole new career for women to pursue.
In 2016 at the Journalism and Women Symposium, Ludtke told Ashley Oermanthat the ruling in her lawsuit changed the sports industry: “It increased enormously the number of young women who came into sports media as reporters, as employees of sports teams and league offices, in agencies representing athletes and in other aspects of sports work that earlier generations of women had not been involved with.”
Over 40 years after Ludtke won her lawsuit to give women access to MLB clubhouses, there still hasn’t been much progress for representation within the industry. According to a 2019 report by the Women’s Media Center, out of all women who report for online publications, only 21 percent cover sports. The number is even smaller for women covering sports in print: only ten percent of female reporters cover sports.
I spoke with several college students who are working towards a career in the sports industry. This is what they had to say about why they made the decision to pursue a career in sports and what they want to see change for future women in the industry.
“I don’t really know anything different, I always pictured myself working in sports,” said DePaul junior, Sloane Szuber.
Szuber grew up with two parents who influenced her love for sports: a father who worked in the NHL and a mother who pushed her to play sports. Growing up, she played field hockey, soccer, volleyball and a little bit of basketball, but the biggest influence for her love of sports was her father and spending so much time around the game of hockey.
“Hockey is really the only thing that has been consistent in my life for the last 21 years, it feels like home to me,” said Szuber.
Szuber’s father was working as an equipment manager in the NHL, constantly moving throughout Canada and the United States, before he found a permanent home with the Detroit Red Wings.
Szuber is currently studying broadcast journalism with a focus on sports, but is also considering switching to sports media.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to be on television in the entertainment business, but when I would focus on sports, I knew that was it for me.”
Growing up around a professional hockey team has given Szuber more opportunities than most get in a lifetime, such as having a day with the Stanley Cup. It has also shown her what she could be a part of in the future and what it takes to be a part of that industry.
“I have a huge amount of respect for people who are able to follow the game closely, and are able to speak with the players. I want to be like the people I see on TV.”
Despite the growing number of women in the broadcast industry, Szuber believes there is still more to be done to break down the gender barrier that women face.
“I would love to see an all-female sports talk show,” said Szuber. “We are conditioned as women to not have strong opinions, and I enjoy seeing women share their true thoughts and opinions instead of saying ‘I agree with what you said.’ Just because we are women doesn’t mean that we need to prove ourselves or pretend that we don’t have our own opinions.”
“I believe mental health is a big part of everyone’s lives, and I want to advocate for professional athletes who are afraid to speak up about how they’re feeling,” said Illinois State University junior, Cristal Roman.
Going into college, Roman had an interest in generic psychology but narrowed her focus to sports psychology when she realized there was a lack of care for the well being of professional athletes once they retire from their chosen sport.
“As I got more into hockey, I began to realize that the NHL doesn’t really care about its athletes’ well being after leaving the game. I want to help those players and show them that it’s alright to speak up when they aren’t feeling well.”
At a friend’s house when she was only five years old, Roman watched her first hockey game with her friend’s dad. She quickly developed an interest in the game and the more she watched, the more her passion for the game grew.
Just like the athletes she wants to help, Roman knows what it feels like to not be heard. This past NHL season, three grown men made her cry because she chose to support a player that not many do and they wouldn’t allow her a second to explain why she supported that player.
“They started trash talking me,” said Roman. “They wouldn’t even let me talk, they kept saying I only liked him because he was attractive and I didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to playing the sport. I kept trying to share my opinions but couldn’t. Eventually they left me alone, once I began to cry.”
As an individual who knows the impact that mental illness can have on a person, Roman knows that stopping this stigma is a must. Despite the fact that some of the women I spoke with have not experienced this explicit form of sexism, it is still prevalent in the sports community.
“It all starts with everyone accepting each other. It is something big to ask for, but it is also very small because all you have to do is listen and have an open mind to what women have to say.”
Family can have a major influence on which sports and teams you choose to follow. For Natalie Burjek, family is exactly how her passion for sports began.
“My family is my biggest inspiration for my sports obsession. Particularly my dad and brother,” said DePaul freshman, Natalie Burjek. “I really started to get into hockey when my brother began to play, and from there it transformed into all sports.”
After experimenting with watching all sports, Burjek eventually chose hockey and baseball as her favorites.
Knowing the right people can open your eyes to new experiences and opportunities that you had no idea were there. For Burjek, her father’s college roommate Mark, a sports producer for the Dallas Stars, did just that when she had the opportunity to shadow him during a Stars game.
“I had started to think about something within the media field, but I wanted to mix it with sports just because I wasn’t overly passionate about the film and television post-production industry. I was more excited by the live, fast-paced sports broadcasting industry.”
Seeing other women emerge through the barrier of sexism in the sports industry is something that has inspired Burjek to continue to push for her chance to be in the same position as the women she currently looks up to.
“It really inspires me, it shows me that I do have a chance,” said Burjek. “Before, all of the role models I had to look up to were men, but now we have women like Jessica Mendoza on Sunday Night Baseball, and that is very inspiring.”
Despite not having to face any negative responses or feelings towards herself for being a woman in a male dominated industry, Burjek understands that there is still a disconnect between men and women in the industry and she is very thankful to have found places where she feels accepted and welcome.
“I’ve felt really accepted here at Radio DePaul Sports. There’s other women here, there’s women older than me here to look up.”
Someday in the future, Burjek realizes that she will come across those issues, but she’s hopeful that by the time she enters the work force more women will have come before her and the problems she will face on the basis of her gender will be few and far between.
“I think it would help tremendously to see other classmates and colleagues get into this industry before myself. Once I’ve made it in the industry, I would love to teach younger girls that they can do this and they shouldn’t be afraid to be a part of the sports world.”
Before she was 10 years old, Bella Michaels wasn’t into soccer, or even sports in general, like the rest of her family. When she was younger, her father played soccer professionally she hated going to his games. It wasn’t until 2008 during the World Cup that she began to understand why her family loved the game of soccer so much.
“As I got older, my interest in the sport and certain teams began to grow. During the 2010 Euro Cup, I started rooting for Spain and that’s when I became an avid soccer fan,” said Michaels, a junior at DePaul.
Looking back on it now, Michaels believes her passion from soccer came from years of being around the game because of her father, but also a developing personal interest because every day her love for the sport continues to grow and evolve.
When deciding where to focus her time in college, Michaels knew that she had to find a way to incorporate her passion for soccer. She thought that studying broadcast journalism would allow her to have the most success, as well as an excuse to watch as many soccer matches as possible.
“I was thinking ‘how can I be involved with the sport in a way that I love but also compliments my strengths and what I’m good at?’ Well, English and languages were subjects I excelled at in high school and so I thought that combining the two would put me in a position that not many of my colleagues are in, giving me a leg up when searching for jobs.”
So far in her professional career, Michaels has been fortunate enough to miss out on the misfortunes that a lot of women have not. Being a woman has not stopped her from getting any of the opportunities that she has had and she is appreciative of that, but she knows that other women have not been as fortunate as she has.
“You always have this fear that men don’t have when they get a new job,” said Michaels. “As a woman you have to keep your guard up to make sure your actions aren’t thought of as something other than what they are.”
As social justice movements for women become more frequent, Michaels has noticed a shift in the younger generations of men and she believes that this is the best time for women to get involved in the sports industry.
“Right now is probably the best time for women to be going into the field. So many opportunities are opening up and the world is slowly shifting its views on women, especially men in our generation. They’re friends with women who are in these movements, so they understand and they’re trying to change the norm.”
“For as long as I can remember, sports has been a consistent part of my life,” said DePaul sophomore Alexa Sandler. “Grandpa had season tickets, and I remember my mom telling me that was the only way she could spend time with him, was by watching sports.”
Growing up with a family that surrounded themselves with sports and in Boston, a sports city, it’s no surprise to Sandler that she grew up loving sports and then deciding to pursue some type of career in the sports industry.
Entering college, she originally wanted to go into film but quickly realized that it was way more time consuming than she had anticipated. She also discovered she didn’t have an interest in it like she originally thought she did. Sandler then chose to switch to public relations and advertising, but wanted to focus more on advertising and that’s when she found a way to incorporate her passion for sports.
“I knew I didn’t want to do PR, I wanted to stick to advertising. So I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with advertising, and after taking a sports photojournalism class I realized I could combine my love for sports and advertising and turn it into a career.”
Although she gets picked on from time to time based on her chosen teams — being a fan of any Boston team comes with its own set of hate from rival fans — Sandler says she’s been lucky enough to have avoided any discrimination thus far in her life.
She thinks that what people lack when it comes to women and sports is the knowledge they can have. For Sandler, just because you’re a woman does not mean that you cannot be educated in any form of the sports world.
“People need to understand that sports knowledge is not defined by what a man knows,” said Sandler. “Women can know the same amount, if not more, about an athlete or a sports team or a sport in general.”
To create change, Sandler believes all she has to do is make it into her chosen career and that in itself will open more doors for women just like her.
“I think the best way I can help bring forth change is just by pursuing that career in public relations or advertising. Hopefully just by being there for other young women to see, that will inspire someone else to pursue a career in sports.”
Sometimes we fall in love with sports not because of a family member,a friend or an athlete’s story; sometimes we fall in love with a sport because of a deeper effect it has on us. For DePaul junior Kate Perlman, the electric energy that surrounds a sporting event and its fans is why she fell in love with sports.
“I always loved the energy that surrounded the idea of being at a game, watching a game, of being around the fans,” said Perlman. “There’s this energy that’s electric and gives you a sense of belonging.”
Going into her freshman year in the fall of 2016, Perlman had a clear idea of what she wanted to do: she wanted to create a nonprofit organization that would help advance an athlete’s image after retiring from the game. Perlman realized early on that maybe that wasn’t the best way to go with her career, because most athletes choose to remove themselves from the spotlight and people forget about them.
In order to stick with the idea of helping athletes prepare for life after the game and help them learn to budget in order to live comfortably, she decided to switch to public relations. This way she can still help better the lives of professional athletes so that maybe they don’t have to disappear into oblivion.
“I realized that what satisfied me the most was the fact that I could help somebody make their life better. I get to help create an image for somebody that hopefully has a lasting effect.”
Despite having a great idea on how to help athletes stay connected to their fans and the sport they love, Perlman has had her fair share of men doubting her understanding of the game and what goes on around it.
“I like feeling as though I am part of the team. Men are so dismissive of that when it comes to women actually liking a sport for more than the fact that an athlete is attractive. It’s disgusting, honestly.”
Even though 40 percent of athletes are women, an estimated four percent of sports media coverage is devoted to female sports. Like many others, Perlman wants to see female athletes and sports get more coverage because they are worthy of it.
“I would love to see more women’s sports on TV,” said Perlman. “I want to see more female athletes in the spotlight. You know some of these women work harder than men do and they aren’t being recognized for it. They deserve better than what they have right now.”
The overwhelming consensus about how bring forth change is to acknowledge that our gender does not determine our career goals and outcomes.
“Just because I am a woman does not mean that I can’t hold an intelligent conversation with a man or other fans,” said Perlman.
Gender does not define who knows a sport or its athletes. Gender does not determine who is the best or worst athlete in their sport. Gender does not define who can or cannot like a sport, team or athlete.
If you have something to say, say it. If you want to be known as the best athlete in your sport, work harder than the person next to you. If you like a team or athlete, wear that merchandise with pride.
Push back against those who say you cannot do it because you are a woman.
Header image by Jacqueline Brennan, 14 East