"I am walking a road paved by many who gave up their souls, their psyches to get us where we are at today." Joanne Gerstner, President of the Association of Women in Sports Media
Most battles for something meaningful play out over years, decades, even centuries. There are small victories along the way and, hopefully, big ones as well. But the battle continues in one way or another.
Equality for women in sports media is a continuing battle. There are many small and big victories. But the battle is still on.
Baseball, with it's relentless schedule and luxurious pace, is a place where sanity goes to die. You cannot be a fan of excellent sleep. You must really be tough in a rat race that can be so nasty at times it will make your rat skin crawl. You probably should not hate long silent hours of nothingness in a sports contest. For women there's many other things to mind. You can't embarrass easily. You have to know when to stand up for yourself and how to do it in as dignified a way as possible. You don't socially engage with players and if you do, keep it cool. In the Twitter age, that goes for male and female reporters, but female reporters have to deal with a different kind of perception.
There are plenty of women in baseball these days that are shifting that perception in a positive way. There is a healthy number of female executives in minor league baseball, which includes MILB Assistant Vice President Tina Gust. That kind of female presence is not only important in the landscape of baseball, it is a statement that women are continuing to break through male dominated industries. Sports is the big one. It is the male sanctuary where they proudly share a common language. It's the equivalent of a boys tree house marked with a paper sign stating 'No Girls Allowed.'
But perception and acceptance are still prickly issues. The truth is, nothing ever completely changes. Prejudicial thinking always hangs around. That is why some principle things matter so much. Let the rain fall, but when it does let's make sure we're covered.
Social media, Twitter as mentioned, and all it's counterparts creates one kind of problem. Socializing with players like they're friends is tricky. For starters, they're not. But walking the line and keeping it from veering into overly friendly territory makes a difference. Female reporters talking to players in a way that can read as flirtatious and chummy is not a step in the right direction. If the president of your company was on Twitter would you say, 'Hey, Mr. so and so look forward to seeing you at the convention!' While players are not our bosses, they are also not our equals. They are not our colleagues. It's a strange distinction.
Social media has taken away some of our professionall barriers, but it doesn't have to rob it completely as long as we care about our conduct. There's also the factor of fans becoming writers. Once they cross the threshold and have professional contact with players, they might forget that they are no longer just fans. For women, like it or not, we have to watch ourselves a bit more carefully.
In that danger zone what we also need is to stick together like the team on the field we're covering. We need to reach out and mentor the new girls coming in and fiercely respect and support those who came before us. There are red flags when I've dealt with newer female writers. I listen to what they say. And at times, I've been put off by some behavior. But instead of backbiting and judging, offer advice. It's something I've done and whether it's fallen on deaf ears or not doesn't matter. Do it because you remember what it was like to start out and not know exactly how to handle it all.
As we continue to open up doors, or break them if need be, there's much fun to be had. We have our small and big victories and the thrill of achieving more. We've already come so far, so it's exciting to think what we'll do next. And if you need any reminder on the beaten path, hold those words of Joanne Gerstner close. They should tell you all you need to know.
*This was part of the week-long celebration of the 1978 ruling that allowed women equal access in baseball. Check out BaseballDigest.com for more this week. Please feel free to share your thoughts. And thank you to Melissa Ludtke. The woman who was the catalyst for that change in 1978. To my female colleagues, remember how fortunate we are for that fight fought for us and won 33 years ago. BIG VICTORY...