By: Ashley Jones
RICHMOND, Va. – As a recent graduate of a master’s program in sport administration, Kristen Litchfield was told not to waste her time applying for positions with different organizations because they would not hire a woman.
Sports are viewed as an industry that puts males at the forefront. This is seen with athletes, coaches, referees, and now reporters. As of 2014, males made up 90 percent of sports editors, 90 percent of assistant sports editors, 87 percent of columnists, 87 percent of reporters, and 81 percent of copy editors and designers, according to the Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report.
This past summer, the public witnessed a challenge to gender roles in the sports industry with women who are working in the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. In light of recent events, three Richmond women discuss their journey into the field, their thoughts of the broken barriers, and the challenges they’ve had to tackle as women working in sports media.
Litchfield, who is the assistant director of athletic communication at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Athletic Department, is the only woman who handles media in her department. She feels the standards of women in sports are something that can be hard to break because of how women are perceived, but thinks it is important for women to keep pushing and allowing others to see they can do these jobs as well.
“I think that we all have the same common goal, but at the same time sometimes it’s just a little hard when you’re the only girl,” Litchfield said. “Everything that you do kind of stands out because you have a different spin on it or see things differently.”
Laura Fien, who is a sports producer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, can attest to similar challenges as being one of the only consistent women working in the sports beat.
“There’s a way I like to write and I try to not sound girly when I write because I don’t like to sound like an airhead,” Fien said. “I guess that’s the only issue I really have. I don’t want to feminize too much.”
But what exactly is the feminized voice in sports? Just because it comes from a woman does it mean that the information is less valid?
Kelli Lemon, a media personality and business owner who previously covered VCU and UVA sports, says she believes women in the sports field can offer another perspective. She adds that it doesn’t have to be a “feminine” perspective, but it can provide something that other women can relate to.
“I want to hear what different women have to say besides just being a fact checker or having to interject just to keep the men on track,” Lemon said. “A lot of women are sports journalists that know what they’re talking about and know their game and are sitting with the big boys.”
Litchfield, who was previously a student athlete, says having an athletic background is what led her to her current opportunities. Having this background, she says, can be a factor in allowing a woman to be taken more seriously in sports.
Lemon also participated in sports growing up as a softball player and cheerleader but credits her passion for sports to her father, who influenced her love of basketball at an early age.
Fien, as a ballet dancer, grew up without a background in sports. She says her passion came from getting involved through starting fantasy football at 15 with her dad and brother.
An athletic background is a great foundation for women in the field, but Fien is an example that being an athlete is not the only way to gain knowledge of the game.
“It’s harder for me to get a job because they [other women working in sports media] might have the broadcast experience, which I do not, but I have the knowledge that sometimes they don’t have because when you are watching a program sometimes it is obvious who is reading off a teleprompter versus who is just reading off their notes to make a point,” Fien said. “I am not looking off a teleprompter; it’s all coming from my head.”
Litchfield agrees, saying women who can speak knowledgeably about sports are more valuable than women who get positions just because they are physically attractive.
“You hear people say all the time, ‘they don’t know anything about sports’ or ‘she just got the job because she looks good on TV but she has no clue what she’s talking about,’” Litchfield said.
Fien adds that oftentimes women in sports are used to attract men because men have an attractive woman talking about something they are interested in.
Lemon notes from her experience that women are objectified for their appearance while working in sports. She says sexual harassment was an everyday thing for her.
“That’s what makes it bad,” Lemon said. “Everyday someone said something, or someone tried to ‘holla at you,’ or someone in a roundabout way says that you look nice when you know that’s not what he’s saying even though you actually look nice.”
Lemon says she was told by the Vice President for the NFL to expect the backlash that comes with trying to be successful in this field as a woman and that it was something you just have to deal with.
Fien says that as a woman in this business she makes it a point to be conscious of how she carries herself during interactions with men and athletes.
Lemon adds that women who are looking to work in the field have to choose their battles, but also need to address issues and speak up for themselves.
“You got to be real confident and real strong in yourself and the judgments and the decisions that you make,” Lemon said. “You can’t second guess yourself or be weak with your delivery. You got to be strong and forward thinking and really confident in the way that you carry yourself in that industry.”