Sports writing and reporting is dominated by men, and virtually all of my woman friends in journalism (actually, in most fields!) have had to deal with sexism in the workplace. What has your experience been?
My workplace is almost 100 percent virtual, in that I work from home and don’t really interact with coworkers on a face-to-face basis. But I will say this: Almost to a person, with a handful of exceptions, everyone has been great. Men, women, traditional print journalists, internet writers, young, old, it hasn’t mattered. I was surprised, frankly, at first. But this is a community that really prizes ability and knowledge over everything else. If you know what you’re doing, what you’re talking about, and you’re being respectful, then being a woman doesn’t matter. And when I have met my colleagues and peers face-to-face, whether at the NFL Scouting Combine or whatever, everyone has been awesome.
You use Twitter a ton for work. How do you deal with trolls? I know you face them on there and in the comment sections on your pieces.
I don’t really take on too many trolls on Twitter, mainly because I have a shade over 5,000 followers and the vast majority of those know what I am about. I mean, half my head is shaved, I’m a woman—you can kind of tell just from looking at me what I’m about, so that weeds jerks out automatically, I’m sure. But I’m also very respectful on Twitter, I don’t attack people, I try to thoughtfully engage with followers, fans, and readers who want to talk football, and I allow room for disagreement.
But trolls are there. I’ve seen some of my colleagues with way, way more Twitter followers than me have horrible things directed at them, like death threats to their infant children for simply saying, “I don’t think this quarterback is worthy of being drafted in round one” or whatever. It’s sick. The block button is a good thing; I don’t just block people who harass me, I block people who are harassing my colleagues, too.
As for the comments sections: I don’t read them. That’s where the real nastiness toward me is directed, where the sexists lurk. It used to get to me, then I realized: If a given column has say, 21,000 reads but only 110 comments and 50 of those 110 are disparaging, there are a whole lot of other people who either agree with me or disagree but don’t feel the need to get nasty. That has helped. That, and staying far, far, far away from comments sections in general. That’s the internet’s biggest cesspool.
That is so true and a really healthy and logical way to view comments. You really are all over the interwebs talking about football because you also do a podcast. How did you get into that and how does it compare to sportswriting?
I got into doing the F*ball NFL Podcast with my now-boyfriend and then friend and neighbor Brian [Sibila] simply because he and I would sit around and just talk and talk about all this in-depth football stuff. I realized this would make a great podcast. It’s very calm, conversational, we have guests sometimes and I just really enjoy it. It also allowed me to expand my “brand,” if you will, because for a few years with Bleacher Report I was covering the AFC North exclusively. With the podcast, I can say whatever I want to say about all 32 teams, proving I’m no one-trick pony. It also allows me to express thoughts and views about teams I would otherwise not really be able to. And, man, do I love to actually talk about football, so it’s a fun thing for me.
Of course! Because you were a fan first. I know this is something that affects everyone who is writing about something they are passionate about, but how do you balance being both a fan and a journalist?
What has been interesting to me is how I was able to transition from being a fan to being a sports journalist. Covering the Steelers is part of my current job, yes, but I don’t do so at the expense of any other team. I think it’s possible to be a fan [of a specific team] and still be a good journalist, but that’s just not how I can operate. I just love football at this point.
But, it can get tricky. I don’t keep it a big secret that I am from Western Pennsylvania, which means that fans of the Browns or other teams I cover see me be[ing] critical and just chalk it up to me being some kind of bitter Steelers’ fan or Pittsburgh “homer.” To me, though, I don’t think I could do my job while having active rooting interest for one team, because that inherently means a rooting interest against other teams. And while the Steelers may have led me to love football, at this point I watch every game with an equal amount of interest, love, and enjoyment. I pride myself on trying to shed as much internal bias I have about any NFL team or player when going about my work.
Who are some of the other amazing sports reporters who are women that we should check out? I am a huge hockey fan, anyone I should be reading or listening to?
Hockey fans should totally be following Katie Baker. Michelle Bruton is a football writer with a Green Bay Packers focus. Sarah Spain, Prim Siripipat, and Michelle Beadle are among the greatest [people] working for ESPN. Julie DiCaro covers all sports and is big on tying it to feminism and social justice issues. Same with Maggie Hendricks, who also covers numerous sports (including things like gymnastics that don’t get a lot of big-media play). ESPN’s Josina Anderson is (finally!) considered a national NFL insider. Katie Nolan is awesome and her show, Garbage Time, on Fox Sports One, is really good. I feel like I am going to leave out so many great people here, but these are a good start for anyone who wants more women sports journalists in their lives.
What’s your advice to our readers who want to get into sports journalism?
Read, write, keep writing, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Don’t mess up “your versus you’re,” and things like that. Make connections on Twitter and in real life, if possible. Do not slag on any sports website, writer, publication or editor because you never know when you’ll need them or what bridges you may unwittingly burn. Always keep writing, do it for yourself, do it for free if you have to, just find ways to get your name out there.
Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do this. Talent, knowledge, passion, luck, and timing are all it takes to do this, and your work will be recognized for being good if it is good, and opportunities will come from that. It’s a competitive world but also a large, expanding one with seemingly endless eyes who want as much sports information and analysis as can possibly exist. There’s room for you. Carve a niche, write broadly, take whatever approach you want, but always do it as well as possible. ♦