Sports play a significant role in the culture of the United States. People flood stadiums for big games, read articles about their favorite teams and spend their nights watching SportsCenter.
As a result, our media cycle is constantly bombarded by sports. Many boys and girls dedicate their careers to covering the sports they love.
In fact, according to a 2019 study completed by Women’s Media Center (WMC), female students outnumber male students in college journalism programs. However, there is a significant lack of women in sports media careers. The story is the same in Nebraska.
“When I’m at Nebraska press conferences, there’s around 40 media members,” Nicole Griffith said. “But, there’s only four of us females, and two of us are full time, me and Erin Sorensen. I would love to see more women in general.”
Griffith, a news and sports reporter at 10/11 News in Lincoln, knew as a high schooler she wanted to be a sports reporter. Throughout her career, she has covered the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp and interned at ESPN. She has also worked in Sioux Falls as a news-sports hybrid reporter. In her 15 months of working in Nebraska, she has seen the lack of women first hand.
The WMC study also found that 90% of sports coverage credit in print media in the United States went to men, whereas only 10% went to women. The numbers for internet sports coverage are slightly better (79% men, 21% women), but are still disappointing, nonetheless.
A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Erin Sorensen is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist at Hail Varsity. Throughout her career, she says she has noticed the lack of diversity in the sports media industry.
“I looked at a study that was done a few years ago, and at that time, two-thirds of the graduates who had a degree in journalism or mass communication were women,” Sorensen said. “But when you got into the actual media industry, it was only one-third women, and women of color were even far less represented.”
The diversity of media members at press conferences demonstrates this well. Megan McGill is a digital producer at Hearst. She used to work at the Omaha World-Herald covering Husker football and other news as a videographer. One of McGill’s favorite photos displays the lack of diversity at Big Ten Media Days.
“There’s probably 100 men interviewing Scott Frost, and then you see me in the middle, and I’m the only girl,” McGill said. “It wasn’t weird to me, but a lot of people were commenting like, ‘Oh my god, that is so sad. How can she be the only girl there?’”
The women who find themselves in the sports media profession still face criticism. One tactic used to criticize women working within sports media is questioning their knowledge of the sports they cover.
“I will be having a conversation with someone, and they want to test my knowledge and test how much I actually know about sports,” Sorensen said. “So they go to the point of, ‘Well, can you name every single starter on the offensive line from the 1985 Chicago Bears football team?’ Like of course I can’t. I’m not a Chicago Bears fan to begin with. I don’t cover the NFL. I like the NFL. But what why would I know that?”
Sorensen believes that one reason behind the lack of diversity in media is that it has been a field filled predominately by white men for a long time.
“That’s just the reality of it,” Sorensen said. “And when you have white men in the position to hire new positions, they’re going to hire other white men because they remind them of themselves, and they see themselves in them.”
In recent years, the number of women in sports media positions has grown, but the numbers, as the Women’s Media Center study shows, are still bleak.
Kathi Wieskamp is the Director of Athletics for the Lincoln Public Schools system, as well as the only woman on the NSAA Board of Directors. She believes it is pivotal to encourage young women to pursue their passions and not hesitate in doing so.
“I think it’s good to show females that this is something they, too, can do,” Wieskamp said. “If this is what you want to get involved in and believe in, it can be done, and I think those things are really important.”
Griffith voiced this same viewpoint.
“In college, I was at a career fair in the Twin Cities, and I introduced myself to the guy from Channel Five,” Griffith said. “I told him I wanted to be a sideline reporter, and he goes, ‘Well do it!’ It isn’t that easy, but the industry is changing, and you can make a platform anywhere. I would tell anyone looking for a career in sports to go for it.”
As for Sorensen, she wants to help pass the torch on to the next generation by being the role model she didn’t see in Nebraska sports media growing up.
“We’re not at the top yet, but when we get to the top of our ladder, instead of taking that ladder with us, it’s passing it back down,” Sorensen said. “Because the hope is that the person that’s ahead of me is putting their ladder back down for me, so that’s the only way. We’ve got to pass it back, otherwise there’s just isn’t going to be a path for anyone else to step forward.”