By Jason Bacaj
LEXINGTON, Va. – Women have come a long way in sports in the 37 years since the Equal Opportunity in Education Act – or Title IX – was signed into law, according to three accomplished women journalists and the assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Speaking at a sports law symposium at Washington and Lee University, the panelists suggested that the next challenge is to get women into positions of power in the media, where they’d have ability to shape decisions and change the perception of women in sports.
“I really think it’s up to those in management and positions of power to make the leap of faith,” said Kim Ng, vice president and assistant GM of the Dodgers.
Ng is one of two women executives in Major League Baseball and has interviewed for the position of general manager for the Dodgers, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. Going into those interviews, the odds of her getting the job weren’t very good, Ng admitted. But by the end, she said her odds were about 50-50.
How did she know this? Because the decision-making process was prolonged, something that made her friends and colleagues uneasy, but made her feel confident that she had turned some heads.
“Make no mistake, the longer it takes them to make a decision the more I know I’ve got a shot,” Ng said.
Perhaps one reason why men are hesitant to put women in a position of power in sports is because they doubt how much women care about sports, said Christine Brennan, USA Today sports columnist.
“When I write about women’s sports, I get one or two comments,” Brennan said. “Where’s the passion from women?”
It’s a perception of women in sports that even women who are clearly knowledgeable about the game have to grapple with on a daily basis. One journeyman pitcher in the majors told Ng, ‘No one will ever know what you know until they work with you.’
Integrating women into the sports industry’s male-dominated power structure is a difficult, slow process. It comes with time, said Lesley Visser, the first woman NFL beat writer and the first woman TV correspondent to cover a World Series. It’s almost a catch-22, women aren’t respected in sports because of the perception that they lack the necessary passion, but the passion is unlikely to grow without greater coverage of women’s sports and greater visibility of women in sports.
“We need women in a position of authority in the media,” Brennan said. “We chose not to do it, therefore that’s part of the issue.”
The primary concern of sports editors is to cover the NFL and the MLB, and if there’s time to fit in coverage of women’s sports, then maybe the editors will squeeze it in, said Jackie MacMullan, an ESPN columnist and co-author of the New York Times bestseller, When the Game Was Ours.
“It wasn’t a priority for anyone but me because I was interested in it,” MacMullan said.
The only way for men and women to be truly successful in sports and sports reporting is if talent and brains are the determining factors of who advances, Brennan said.
“A lot of people come and they go,” Visser said. “The mark of the ones who make it are the ones who endure.”