I don't skate like a man, just a darn good woman


I don't skate like a man, just a darn good woman

In late December, I was invited to play in a pick-up hockey game with some other members of the local sports media community. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was one of only two women there that day. Even now, female ice hockey players aren’t exactly common.

After the game, a reporter I’ve known a while – a guy I like a lot – said to me: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you skate like a man.” I didn’t take it wrong, of course; he meant it as a compliment. The reporter wanted nothing more than to tell me I’d impressed him.

I thought about this exchange a lot in the days that followed. Had someone told me I played hockey like a boy when I was 15, I would have worn that description like a badge. Hell yeah, 15-year-old Sarah would have thought, I do play like a boy. I’m as tough as a boy. I’m as fierce and competitive as any boy on my team. I would have reveled in it, just as I reveled in a similar label I’d received even earlier in my adolescence: tomboy.

Yeah, I was a tomboy. I hung around with the neighborhood boys, riding bikes between each other’s houses or catching salamanders in the creek that ran through town. I loved sports, and my bedroom walls -- papered with newspaper clippings and photos of Flyers players -- were a far cry from the pink-tinged rooms that belonged to the girls at school. 

As much as I could, I dressed like a boy too, even once cutting the sleeves off of an oversized T-shirt before I went out to rollerblade with our next-door neighbors. My grandmother, who was visiting at the time, pulled me aside to tell me I really ought to dress more appropriately. I rolled my eyes.
I was a tomboy, and I loved the word and everything it stood for. I felt pride in my tomboyishness, believing that the things I liked – the things boys liked – were clearly better than the things stereotypically left to the girls.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it was a conversation with a 15-year-old that changed my perspective, just a few days after my reporter friend had compared my hockey skills to those of a man. I sat down with Mo’ne Davis, the female Little League pitching phenom, for this very project. I asked her if she identified as a tomboy, and she shrugged. Not really, she said. Maybe other people wanted to define her that way, she suggested, but that wasn’t how she viewed things.

You know that record scratch sound effect they play on TV or in the movies? The one that denotes a sort of “wait … what?!” moment? That’s what happened in my head. Mo’ne Davis, the girl who played on the boys’ team and excelled, didn’t consider herself a tomboy?

Something clicked in my head after that. I’ve long identified as a feminist, and I’ve been a big supporter of girls in sports for as long as I can remember. I coach girls hockey, I’ve spoken at schools and camps about playing and working in sports as a woman. For some reason, though, it took a 15-year-old shrugging her shoulders at the label “tomboy” to take the power out of the word for me. Why does one have to be a tomboy, when one can simply be a girl who kicks ass? How had I never considered this before?

In many ways (and especially in sports) if something is male, it’s considered superior. It goes beyond just the things kids like to do, and it’s all old news. It’s also something I’m ashamed to admit I’ve bought into for practically all of my life. But no longer. How can I help change the narrative if I’m too busy playing along with it?

And if I could do it over, when that reporter approached me after our hockey game to tell me I skated like a man, I would have smiled, shook my head and said: Nah. But I skate like a darn good woman.

Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?


Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

I grew up playing sports. For the most part I played soccer, but I also ran cross-country and track. I skied, snowboarded, and, at one point, I tried gymnastics. (It wasn't pretty.) My two younger sisters did the same. Our parents ran themselves ragged driving us to practices and tournaments, arranging carpools and fundraisers.

It never crossed our minds that we were girls playing sports. It's just what we did. And we loved it!

I didn't realize how lucky I was until visiting my grandparents in rural Ohio one summer. I found an old photo of their high school graduating class. I asked my grandmother what sports she played in school and I'll never forget her answer: "Oh, there were no sports for girls back then. We could cheer for the boys basketball team, but that was it."

I was shocked. I thought that was ridiculous. Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys? I couldn't comprehend it.

Looking back, I'm so thankful I grew up in a time and environment where that wasn't the case. I can't imagine my life without sports. Not only because it's what I do for a living, but because playing sports throughout my childhood is a big part of what made me the person I am today.

Sports taught me the value of hard work. Being part of a team, I learned how to communicate and work with people to accomplish a common goal . . . and discovered just how gratifying the process can be. I became a teammate and leader who earned respect and empowered others. I made lasting friendships while stuffed like a sardine in a travel van singing Ace of Base at the top of my lungs. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. And I certainly wouldn't be in the position I'm in without them.

Don't get me wrong; it hasn't all been positive. Now that I'm a woman working in sports, I've had other kinds of eye-opening moments. During an interview for my first on-air job I was asked, in so many words, if this is really a career for me or if I had other plans after I found a husband. Once I did land a job, I covered many college football games by myself. There was one small school in particular whose players relentlessly catcalled me on the sidelines. I won't repeat the foul things they said, but I can tell you I went home feeling very dirty (and it wasn't because I was pouring sweat after lugging a camera that weighed half as much as I did from end zone to end zone in the middle of an Alabama summer). Even now, every so often, social media has a special way of reminding me how some people still view women in sports. Surprise -- it's not good.

But if that's the worst I have to go through, I know I can't complain. My only focus is doing my job to the very best of my abilities and working as hard as I possibly can to continue to grow and get better. We've come a long way. I'm so grateful for those who blazed the trail and made it possible for me to do what I do. And, thanks to my grandmother, I will never take my opportunities for granted. My hope is that when my daughter grows up, she will be just as surprised and appalled by some of my bad experiences as I was talking to my grandmother that day.

Taking action: It's time to change long-held perceptions


Taking action: It's time to change long-held perceptions

In the last year, women’s equality issues in sports have become a national conversation. It began with the 'More than Mean' campaign which highlighted the abuse many women, particularly women in public sports roles, face on social media. The video, which featured men reading vile tweets to the women who received them, sparked an avalanche of coverage from national outlets.

The public attention to the misogyny and double standards that still exist in sports media is an important first step, but it's time to move forward and discuss how we turn our anger and frustration into action.

While the name-calling many women receive online is abhorrent, the real problem is rooted in something much more complex -- tradition. 

While some may try, it's hard to deny that women are still viewed by many as the fairer (read: weaker) sex. We have a place in society and often times that place is the box  of “female” roles like caregiver, teacher, mother. 

If women do branch out into a male-dominated career, as many have -- quite successfully -- the emphasis is often placed less on being an asset in the workplace and more on our ... well, take the ‘ets’ off assets. 

Changing long-held beliefs and perceptions however, is much easier said than done. 

I believe it starts with asking for help. The idea of employing men to help reduce sexism may feel counterintuitive, but I think it's essential. Whether we want to admit it or not, women are outnumbered in athletics and we need advocates from these men -- the majority. 

Sadly, we may also need the validation. While this column is anecdotal and a first-person account, the author is brutally honest when he admits to often not trusting what the average women tells him, including his own wife.

Damon Young writes: 

Generally speaking, we (men) do not believe things when they’re told to us by women. Well, women other than our mothers or teachers or any other woman who happens to be an established authority figure. Do we think women are pathological liars? No. But, does it generally take longer for us to believe something if a woman tells it to us than it would if a man told us the exact same thing? Definitely!

I’m fairly certain I couldn’t throw a baseball in a crowded room without hitting a woman who has been doubted by a male colleague, family member, friend or significant other. 

I feel well-respected in my office, but I also know that there are times when I offer an opinion and I can’t help but wonder if it will be taken lightly until a man pipes in with a similar thought process. I look forward to the day when it’s not even part of my thought process. 

When men stop doubting us, it is inevitable women will believe more strongly in themselves. This doesn't make us weak, it makes us human. I would argue it's the same for a male teacher or stay-at-home dad -- once a female believes in their abilities in that role, the men feel more confidence in themselves.

The other piece to the change puzzle is one which may drum up more emotion and dissent. I think as women we must start sharing some of the responsibility for those old habits taking so long to die.

And before you rush to send me a nasty e-mail, allow me to explain, as this view is by no means a way to shift blame to the victim.

Far too often I have conversations with women who succumb to practices and behaviors they are uncomfortable with, not because they have been explicitly told to act, dress, or perform their job in a specific manner but instead because they default to “that’s what the industry expects.” My response? The industry expects it because we allow it. 

We have a voice, and we can't be afraid to use it. Each time we suffer one small injustice quietly, it becomes harder to speak up when something is really at stake. 

As women we face daily challenges that our male colleagues do not: Judgment and expectations around our physical appearance, doubts about our knowledge, and dismissal of our opinions based simply on our gender. 

We can and should say no to the assumption that our value is based on our looks. Women do not “need” to make beauty and “OOTD” (outfits of the day) the focus of their social-media accounts or the most important facet of their reporting or opining. I know plenty of women who are great journalists and sports minds, not just great female journalists and sports minds. When we allow ourselves to be reduced to nothing more than how we look, it becomes that much more difficult to demand we are seen as more than just a pretty face. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t flaunt your beauty, but my hope is we don’t hide our brains. 

We can and should say no to the idea that women are best utilized as hosts, social media and sideline reporters. (Not that there is anything wrong with these roles, but it doesn't behoove me to pretend these stereotypes don’t exist.) There is no reason a woman can’t be a prominent insider, talk-show contributor, investigative reporter, etc. . . . see above.

We can and should advocate for more female executives. I can count on one hand the number of females in decision-making positions I have interviewed with during the course of my 17-year career in sports media. We all know smart, talented women in the field. It is our job to make sure the right people are familiar with their work and know how important it is to have a variety of individuals steering the content and journalists they feature on all platforms. 

We can and should advocate for our female colleagues. Sports media is a limited numbers game. In the age of cutbacks, jobs are fewer and further between. I still think it does us all a disservice when we treat any prospective female co-worker as competition. She may have lost, but Hilary Clinton was right when she said we are stronger together. 

All that said, let me clarify that this does not mean blindly supporting all actions because someone is female. Respect is earned in this industry no matter your gender.

Our current political and social climate has us consuming more information than ever before. Every cause is met with a hashtag and skepticism. Raising awareness about the issues women face in athletics is a good first step, but it's time to keep moving. Words without action will leave us without anywhere to go.