Documentary

Trenni Kusnierek: It's time to change long-held perceptions and beliefs

Trenni Kusnierek: It's time to change long-held perceptions and beliefs

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 ESPN's 'Outside the Lines' to HBO's 'Real Sports.'

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 was a good first step, but it's time to keep moving. Words without action will leave us without anywhere to go.

Jillian Mele: 'If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it'

Jillian Mele: 'If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it'

"Who did you sleep with to get this job?"

That was said to my face by a former co-worker at the start of our first day working together.  I was new at the station, young and excited to prove myself, and I knew it would be a long day. I had this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach and I was fighting back tears, but the last thing I wanted to show was weakness. I knew I had to be strong -- for me.

I was a professional that day and we ended up doing a great story together, but the emotion was still reeling inside of me. We got in the news vehicle to drive an hour and a half back to the station and that same person said, "Wow. I thought you were just another blonde who didn't know her ass from her face but you actually know what you're doing. You are good." Was that supposed to be a compliment? Whatever it was supposed to be, I used it as fuel. I had a passion for this business ever since my internship at CSN years prior to this experience, and I wasn't going to let anyone get in my way.

I've spent time in both hard news and sports and as I transitioned into sports full time, one of the biggest challenges I found is having a professional relationship with athletes -- it's a delicate thing to do. More often than I would like to tell you, married athletes have asked me out, while other athletes have asked me to send them photos over the internet. Social media makes accessing people extremely easy, and I have sent countless messages over the years saying basically the same thing: "Thank you, I am flattered, but I am seeing someone," even if I was single. As a young intern in this business 12 years ago, I never knew how hard it would be to manage those relationships, but more than that, manage how it makes me feel.

As I've grown in the world of TV, the comments have started to roll in fast and furious, and the popularity of social media has certainly been a factor. People feel the constant need to comment on everything from my body to my clothes, my hair, my shoes, my teeth (yes, my teeth) and my opinions. People tell me exactly what they think, good or bad, and most of the time I like the fact that people are honest; it keeps me in check and makes me realize the impact I have on their lives. At the end of the day, I am a person with feelings just like you, so when someone tells me on Twitter that I should be fired from my job because I am awful, I'll be honest, it stings. I work endless hours when needed, I ask really tough questions because it is necessary, and I handle criticism because let's face it, for every bad comment there are about 20 good ones that truly mean something.

I love when parents tell me that I am a role model for their daughter, helping her see that she can do anything she wants, even in a male dominated industry like sports. To me, that is everything and makes it all worth it. I want to be a strong role model and continue to pave the way for women in sports, as other women have done before me.

Someone once asked who my daddy knew because I could not possibly have gotten a job in TV on my own. I was told I didn’t deserve it. I proudly told that person that my dad has a salvage yard and my mom is a nurse and they have supported me every step of the way on this journey but this, I did this on my own. My favorite quote puts it in perspective and has gotten me through many tough times as it will continue to do for years to come:

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great." -- A League of Their Own.

How Billie Jean King made me realize my dream

How Billie Jean King made me realize my dream

As the Booking Producer for Comcast Sportsnet for the last 8 years, I’ve had the pleasure of booking and interviewing some of the sports world’s biggest names on both a local and national level. Despite my own feelings of excitement to meet certain athletes, I still have to maintain a level of professionalism in those moments.  

Over the last eight years, there was one major exception: when I met a living legend, Billie Jean King. Now I’m a little young to remember Billie Jean King as the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world -- I wasn’t even alive yet! But when I got my first job at CSN, my mom gave me an autographed BJK ball for my desk and said, "If it wasn’t for her, you probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to choose this career path."

I keep the ball on my desk as a reminder of that moment with my mother, and as a reminder that as a women working in sports, I would always have to work just a little bit harder to earn the respect of my colleagues. So when Billie Jean King came in, I was so excited to show her the ball and tell her my story. She was immediately touched by it, agreed to take a picture with me and the ball to send to my mom. I was blown away by her kindness and enthusiasm and it was a moment I knew I would never forget. But what I didn’t know was the biggest moment was yet to come.  

After she completed the interview, I walked her to the door, thanked her and said goodbye. As she walked out she stopped, turned around and said "Hey Rachel, what is your dream?" 

I froze.

I completely panicked.  

I didn’t know what to say.  

I managed to muster out, "I’m not really sure." 

This answer was not sufficient for one of the greatest female pioneers to ever live. She gave me the death stare. She looked at me sternly and said, "You better have a better answer than that next time I see you." 

Then she added, "Aim high. There are no female decision makers in sports and we need more of them." 

As I walked back to my desk, I was so frustrated with myself. Did I really just tell Billie Jean King that I didn’t know what my dream was? This woman who is a pioneer for women’s rights and equality that fought for women like me to have the opportunities that I do, and I said I don’t know?! I began to think, do I know what my dream is? Do I have a dream? It was after that moment that I knew I had to figure this out.  

Over the next few years, this moment never left my head. There have been many ups and downs in my life, but I can proudly say now that I finally have an answer for you, Billie Jean. 

I’m living my dream. 

Growing up, I was never all that good at sports but was drawn to the thrill of competition. There aren’t many 10-year-old girls attending football games with their dads or spending their Sundays on the couch glued to every NFL game or watching Sunday Night Football in her college apartment while her roommates are watching the newest episode of Sex and The City.  

The "Tomboy" in me was drawn to this male-dominated world and if I couldn’t compete myself, I was going to find another way. I landed at CSN, in a job that I love. Everyday I live Philly sports and am surrounded by people that live it too. I’ve had to work extremely hard to prove myself and earn the respect of my male colleagues, and I’ve done it. 

On a personal level, I’m a mom to the most beautiful baby boy. I have a husband who supports me and holds down the fort at home when I have to work the non-traditional hours that the sports world demands. Being a working mom means having two full-time jobs, and while I’m far from perfect, I navigate the demands of those commitments daily and try to be the best that I can be at both. But I’m not done yet; there are still things I want to accomplish at both the personal and professional level. You said we need more decision-makers, and that’s my next goal. 

Thank you for putting me on the spot, Billie Jean. Without it, I’m not sure I would be where I am today. Thank you for inspiring women like me to work for their dream, to realize when they’re living it, and to never give up. For that, I am forever grateful.