Fallon Smith

The boy my dad never had

The boy my dad never had

My name is Fallon Smith. My father had four girls. He likes to tell people I’m the boy he never had. Does that bother me? Heck no! I love it. To be honest, I’m proud of it.  

It makes me smile and laugh when somebody asks, “how many brothers or sisters do you have?” I reply “three sisters.” Their responses are always about the same “wow he had all girls!?” I say “well, yeah, but I’m the boy he never had.” Laughter ensues.

But really, I am. Let me explain. I was always (and still am) “daddy’s little girl.” But it was my mom who loved to dress us all up, especially on Easter Sunday. It was like a hobby to her. She would have us all wear matching dresses, big bows, tights and the most uncomfortable dress-up socks to go over the already uncomfortable tights.  

Let’s just say the entire “getting dressed” process was a nightmare for her when it came to dressing me. I would throw a tantrum. I hated those horrible tights. They made me itch like crazy. Just to show my mom how much I hated them, I would put holes in them or rip them so she had no choice but to let me take them off because she didn’t want her daughter looking crazy in public.(Oh, but I don't think I got away with that scot free — I was most definitely punished for every tantrum I threw and every pair of tights I ruined. And trust me, there were a lot.)  Eventually, my mom gave up; she knew I was a lost cause.   

When I was about 8 years old things, started to change. She let me wear what I wanted, which was either sweats or guy shorts, sneakers, big shirts, basically whatever was comfortable. I went from being forced to act in musicals as a kid, to my mom finally letting me do what I really wanted — and that was go to car shows with my dad and play sports, specifically basketball.  

My dad even started an AAU club in San Jose and was my AAU coach. Sports became my life. I was an athlete all the way up to my freshman year at UCLA, when I suffered severe head trauma. I had a freak accident and fractured my skull, had bleeding in my brain, five bone fractures in my face, and a hairline fracture on my spine. The UCLA doctors wouldn’t release me to play sports after my freshman year. That was a pretty devastating time in my life, but it may have been a blessing in disguise. I was able to focus on what I wanted to do for a career. I couldn’t see my life without sports, and I talk a lot, so that’s how I got into broadcasting.

While I’m writing this, I’m realizing not much has changed. I absolutely dread the process of getting ready to go on the air. The hair, the makeup, the dress, the heels (which I cannot walk in), oh and the spanx, can’t forget the spanx. I’m not ashamed, but man they’re almost as uncomfortable as those tights my mom used to make me wear.  

I always think, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could go on air without makeup, hair in ponytail, and sweats?” Ha. In my dreams.  

Why am I telling you this? Behind the makeup, behind the hair, behind the dress, I’m a tomboy. I’m the boy my dad never had, but the only thing people on the outside see, the only thing the viewers see, is this woman all “done up” talking about sports. When I’m out in the field reporting, here’s what I usually hear from viewers/fans, especially at Raiders games: “Fallon, I love you, you’re so hot! Marry me!” Ugh. (By the way, I’m married already). Of course I do get the occasional “You do a great job, I really enjoy your work.” Which compliment do you think I like more? 

When people see me as “just another pretty face,” they aren’t listening to me when I’m anchoring/reporting/delivering sports news — they’re only looking at me. They don’t value my entire body of work. When I hear comments like “you’re so hot — marry me," it sometimes makes me feel as though they don’t think I’m credible. People ask “how did she get this job?” Or better yet, “who did she have to sleep with to get this job?” I got a lot of nasty emails like that when I was living in Wyoming and Tennessee, but Lord, that could be an entire book by itself, so I won’t delve into that.

That’s usually the first impression people have of me, and hey, if you think I look good, great! But I’m not here for those types of compliments. I guess I understand... after all, we are in a visual medium. But I always tell fans whom I meet on the street that the hair, makeup, etc., “are just smoke and mirrors.” I’m really the complete opposite of what you see on TV.  

They don’t believe that I’m a tomboy; they don’t believe that I played sports; they say “wow, you come off as a girly girl to me.” Huh? Because of the way I look? It’s ridiculous.

For the viewers who have a negative first impression, I am usually able to win them over if they keep watching. That’s the uphill battle women have to fight everyday in this business, proving ourselves credible every single day and trying to show the viewers we know just as much as the men beside us.  

We are judged more harshly and critically. We are under a microscope every day. One minor mistake will come off as a huge “flub” if it’s a woman making the mistake, but if a man does it, it’s just a “mistake.” He just “misspoke.” That’s fine. I like to be held accountable every day. I like working hard. It’s just sad that these double standards still exist in 2017 despite the amazing and talented women in the sports industry.  

Covering a professional sports team
Here are two of the other things I personally have to deal with as a female reporter covering a professional football team: being the only woman on the Raiders beat (there are other women that cover them on game days, but not every day) and carrying myself appropriately in the locker room.

Most of the time, I’m not conscious of being only girl on the Raiders beat. I know others see it that way, but I really don’t. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m “one of the guys.” But after being a tomboy my entire life and having a ton of male friends, I’ve never felt weird being the only girl around.   

When I first started covering the Raiders four years ago, the beat reporters — just like the viewers — had similar first impressions. I did not receive a warm welcome from the other beat writers. Many of them didn’t talk to me. Several thought “who is this new girl covering the Raiders for CSN? What does she know?” It was kind of like I was a joke. I didn’t get a ton of respect; as a woman, I had to earn it. But I didn’t care whether they respected me. I really only cared about the respect of my employers. But since I did have to see these people every day, my approach was to be friendly, be myself and do my job.

Over time, things changed. I now have a great relationship with the other beat writers. We all hang out and go to dinners while on the road for games — I’m usually the only woman and still don’t realize it until somebody brings it up. Some of them have even admitted that they did have a negative first impression of me, one that was founded on that “pretty face, but does she know sports?” stereotypical bullcrap. But after seeing me work, ask the tough questions and produce thought-provoking and creative stories, they came to realize I really am just one of the “guys” and I really do know my stuff.

The locker room
People always ask me “what’s it like being in a locker room full of naked men? Is it awkward?” I have to admit, at first, yes, it was very awkward for me. I had covered college sports for five years prior, and media isn’t allowed inside college locker rooms, so I didn’t know what to expect. But that awkwardness went away after a couple times of being in there. My mantra is “get what you need and get out.” First of all, locker rooms smell terrible, and when you’re in work mode and trying to get a story done on a deadline, you’re not even thinking about the fact there are naked men in there. For the most part, when the media is in the locker room, the players are respectful and they change while covered with a towel.  

Building professional relationships with players and coaches is crucial, for both female and male reporters. But for a woman, it’s that much harder. Some players and coaches may not take you seriously at first. They want to see what type of questions you ask and how you carry yourself before giving you any respect. They want to know if you even know anything about football. They never question a man’s knowledge of football from jump street; in fact, they probably assume he knows football because he’s a guy. Unfortunately, that’s just how it is. We are not equally judged from the start.

And just like the respect I’ve gained from the beat writers, I’ve had to earn that respect from the players and coaches. I’d like to think I’m in pretty good standing with them.

Another issue women facing only female reporters is getting “hit on” by a player. I always have to say and make very clear “I’m sorry, I’m trying to have a professional relationship with you, so please respect that — not to mention I’m married.” You also can’t come across as a b---, because then they will just be a pain in the butt to work with and interview going forward. It’s very hard to balance this. And trust me, plenty of players have thought I was a b---. Ha.

When getting “sources,” many are respectful, but some will ask “what do I get in return for his info?” Like whaaaat? Nevermind, I don’t need it. There’s always this fine line you have to balance, and it’s not always easy. I could write a dang book on this really. But for the purpose of this blog, I’ll just stop there.  

So as much as I see myself as a “tomboy,” “just one of the guys” or “the boy my dad never had,” I’ve realized that not everybody on the outside sees me that way. Their first impressions will not guide them to believe that is who I am. It takes time; it takes them getting to know me; it takes me proving myself, exuding my love, passion, and knowledge of sports through my work.   

But why does it have to be this way? Why don’t people believe women know just as much about sports as men? Why do people have to question my knowledge in the beginning just to get proven wrong in the end? I sure as hell don’t have the answer to these questions. So to those who don’t believe there are a million women like me out there, you ask yourself these questions and answer them, because I would love to know what you have to say.

If you still don’t believe in the existence of women like me, talk to my husband. He’s a coach, around athletes all day, and likes sports just as much as the next man. But he’ll tell you — I’m a sports fanatic. In fact, it causes a few minor arguments in our household. "Fallon, can you ever take a break from sports/work?” "You’re not covering the Warriors game so why do we have to watch this? Can we watch a movie?" He tries to keep me balanced, because if not, he knows I will let sports consume me 24/7. I love him for that. But no honey, we are watching the Warriors game!

Random thoughts
Why do I have to be called a tomboy? Why can’t it just be a girl/woman who likes sports?   

According to the dictionary, the definition of tomboy is a girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys. Maybe this is the problem, because the word was first introduced in the 1500s, with a negative connotation attached to it.

Really, what in the world is wrong with women liking or playing sports? A typical man might say “I would love it if my wife loved sports.” But when a man sees a woman on TV delivering sports — here come all the stereotypical comments women face in this business all the time. And now we’re back to square one. So start from the beginning and read this blog over again.