CSN TOMBOY

TOMBOY: The boy my dad never had

TOMBOY: The boy my dad never had

BY FALLON SMITH, CSN BAY AREA

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.

TOMBOY: Why should the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

TOMBOY: Why should the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

 BY ABBY CHIN, CSN NEW ENGLAND

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!

CSN TOMBOY: A Q&A WITH CSN CHICAGO'S SIERA SANTOS

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.

CSN TOMBOY: THE IMPORTANCE OF TITLE IX

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.

TOMBOY: Trenni Kusneirek and the power of language

TOMBOY: Trenni Kusneirek and the power of language

March is Women's history month and CSN is working to elevate the discussion of gender in sports. The world premiere of CSN TOMBOY takes place on Sunday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m. on CSN Mid-Atlantic, following by a live discussion panel. 

BY TRENNI KUSNIEREK, CSN NEW ENGLAND

The first time I held my niece I was overcome by love.

It was the kind of love I never realized was possible. This tiny, perfect, half-asleep little girl grabbed my heart in a way that flooded me with emotion.

One of the biggest pulls: Protection. 

As my niece grew, she evolved into a beautiful little girl. She's the kind of child who prompts strangers to stop on the street and remark on her piercing blue eyes, her infectious smile, her ebullient personality. “You are such a pretty little girl,” they would say. 

While it made me smile, their observations also made me cringe. My niece was barely a toddler, yet I was terrified she would grow up believing her greatest attribute would be something mostly out of her control -- how attractive others perceived her to be. 

It was in that moment I knew I had to change the way I spoke about women and girls while also fighting to make sure others saw the importance of doing the same. 

CSN TOMBOY: A Q&A WITH CSN CHICAGO'S SIERA SANTOS

“They're just words,”people will say. 

“Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.”

Except . . . words do hurt. They're more than just a compilation of letters and punctuation. 

Webster’s Dictionary provides a number of definitions for “word” but one stands out. Definition 2 a (1) states: a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use. 

Communicates a meaning. 

Translation: Words do matter because they carry the weight of meaning.

As my niece grew, so did my linguistic awareness.

If she wore a cute outfit or had her hair styled a certain way, of course I would give her a compliment. However, I made it my mission to ensure our time together was focused on reading, playing, engaging kindly with others and standing tall for herself.

When she did something well, I was careful to be specific with my praise using words and phrases that endorsed qualities like strength, intelligence and understanding. 

I desperately wanted this growing little girl to know she could be and do anything.

CSN TOMBOY: JUST BEING ONE OF THE BOYS

Sally. Pink Hat. Throwing like a girl. Playing in a skirt. 

How often do we still hear these terms used to describe deficiencies in male athletes or fans who lack knowledge? 

On the surface, these phrases seem harmless. At the core, they perpetuate stereotypes that women are weak and inferior to our male counterparts. 

Trust me, I fall into the trap of using demeaning language. For example, describing an upset athlete as “whining like a little girl” has been ingrained in most of us for decades. But nothing is permanent. 

We can change attitudes and perceptions with a slight shift in how we speak. 

Do we need to call a guy a “Sally” or say a team “might as well have worn skirts”? Why not be a little more creative and use our words wisely? If an athlete doesn’t play well, why not explain their performance as “poor, sad, unacceptable, dreadful, atrocious, awful, garbage, shaky, anemic, powerless, weak, etc . . . ” Shall I go on? 

Do we have to describe inept fans as “pink hats” or could we simply call them . . . inept? How about ill-informed, bumbling, or incompetent? 

The reality is, there is a term for when we use female adjectives to relay a message of weakness: Lazy. 

CSN TOMBOY: THE IMPORTANCE OF TITLE IX

Five years after the birth of my niece, my sister delivered a bouncing baby boy. Any fears I had about my ability to love them both equally was swept away the first time I held his tiny, perfect, half-asleep little boy in my arms. I was once again overcome by a love I never thought possible. 

It was also the first time I realized the way I convey messages leaves an impression not just on the women in my life, but also the men. 

When we criticize men for showing emotion, or belittle them for falling short, the message we send is that males need to show perpetual strength while avoiding feelings. This only works to drive home the idea that women are to act one way, men another.

If you've ever been around children, you know that while they tend to gravitate towards certain toys and activities, it's often because those are the only choices they see or hear. I’d like to think that by displaying a multitude of options to my niece and nephew, they're perceiving the possibility of a world without limits based on gender. 

Women are not inherently weak, men are not automatically strong. Women are not born inferior, men do not emerge into this world superior. Women are not all followers just as all men are not leaders. We're each capable of what we believe is possible.

So let’s stop talking as though the only truths are those which we’ve spoken in the past.