CSN TOMBOY

TOMBOY: I don't skate like a man, just a darn good women

TOMBOY: I don't skate like a man, just a darn good women

BY SARAH BAICKER, CSN PHILLY

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.

CSN TOMBOYELEVATING THE DISCUSSION OF GENDER AND SPORTS

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.

CSN TOMBOY: A Q&A WITH CSN CHICAGO'S LEILA RAHIMI

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.

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.