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


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.

TOMBOY: Q&A with Leila Rahimi

TOMBOY: Q&A with Leila Rahimi


What experience had the biggest impact on your life and career in sports and why?

This is going to sound like an odd answer, but surviving various challenges in our business.

I’ve gone through everything from having to get a police escort to shoot video when I was a news reporter, only to be suspended from being on-air because acquiring the escort made me late for a 5:00 p.m. deadline on a 10:00 p.m. show. That supervisor who made the decision was also sued for gender discrimination by a previous employee.

In another market I dealt with a mass layoff after we’d have to hear about what happened in court proceedings regarding our station on Twitter. Then there was the simple, but not easy, task of shooting video every day with a 35-pound camera and 18-pound tripod for seven years in several different markets.

Who’s had the biggest impact and why?  

The person who has the biggest impact on your career in this business… is yourself.


What are some of the funniest moments you’ve experienced as a woman in sports?

When I was a “one-man-band,” where you shoot video, edit and report it, and I carried the gear around, I’d get a lot of “that camera is bigger than you are” discussion.

I’d just laugh it off. I’ve had a guy accuse me of using my looks to get hired at a radio station because they didn’t get the NASCAR results fast enough (this is when we’d get updates from a wire service faster than the internet would refresh them). That made me laugh.

What was the most negative moment you’ve experienced? The one that got you fired up or perhaps made you think about quitting.

Various moments will make you question your employment in TV.

You just have to keep going.

Have you had any teachable moments?  i.e. someone made an ignorant comment, but had no idea you were offended– until you said something?

Sadly I don’t have much of a filter, so when someone makes a comment and I get upset about it, they know pretty quickly. I’m the one who should probably look into that more on my end than the other way around.


Any awkward moments?   

I’ve had people ask about my dating availability.

I say I don’t want to lose my job. That makes it pretty self-explanatory.

What frustrates me is when I’d be having a perfectly normal conversation with an athlete and if I was talking to that person “too long,” I’d worry that someone would think something wasn’t right with the situation, that it would look suspicious.

When in reality, we were probably talking about Target or something very basic like that, or someone was teaching me something about the sport they play, or there was a play during a game they wanted to describe, etc. Simply because I’m a woman and the athlete is a man, it could “look bad.”

What are you most proud of?

Again, I’d say surviving. This business is hard on relationships, personal lives, self-esteem, you name it.

A lot of girls look up to you- and aspire to be on TV covering sports…..What is the most important message you want to send to them?

The obsession with looks in our business has really increased since I started out.

That may sound weird given that it’s TV, but I’ve been told I won’t get a lot of jobs because I’m not blonde. It’s true. I didn’t get some chances because I didn’t have a certain look. But don’t get discouraged. Don’t go changing because someone else wants you to. “Do you,” and know that the biggest asset is always knowledge.

If you want to be taken seriously, read and watch as much sports as possible.

That’s how you stay employed.

TOMBOY: Having people to turn to

TOMBOY: Having people to turn to


It was an aspect of working in sports media that I hadn’t even considered, but when I walked into the Fenway Park dining room my first day on the job, I quickly recognized it.

Among all the randomly filled tables, there was one cluster that looked purposefully occupied. The people sitting there didn’t seem like casual colleagues -- they appeared to be actual friends.

My co-worker brought me over to the area; turns out that’s where he sat, too.

They were a motley crew of media types: writers, radio personalities and those who worked behind the scenes. Some were veterans of the industry, others were fairly new like myself. I joined them and quietly observed this dynamic I didn’t expect to find in a highly competitive market, especially on a Red Sox beat that at that time was in the midst of World Series contention.


Their warm welcome was refreshing, as was their obvious support for one another, even though they worked for different outlets. From that day forward, they continued to call me over to join them for meals, included me in postgame outings and invited me to their annual holiday gathering (which I eagerly anticipated like a freshman going to a senior party).

It was never about wanting to be part of a group to “feel cool,” though. These people, who I am pleased to call my friends years later, were a support system in this small world of sports.

When I had a question, they were there to offer advice. When a new job opportunity arose, they were fast to put in a good word. Anything I was going through, most of them had already encountered. Fenway Park meals turned into an instant learning experience. Being able to turn to them was invaluable as I began navigating the ropes.

I didn’t view myself as a “female reporter” when I began this line of work.

Many women, including Jackie MacMullan — whom I interviewed for the TOMBOY podcast — had broken down barriers in the Boston market years before I got there. Rather, I saw myself as a young journalist starting off in a demanding industry ready to work hard at a new job. Both men and women alike were eager to help. When I was asked to write about my experiences for TOMBOY, the first thing that came to mind was, “I have been fortunate to have some really positive ones.” These relationships played a part in that.

As I got to know these fellow media members better, something unexpected happened. I ended up making two best friends who are so close to me I consider them like sisters. I was fortunate to meet women who saw the same value as I did in helping to build each other up. We have leaned on each other on countless occasions, able to uniquely relate to one another in both work and in life.

Even though the three of us live in different states, we have maintained a friendship for over 10 years. We got creative with how to see one another in spite of our often conflicting schedules. “Girls weekends” were far from the typical getaways — we’d meet in New York for Red Sox-Yankees series. Cover games during the day, catch up at night. Not exactly a weekend at the spa, but it worked for us.

The sports media industry is competitive. There are races to break stories and battles to get a scoop.

Somewhere in between, though, is the importance of having people to turn to along the way.

It makes the grind a lot smoother.