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?”  “Three sisters,” I reply.  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. (Don't think I got away with it scot-free. I most definitely was 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 eight 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?”  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.”  And 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.  When I hear the “you’re so hot” comments, it 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 that 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 we 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.  


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 the 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.  Since I'd have to see these people every day, my approach was to be friendly, but 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, where 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 that I really am just one of the guys and I really do know my stuff. 


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 weren't allowed inside college locker rooms, so I didn’t know what to expect.  But that awkwardness went away after being in there a couple times. 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 media are 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 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 facing only female reporters is getting hit on by a player.  I always make it 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.  And trust me, plenty of players have thought I was a b----. Ha. 

When dealing with 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 topic, really.  But for the purpose of this blog, I’ll just stop there.  

So as much as I see myself as a “tomboy,” as “just one of the guys,” or as “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 be 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, ask yourself these questions and answer these questions.  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. HA!


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.  The word was first introduced in the 1500s and it carried a negative connotation.

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 news -- 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...

Fallon Smith is the Raiders reporter and a sports anchor for CSN Bay Area and CSN California.

Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?


Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

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!

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.

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.

Taking action: It's time to change long-held perceptions


Taking action: It's time to change long-held perceptions

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 national outlets.

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