CSN TOMBOY

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

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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

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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. 

Advice for females pursuing career in sports broadcasting

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Advice for females pursuing career in sports broadcasting

The following is a Q&A with ABC 7 Chicago's Dionne Miller on gender in sports leading up to CSN’s original documentary TOMBOY, airing March 10 on CSN Bay Area...

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

It’s hard to point to just one experience, I mean I have loved sports for as long as I can remember. Honestly, I cried when John Elway led “The Drive” to beat my Browns! Actual tears!! That was the moment I knew sports meant more to me than just entertainment. As I got older, I realized sports is just like real life… sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but the next day, the next play we all try our best to be a little bit better. This is why I love sports!!

But my plan was never broadcasting. My plan was teaching -- English Lit -- to high school kids. I think I watched “Dead Poets Society” a dozen too many times and wanted to see kids standing on desks citing poetry. Clearly, I took a detour!!  It was actually through some pretty big real-life struggles in college, and taking a semester off, that I realized how much I wanted to be a writer -- not a creative writer, but a journalist!! I attended a small, private, liberal arts school that had no professional writing program to speak of, so they sort of created a curriculum for me. What a gift!! 

On my way to becoming a magazine columnist, I had to fulfill a communications requirement. On a whim, I signed up for TV Broadcasting. One of my first assignments was to report from a “Fire” for our faux news cast. I prepared, researched, took my place in front of the “Fire” back drop, and the red light went on. Game. Changer. I have no clue what I said, but I remember what I was wearing when I realized what I wanted to do with my life. I left the class, called my parents and immediately added a minor in communications. Though it honestly never crossed my mind to do news, I was already talking about sports and binge watching sports television. Sports just made sense. 

Who’s had the biggest impact and why?  

Because I didn’t attend a journalism school, I graduated knowing precious little about this job I wanted so badly. I was advised to pursue an internship, which I did at WWSB ABC7 in my hometown of Sarasota, FL. I walked in the first day, wide-eyed and so eager to learn all I could. I had the best teacher in Kevin Neghandi. Kevin was the weekend sports anchor at the time and honestly taught me everything. Everything. 

I met Shawn McClintock (VP Root Sports Pittsburgh) when I took it upon myself to show up in his newsroom and interview for a position I wanted. He didn’t hire me, told me to accept a job offer I had in San Diego (which I did) and then told me to keep in touch. Less than a year later, I was let go from my job in California. I had never dreamed I would be fired. Let alone for no other reason than new management wanted someone else. I called Shawn. He not only encouraged me through that time, but led me to the two jobs that would change my life forever.  

He told me he had a college friend who was at a start-up station in Columbus, Ohio, and they were looking for a female anchor. Shawn also said he wanted to send my reel to Fox Sports Ohio as he was good friends with the bosses there. Well, that “college friend” not only helped get me hired in Columbus, he became my husband. And after the station at which we met folded, Fox Sports Ohio hired me. That job with FSO led me to Big Ten Network, which led me to Chicago, and here we are. 

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

When I was hired at FOX 32 in Chicago, they sent a station-wide email welcoming "Dionne Miller to the Sports Department." I was told later that they all thought I was an African-American man. This cracks me up. 

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

Losing my job sucked! I pride myself on being a team player. I work my butt off. I did everything I was asked to do and then some. But it wasn’t enough. Still makes me mad! I see now what a gift it was that this happened. I had so many more blessings as a result. And I can truly say it NEVER made me want to quit. It only drove me to push harder. 

And as a woman in sports, I already know I HAVE to push harder. I have to know more, I have to research more, I have to work harder. I can’t make as many mistakes. I am fully aware of this fact and it’s a drag sometimes, but it will never make me want to quit. I know what I signed up for.

I pray that one day there is more equality in sports broadcasting, especially when it comes to pay. But no job is perfect. And I love mine! 

Have you had any teachable moments? Like when someone made an ignorant comment, but had no idea you were offended until you said something?

I remember one of my first college football experiences, I interviewed the coach at Montana State University. I asked a question about his failing secondary and he basically answered me as if I didn’t know that his team played football. It stuck with me. Especially because the next question came from a male reporter who asked virtually the same thing and got a specific football answer. Annoying. 

Any awkward moments?   

Let’s face it, every time I march into a locker room, it’s awkward.  It just is. Athletes have gotten comfortable with it, and truthfully so have I. We all understand I am there to do a job, but it took some getting used to. I always wonder how I would feel if men came into my bathroom while I’m trying to get dressed or undressed. AWKWARD! But show respect, get respect. That’s kind of how I approach it. 

What are you most proud of?

I’m a mom of little people. Sometimes I’m most proud that I am awake for work at 10pm ... and dressed!

Kidding aside I am most proud to be a working wife and mom in a city I can’t believe I get to call home, at a station that gives me the opportunity to do so many amazing things, and continue to sharpen my skills. Six months into my first job in Billings, Montana, I was filming a high school football game for work. I got tackled and broke my leg in three places. Never once during the months off the air, rehab, and being thousands of miles from home, did I consider quitting. Not once. I am so proud of where I am and my journey to get here, because it’s MY story. I can’t wait to see what happens next! 

Many girls look up to you. Any advice for those that want to get into sports media? 

First, NO JOB IS BENEATH YOU! I feel like I need to shout this at young girls wanting to get into the business. Try everything, trust your talents, and dive in. If someone offers you an opportunity that you think isn’t “ideal,” remember that it could open a door you never imagined if you just go for it. Trust me, you will not be stuck in “Montana.” Nothing will last forever and you will not die.

Also, understand the landscape of the business. Yes, we will always be outnumbered. Yes, we will be judged by our dress, hair, and make-up before anyone actually hears the words we say. None of this is a surprise. I’m not saying just accept ignorance. Not at all. But to act like this isn’t happening is ridiculous. It is. And its not just in TV. It happens in every job. 

BE KIND! To your co-workers, your competition, and yourself! First of all, you need absolutely everyone in the building you work in to make you look good on the air. DO NOT take this for granted. Be kind to your competition, especially other women. Yes, work hard to get your story correct and the best it can be. But do not tear down others on the way. This business is small. Everyone knows everyone. A bad reputation will ruin a stellar resume and incredible on-air talent -- male or female. 

And be kind to yourself. You will make mistakes. You will. I do. It’s ok. It will always be ok. Nothing is ever as bad or as good as you think. Stay humble, but don’t beat yourself up. If you make a mistake or miss a story, learn, make a change, and know you’ll do better next time. There is always another show coming. 

How has social media changed how easily fans can reach out to you? Do you let it bother you?

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I love it for keeping me connected with what’s going on all over the sports world. But I hate that if I have one slip up on the air, I get immediate comment on Twitter. Or if I show personality and it rubs someone the wrong way, I get an email attack. It’s the worst when someone attacks my clothes and hair. Um, did you even hear what I said??? Yes, it sucks. And honestly, sometimes it does bother me. But I am working towards letting that stuff go. I have to remind myself that the people who use social media to attack me don’t know me. I know the men I work with get comments, too, so I never feel singled out. I just wish people would pause before they lash out. Social media gives us no reason to filter. People are mean. But we can rise above.