By Kelli Johnson, CSN Bay Area
When people, and by people I mean both men and women, find out what I do for a living, it’s always the same response and question, “That’s cool! So you’re on TV?! Why sports broadcasting… do you like sports?” Now, the inner smartass in me wants to say, “No, I hate sports. I just think pro athletes are hot and rich and famous, and I just want to sleep with them and hang out in locker rooms!” Because unfortunately that is exactly what many men (and even some women) think. But instead, I give the standard explanation: I played college basketball. My parents were both athletes and coaches and PE teachers so I literally grew up on the baseball field and in the gym, playing every sport I could. But since I can’t play competitively anymore, I decided covering sports was the next best thing… so here I am.
It’s a conversation that seems harmless, and I really don’t mind sharing my story. In fact, I’m very proud of my athletic career and upbringing, because I truly love sports and it’s a big part of who I am. But does anyone ever ask a man in sports broadcasting, “Why did you pick that profession… do you like sports?” I would guess that has possibly never been asked of a man, at least the latter part. Because for some reason if you were born with a penis, you automatically know how to play sports and can understand sports. And when a man gets on TV and talks about the Warriors win over the Cavaliers and Stephen Curry’s big night, he is automatically considered qualified and knowledgeable. I mean, does anyone ever think to ask a man who covers the NBA, did you actually play basketball? We women get that question all the time. I love it when guys say, “what do you know about football, you never played it!” Which is true - but do you know how many men cover the NFL who never played the game either?
If we’re comparing resumes, I would venture to say that most of my male counterparts don’t have athletic careers that rival mine. Did they play Division I sports on a full-ride scholarship? Were they four-year starters and all-conference selections? Did they set scoring records and get inducted into their University’s Sports Halls of Fame? I did. But I don’t hand out my resume when I go to work just so that I can have the same respect as the men around me. Once I actually had an MLB team executive tell me that he Googled my name when I started covering the team and was impressed to read about my basketball career! It was like he looked at me in a totally different way. I suddenly had his respect. And yet strangely, I kinda liked the fact that he looked me up, so at least he knew I had the credentials to be there. But unfortunately, that is most often the case when you first start covering a team. The front office, coaches and athletes are quick to judge you based on the very first question you ask… you can almost hear them thinking, “oh boy, let’s see if this woman knows what she’s talking about.”
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When I talk to young women who want to get into this business today, my first piece of advice is to always know what you’re talking about and be prepared to back it up. I tell them to do their homework and be more prepared then the men around them, because every time you open your mouth, you will be judged. And the one time you mess up, mispronounce a name, get a stat wrong, it will be because you are a woman and just a cute skirt who doesn’t know sports. That’s our reality in this so called man’s world. And I gladly accept the challenge… because unlike many of my male counterparts, I am a retired athlete, who still needs to fuel my competitive fire. So bring it on. I love proving people wrong and showing I can “hang with the boys.” I don’t even mind when I get that response from a guy at the bar who looks at me and says shockingly, “Wow, you really know your sports. You’re like every guy’s dream girl!” Yet another comment I’m sure my male counterparts don’t hear on a daily basis. But I laugh. It’s funny and sort of a back handed compliment. I get it, it’s not every day you hear a woman talking about a cover two defense over sushi! But we are not unicorns, we do exist.
Of course, when I’m not behind the mic, I still really enjoy playing pickup ball and embarrassing dudes on the court, because they immediately assume that I can’t play. Or playing in a golf charity event and having guys stare in amazement at my long drive right down the fairway, because you know girls aren’t supposed to be able to hit a golf ball… or throw a baseball… or make it rain like the Splash Brothers… or talk a good game! After all, we’re missing that important piece of anatomy. Oh and for the record, when we do have to go into the locker room to DO OUR JOBS, we aren’t trying to check anyone out! Only a man would do that.