TOMBOY: #YesAllWomenInSports

TOMBOY: #YesAllWomenInSports

By Tess Quinlan

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a sports journalist.

There might have been a very brief stint in kindergarten where Friendly’s waitress was discussed as an option, but that melted away as quickly as a Cone Head sundae.

With the exception of kindergarten, there was no hesitation or question; I was going to be a sports journalist. I was going to do anything to get there, but there were going to be some rough moments.

I remember being the only girl watching the game with the boys. I remember the isolation of being the only woman on a beat. I remember the skeptical looks, the odd questions, and the doubtful comments.

But by far, the absolute worst part of all was, and still is, The Quiz.

Any woman that works in sports journalism will tell you that at some point in her life, she has been subjected to a quiz by someone who thinks they know more about sports than she does. It could be someone close to them, like a friend or family member, or someone that she’s just met, like a guy in a bar, your barista or mechanic.

The quiz normally starts with little questions with an air of superiority and condescension, normally starting with “WELL” and ending with “Huh?!” (Real-life example-WELL, What is Utah’s mascot, huh?!)

As a woman, you know that a man would never be subjected to this in a serious context. You are acutely aware that this is not a joke. There is an expectation that you must answer the basic, idiotic questions to show your knowledge and that is the most frustrating thing of all.

If someone tells you they’re an accountant, you don’t ask them to debit an account. If someone tells you they’re a history teacher, you don’t demand they list all the presidents. You don’t make them prove that they are knowledgeable in their field. You take their word for it.

As a society, we still have a long way to go with how we see women in sports, both on and off the floor, but we have made tremendous progress. For all of The Quizzes, there are genuine questions and supporters.

I once asked my mom if she ever tried to convince me to pursue another career. She started to laugh. “Even if I wanted to, I never had a chance. You decided very early that this was what you were going to do. You were constantly going to games with your dad, so I just tried to help in whatever way I could.”

Her encouragement made me focus on the positive aspects of what I do.

For me, work is debating whether or not Terrell Owens should be in the Hall of Fame or covering a March Madness game. It’s always something new.

There’s enough competition in sports, so let’s stop the quizzes and start the support.

TOMBOY: ABC 7 Chicago's Dionne Miller on working in sports broadcasting

TOMBOY: ABC 7 Chicago's Dionne Miller on working 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 documentaryTOMBOY airing on March 13.

What experience 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 Literature to high school kids. I think 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 creative writing 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 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 newscast. 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 ESPN. 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, Fla. 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.

Shawn McClintock (VP Root Sports Pittsburgh) I met Shawn 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 we met at 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 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, and 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?  i.e. 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 like 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 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 10 p.m., 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. Got tackled and broke my leg in three places. Never once during 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 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 what the landscape of the business is. Yes, we will always be outnumbered. Yes we will be judged by our dress, hair, and makeup 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 as you think or as good. 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.

TOMBOY: Former Bears DE Alex Brown on raising girls with sports

TOMBOY: Former Bears DE Alex Brown on raising girls with sports

The following is a Q&A with former Chicago Bears defensive end and CSN Chicago Bears analyst Alex Brown on gender in sports leading up to CSN’s original documentary TOMBOY airing on March 13.

What character traits did you develop through sports and how did you pass those on to your daughters?

Being available and always coming with a great attitude whether practice or in a  game.

How can your daughters benefit from sports?

I think all kids can learn that you don't always "win." Sometimes you have to learn how to face defeat whether in the corporate world or in a sports atmosphere.

Was there a female role model in your life that you looked up to?

I have four brothers, so the one female figure I grew up with was my mom. To raise five boys takes a special woman. She is nothing short of special in my book.

Is it tough to see some of the violence against women going on in the NFL, and do you feel like things are worse now with social media? Everything appears to be out there; not just information, but images and video.

I don't think it's worse. I actually believe that because it's out there and no longer hidden within homes. People actually have to take accountability for their actions. Hopefully this helps us move closer to not treating women - or men for that matter - this way.

How is raising two daughters different than raising a boy?

Well for me, raising daughters is all new, I grew up with four brothers, so having to  deal with emotions almost 24/7 is something that I have never been faced with before. Girls are sensitive but they love you like no other. My girls meet me at the door at the end of the day with a huge hug and they are super excited that I am home. My son, on the other hand, kind of throws his hand in the air and says, "Hey, Dad, glad you're home." (laughs) Completely different to say the least.

Do you steer your daughters into playing sports?

I definitely would like for my girls to play sports because of what sports can teach with team building, bonding and being competitive. But it's their choice. What I do tell them is that you don't have to play if you don't want to, but if you do then we are going to be the best that we can be at whatever sport it is that they are doing.

Do you watch women’s sports?

We will watch WNBA, college soccer and softball together, but I think they would rather color and draw sometimes than watch sports in general.

How do you see the future of women’s sports?

I think the future of women's sports will hang on if it can get a superstar that has it all. The way we see the NBA isn't the way it was prior to MJ getting there, even though Magic and Bird were ruling. It took the perfect combination of charisma, talent, likability and marketability; that as we all know now was Michael Jordan, and the sport took off from there. In each sport - whether soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball, tennis (Serena Williams) - they just need that one special person and the fan base will grow and that sport will thrive.