Two weeks ago, Cam Newton reminded us all that we still have progress to be made in the world of sports and other. By we, I mean everyone – both men and women alike. We can’t succeed unless we do so together. If you missed the buzz from Carolina Panthers quarterback, he made headlines after calling out a female reporter saying it was “funny to hear a female talk about routes.” The reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue, responded on twitter saying,
“I don’t think it’s ‘funny’ to be a female and talk about routes. I think it’s my job.”
Despite the storm that followed from both sides, the message to me was clear: we still have progress to be made. We haven’t reached the finish line.
Undeniably, women have made significant strides in sports to get to where we are now. Today women are in the locker room, on the sidelines, excelling as broadcasters/journalists, and leading sports networks and organizations. A recent study by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and McKinsey & Company, released just last week, noted that a gender gap still exists and found that progress has slowed and may be stopping. The reason – a blind spot is created when we don’t recognize the problem, we see progress and think “that’s enough.”
Although this study wasn’t directly related to the sports industry, the slow-moving progress is a concern in sports too. Looking at this past year, the US women’s hockey team threatened to boycott the World Hockey Championships over unequal pay, staffing, PR, and expense coverage in comparison to the men’s team. Across the board, pay and sponsorship dollars for women sports are significantly lower – US women’s soccer team will collectively make $99,000 for 20 games to the men’s $236,320, despite outperforming them for decades. Media attention and coverage for female athletes continues to differ from men often focused on aesthetics or personal notions as opposed to performance.
This year, Forbes released an article about the effects of the use of terminology – like the common phrase when teams are searching for a new coach or General Manager, looking for the “best man” for the job.
And there it is. Although we may not be the ones in a position to be ensuring equal pay or sponsorship dollars of athletes, or hiring and promoting women into leadership roles within sports teams – you can still make a difference in the words and terminology you decide to use.
This is my seventh year working within the sports industry. During this time, I’ve worked with athletes, management, and great people within two junior hockey teams as well as in the NHL. Throughout this time, I’ve fortunately not experienced this type of gender discrimination from anyone within these organizations. Interestingly enough, it’s only ever come from people on the outside. For example, after telling someone about my job I’ve commonly been asked which player I want to sleep with. Instead of asking me about my job, their initial question is one that undermines my intelligence and is completely off base. Interestingly enough, I’ve never heard my male classmates or colleagues asked the same thing – they get all the cool/fun questions.
I challenge you to be aware of the words that you say, whether you are a woman or a man. I challenge you to realize when your comments alienate, undermine, or weaken the other gender and then, if they do – don’t say it. The sports world, much like the rest of the world, needs to continue to move towards the finish line and to do so we need to be consciously in a forward motion. By focusing on the words we choose to say, or not say, we are forcing ourselves to change the way we think or at least question the way we think.
There’s a lot to do, but starting with changing the conversation and consciously being inclusive is a good place to start. And I hope Cam Newton can too.
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