On Sept. 23, the Boston Celtics announced that head coach Ime Udoka would be suspended for the entire 2022-23 season. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the suspension came after an “improper intimate and consensual relationship with a female member of the team staff.”
Unsurprisingly, this story dominated headlines and talking points of every sports media outlet, with reporters and analysts sharing their opinions on how poorly the Celtics handled the situation. One of those outlets contributing to the conversation was ESPN’s morning talk show “First Take.”
The show, featuring prominent TV personality Stephen A. Smith and a variety of guests, held multiple conversations about how the Celtics should have handled the internal affair. Among those segments was a heated exchange between Smith and NBA reporter Malika Andrews where the two reacted to the Celtics’ press conference following the suspension.
Andrews focused on how Boston’s handling of the situation led to unfair assumptions about women in the Celtics’ organization, and she continued to call out Smith for “blaming women.” Smith responded by attacking Andrews, yelling “You’re the one telling me to stop on my show. That ain’t happening.” Smith pointing out that it was “his show” and dictating their conversation demonstrates one of the main problems with not just ESPN but sports media as a whole.
ESPN has six daily debate programs: “Around the Horn,” “Get Up,” “First Take,” “Outside the Lines,” “Pardon the Interruption” and “This Just In.” All of these programs are hosted by men as they offer insight into a variety of topics around sports. When the debate shows do invite women to speak, it’s often as a subordinate to their male counterparts and not adding much dialogue to the conversation.
The issue of women being isolated from sports conversations extends well beyond ESPN. The Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) Racial and Gender Report Card evaluates over 75 newspapers and websites and is intended to measure the changes in racial and gender hiring practices over time. The 2021 APSE report highlights just how poorly the sports journalism industry performs in gender equality hiring.
The report lists an “F” grade in gender hiring for APSE total staff, APSE sports editors, APSE columnists and APSE reporters as well as a “D” grade in gender hiring for APSE assistant sports editors and APSE copy editors/designers. The report notes that notable change is beginning to take place, saying “Overall, white males held 67.5 percent of [APSE staff jobs] in 2021, down 11.3 percentage points from 78.8 percent in 2018.”
Though progress is being made in APSE gender hiring, the number of “D” and “F” grades given out demonstrates that there is still a long way to go before women are truly a part of sports conversations. The way Smith treated Andrews on air demonstrates why diversifying the hiring of women in sports journalism is so crucial.
There are already so many issues with gender disparity in the world of sports, including wage gaps, treatment of players, access to facilities and coverage in the media. Enhancing the diversity of sports journalists helps bring light to these issues and allows for unique perspectives on ways to improve the entire world of athletics.
Photo courtesy of Paul Randall, Flickr