Imagine this scene - a pack of media hover in the middle of a locker room while athletes, fresh out of the shower post-game wrapped in nothing but small white towels large enough to cover their nether regions, are icing their swollen knees, getting dressed, etc. Most of the media are men but there are a few women mixed in the bunch, some from highly reputable sports news entities. As soon as the athlete gives the okay (not all do), the media pounce. All of a sudden, the guy on cloud nine who is continuing his consecutive game three-point shooting streak or his teammate who may have had one of his worst games of the season have twenty microphones shoved under their chins as the media fire off questions about why the team looked sloppy or seemed to lack focus. It's a strange post-game ritual that for the most part is unremarkable.
Every once in a while though, I'm reminded that female journalists are not always held to the highest regard in these situations (i.e. the locker room). Several weeks ago, I asked a visiting coach a seemingly innocuous question that I've heard asked before by other journalists. The coach looked at my male media counterparts before glaring at me and giving me a short, rigid answer. It illicited chuckles and smirks from the men, and I was embarassed, my confidence rocked a bit. In another situation, I asked a player about his team being down eighteen points at one time and coming back from the deficit. He didn't hesitate to correct me - he said, "Actually, we were only down by 8." Gulp. I've never seen another journalist corrected like that. Again, my locker room swagger a bit rocked, I hopped onto my 3G-enabled phone the second I got in the car and checked my facts. Actually, Mr. Player, you were down by 18. I was right. I'm still waiting for an apology I'm sure I won't get (I'm not really, but it would be nice to know that he knows that I know what I'm talking about). In yet other situations, I've had the male journalists push me, push my microphone out of their shot, bump into me with their cameras, etc. But I've learned to push back, so it's all good.
Last night I got pushed in another way, and I didn't like it one bit. To say I was unprepared for it is an understatement. It all started when the visiting coach came out of the locker room for his post-game interview. He looked me dead in the face as he said, "Okay, gents." In other words, "MEN, fire away." As the only female in the group, I was a bit taken aback. In that moment, I felt paralyzed and my mind couldn't get past the verbal slap that the coach had just delivered me.
As a co-host and I entered the visitor's locker room in the back of the media pack, the misogyny continued. When we entered the room, the jeering began. We heard comments like, "Damn, is this what the media looks like in Dallas?" We heard, "Are you guys pretending to be journalists." Or my favorite had something to do with spiral curls and Chi flat irons - I'd love to know who made the comment about the Chi because my question for him would be how the heck he knows or is interested in what one is! But I didn't see who made the comment because I kept my eyes on the floor. It became apparent immediately that some of the guys were purposefully flashing us and taking off their towels. It was quite the spectacle - the male media all felt the need to turn and look and see what the commotion was about. It was embarassing. I felt verbally assaulted and my credibility was shattered in an instant. In that moment, we were the cute Black girls that walked into the locker room, not journalists covering a sport. In the "real world" had this been some other work environment, there might be a serious cause of action for sexual harassment. But in the locker room, apparently it's acceptable behavior. No one said a word - no one came to our defense. Humiliated, we left the locker room shortly thereafter and made our way over to the home team's locker room. Again, confidence shaken, I kept my mouth shut, stood in on a couple of player interviews, then wrapped things up for the night.
As a female journalist covering sports (and as a lawyer in "real life"), the tables are already stacked against you. It's hard to earn credibility and getting people to take you seriously is challenging. And don't even be somewhat attractive, because you then become even more of a target. I'm always having to prove that I'm apparently smarter than I look. People are often surprised to learn there is a brain in this pretty little head of mine.
What I've learned is that in order to battle the misogyny, you have to be firm, assertive and somewhat bitchy to be taken seriously. I was so shocked last night, I just didn't even have a chance to bring my A-game. I was ill-prepared. Last night was a learning experience, one I hope to not have to repeat again. Unfortunately, I think it is inevitable in sports culture.