The Truth About Being a Woman in Sports Broadcasting

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Fox Sports, NFL, ESPN Images

The prominence of female sportscasters such as Doris Burke, Jemele Hill, and Mina Kimes gives the impression that sports journalism has always been a hospitable place for women. But it wasn’t until quite recently—around the 1980s—that women began to break into the sports media boys’ club, and even then their roles were often relegated to on-air eye candy.

The past 20 years has seen a whole generation of award-winning female sports reporters, but the industry — which continues to suffer from inequity on the field — is also reckoning with that history of bias off of it. To discuss this legacy, and the ongoing challenges of the industry, the Cut sat with Fox Sports host and reporter Jenny Taft, who serves as the moderator of Undisputed as well as a sideline reporter on Fox Sports; NFL Network host Colleen Wolfe, who hosts not one but two shows for the network; and ESPN basketball host Malika Andrews, who debuted as the network’s youngest sideline reporter in 2020 and hosts NBA Today.

Have you experienced a double standard when it comes to ambition?

Colleen Wolfe: When a man is ambitious, it’s virtuous, but for women, ambition can have a negative connotation — that you’re too demanding or too aggressive or not likable. But ultimately, the more you do this job, you realize that you have to ask for what you want, and not everybody is going to like what you have to say.

Malika Andrews: I do think there is a kind of tact that women are expected to have with their ambition that men aren’t, necessarily. I’ve never been told that I was too ambitious, but I have been told that I “come on too strong” or I “push hard,” and I don’t know if my male counterparts have those descriptors attached to their ambition.

C.W.: I have thought, How can I ask for X, Y, and Z without it coming off like I am making demands and being a diva and just complaining? Because that is sometimes the reaction that you get.

Jenny Taft: Yeah, and when you’re new, you just want to be easy, happy-go-lucky — you don’t want to be too difficult early on. And then you start to realize, Well, I still need to ask for what I deserve, and then there’s this shift and you’re suddenly demanding. Contract negotiations, that’s always uncomfortable. I have male colleagues who have those conversations all the time, but why does it have to be different when it’s us?

C.W.: Right. Ambition is a tricky term. I just use the term motivated. It’s basically synonymous with ambitious but just not using that word.

So it’s kind of a dirty word. Given that, have you ever felt the impulse to tamp down on your ambition? 

C.W.: No, I’ve never experienced that. If anything, I have issues with saying no. You’re sort of taught, especially with these jobs, to say yes to everything. And you do because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or get on their bad side. But I think there’s power in realizing that you can say no to things.

J.T.: I totally agree. I’m sure many of us did that at the beginning — never said no, worked three jobs, weren’t sleeping, and made no money. And I understand that part of it is you kind of pay your dues. I’m pregnant right now, and for me there was such a fear of, like, Will that take me out of things? Will people not call me? I struggled with that for years in wanting to start a family.

C.W.: That’s a real fear. I’ve seen women — a lot of women, women that I work with, women that work at other places — get taken off of shows during their maternity leave and then not put back on.

That’s interesting because it seems like the sports industry has become more politically and socially aware in recent years. If anything, I would think that this reckoning would have made things more equitable for women. Is that not the case from the inside? 

C.W.: There’s been progress and regression. A lot of people feel like they now have permission to say more. Still, when I’m doing anything for work — whether it’s radio, television, tweeting, any type of content whatsoever — I feel like I have to watch every single word that comes out of my mouth because I don’t want to say something that will go viral for reasons we don’t want. In sports, there are so many words and phrases that are just off limits for women. I mean, guys are constantly like, “Oh, look at this dribble penetration …”

J.T.: I remember this year I pronounced a player’s name wrong. It was really cold, and my lips were freezing, and it came out weird. Those are the times when social media feels the worst because, even if I own the mistake, fans are ruthless. And as a woman, I do find that those mistakes are bigger, like, “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

C.W.: The fear of being wrong and losing credibility because of something really dumb is real. Men will accidentally pronounce something wrong, and I feel like the Twitter mob isn’t up in arms over it.

Speaking of credibility, I want to talk about self-doubt. Did you struggle with self-doubt when you were starting out? 

M.A.: I think I’m still dealing with it in some ways. The only way to combat self-doubt is to perform. For me, the only way to combat feeling like you don’t belong is making your work belong; it’s preparing, reps, watching back all of our shows, really drilling down into the reporting. That, to me, is what you have to fall back on.

C.W.: I never even heard of imposter syndrome until probably two years ago. The person who told me about it was Joe Thomas, an amazing football player who is going to be in the Hall of Fame. He said that when he was playing, he had all of these doubts. This is someone who is absolutely at the tip-top of his game who dealt with imposter syndrome, and not only that, so did a lot of his teammates. So I feel like everyone sort of deals with a little bit of it, and if you don’t, maybe you’re a sociopath.

I’m curious what it is like being in such a public-facing job. You’re in front of cameras, getting constant feedback — you have to be careful about what you say; you have to be careful about how you look. How do you deal with the criticism?

J.T.: I’d say you have to take it with a little bit of a tough skin because there will be criticism regardless. I have friends who will send me messages like, “How do you handle this?” I’m like, I didn’t even notice that. You have to kind of let those comments go.

M.A.: I like to believe most people wouldn’t say those things to my face. The internet is a place that emboldens people to have to say something without having to say it to you, and I think that people can make you into a character when they see you on television. It’s about grounding yourself with the people around you — people who see you as a three-dimensional person and not just your job.

C.W.: When I first started, it would bother me a lot. Eventually, I was able to put the negative comments in different buckets, and then they started to just become noise and didn’t bother me as much. A lot of times I will just stay out of my mentions, but the problem is it’s also part of the job — we’re expected to be relevant on social media. And I like interacting with people. I like seeing feedback. But you have to see the negative feedback to see the positive feedback too.

J.T.: I think when you know you’ve made a mistake, like if I’ve said something on air that I know has the potential to be criticized, that’s when it’s hard. But it helps if you are confident in what you’re presenting on TV and who you are as a reporter.

There seems to be this idea that all of the women in sports broadcasting are out to get each other — there are so few jobs, you’re all in competition with each other. What is it like from the inside?

J.T.: It’s so far from that. I’m so proud of the success that other women have all had. There’s room for all of us in this world. And it’s kind of like a little unique family.

M.A.: I found women in this industry to be incredibly supportive. I think that idea became prevalent because there’s an endless number of men on any given panel, but there’s usually just one woman. But women are imaginative; we can see ourselves in all sorts of spaces, and we’ve worked to put ourselves in spaces that we weren’t in before, but the network’s imaginations at times have lagged behind the capabilities of what women can do.

C.W.: I’ve made a concerted effort to try and band together with the other women I work with. And it’s tough because there’s only a few of these jobs, and so you are sort of in competition with your peers. But I’ve found that creating a support group with the women I work with has really helped with a lot of the anxiety, and it’s been really nice to share the things that you go through because we’re all kind of going through the same stuff and experiencing the same challenges and triumphs. Otherwise, it’s lonely.

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The Truth About Being a Woman in Sports Broadcasting