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We Spoke to the Women Trailblazing in Sports Media

Calling Game

“Turn on any sports network and you will see a powerful female either on the desk or on the sidelines at a sporting event,” says Kat Stefankiewicz, host and personality of the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors. Until women really started to infiltrate the sports media space, it was hard for young girls and women to imagine or aspire to work in sports — an industry that by nature breeds a level of raw passion and energy that many industries do not.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport found that while just 4% of all sports media coverage focuses on women’s sports, there is a rising trend of women populating sports media and journalism. We decided to take this week to celebrate three women who have carved out their space in sports media and are kicking down doors the for the rest of us to follow through.

Jessica Mendoza – ESPN Color Analyst & Mets Front Office Baseball Operations Advisor

Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty

Jessica Mendoza was the first female analyst to call the Men’s College World Series. She is now a color analyst for ESPN, and recently joined the Mets’ front office as a baseball operations adviser — an unorthodox position reserved for the most respected and knowledgeable people in baseball. Jessica Mendoza was recruited to play Division I softball out of high school and ended up playing at Stanford University from 1999 to 2002, racking up All American awards, All Pac 10 awards, and more. She also led Stanford to their first Women’s College World Series appearance. As a professional out of college, Mendoza not only played for the National Pro Fastpitch League, but she also tore up the Olympics with Team USA in 2004 and 2008, winning gold in 2004 and silver in 2008. 

Mendoza is one of the most recognizable faces on Sunday Night Baseball, and along with Alex Rodriguez, Matt Vasgersian, and Buster Olney, she provides insightful commentary and unique perspectives, given her experience in Division I college and professional softball. The two-time Olympic medalist has faced scrutiny because of her dual role with the Mets and ESPN.

While there can be an argument on the issue of blurring journalistic lines about working for teams that are being broadcast, the guy that sits in the booth next to Mendoza on Sunday nights — Alex Rodriguez — has been an analyst for ESPN and an adviser for the Yankees for more than a year now, and we haven’t seen the type of backlash for him that Mendoza has faced. The same can be said of David Ross, who is an ESPN baseball analyst as well as a special adviser for the Chicago Cubs.

If you’ve ever watched Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, you’ve witnessed someone, in Mendoza, with one of the highest baseball IQs in the game give insightful commentary for nine innings — a real treat for baseball fans everywhere.

Kat Stefankiewicz – Host & Personality of the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors

Kat Stefankiewicz by Clayton Hansler

Photo by Clayton Hansler

Women are breaking through in sports media in noticeable ways. But while the statistics don’t necessarily suggest growth, Kat Stefankiewicz spoke optimistically to Calling Game about this trend. “As every season goes by with the Raptors, I notice more and more female reporters and personalities in the arena and it’s so wonderful to see growth in that way,” she said.

Granted, it’s hard to turn on any sports network and not see a knowledgeable female reporter, journalist, or analyst that does their job thoroughly and professionally. Kat Stefankiewicz has first-hand experience seeing the rising trend of more and more female reporters entering the sports scene.

She explained:

“I had a moment at the NBA finals this season standing courtside to do a hit and looked down the line and there were four other women with different networks standing right beside me. I don’t feel like an outsider anymore. That means we are doing something right. In the end, I want to believe that the best person for the job will get it but I do believe that we as women have what it takes. It’s not just about having more women in sports, but it’s about us really owning our skills, standing with confidence, preparing past perfection and collaborating with other women to make our voices heard. I think the important part is to always loop back to support. It’s not a competition with other women, it’s a collaboration. Let’s fuel that fight together, engage, share highs and lows and give each other opportunities to succeed.”

Photo by Michael Hagerty

Laura Okmin – Sports Broadcaster for NFL on FOX & Founder of GALvanize

We are also seeing women infiltrate other areas of the male-dominated sports business. Laura Okmin, a seasoned reporter for the NFL on Fox and feature reporter for their pregame shows, was hired by NFL teams to provide media training for NFL rookies through her GALvanize program. Okmin has been in the industry for over 25 years — covering over 10 Super Bowls.

We spoke to Okmin about how she builds relationships as a female reporter in the NFL and how other young women that aspire to do the same can follow in her footsteps.

“The greatest gift this business has given me is seeing where creating and building trust has led me,” she told Calling Game. “When a coach asks you to help shape his messaging or allows you to work with his rookies…there’s no bigger privilege.”

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In 2014, Meredith Vieira became the first female reporter to host the Olympics primetime show solo and since then, women have been making visible gains in the sports media industry. According to a 2017 report from Women in Media, female journalists wrote around 11% of sports stories, but over 51% of women are sports fans, and around 35% of sports fans are women. Why don’t these numbers match up? While the statistics suggest a small quantity of women in sports media, we’ve come a long way and are now seeing a visible trend of impressive women fighting for more space in the field — and getting it. 

Calling Game is a weekly opinion column and podcast focused on media coverage of athletes. Written by two female athletes, we’re the sports news that covers the sports news. Calling Game came about after finding a staggering statistic that showed that only 4% of sports media coverage is focused on women. We’re calling game on the bias.

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Kelsey Trainor is a former two sport collegiate athlete, collegiate women's basketball coach and current attorney & producer. Amba Jagnarine is a former college athlete in charge of business development at Abrams Media (Mediaite's parent company). We are passionate about sports and giving women a bigger voice in all aspects of it. Twitter: @ktrain_11 | @AmbaJagnarine