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Chipping away at bias for women in sports




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Reprint of Knoxville News Sentinel story from:

 Picture by Saul Young

 Picture by Saul Young

Victor Lee 8:29 PM, Sep 23, 2014

Sometimes when The Sports Animal morning co-host Heather Harrington speaks about football, men start calling with questions thinly veiled as “What does she know about a man’s game?”

It was just one of the sports culture biases discussed Tuesday in the “Sports and Stereotypes” panel at the CCI Diversity and Inclusion Week at the University of Tennessee. Erin Whiteside, assistant professor of Journalism and Electronic Media, hosted the panel, made of The Sports Animal’s Jimmy Hymans, News Sentinel sports editor Phil Kaplan, UT women’s basketball player Ciera Burdick and UT senior associate athletic director Donna Thomas.

“We are learning a lot about our social values and norms through watching sports,” Whiteside said in her opening remarks. That includes that men sometimes give little credibility to women sports reporters.

“One morning, Heather said that an undersized defensive lineman would have a hard time stopping a big offensive lineman,” Hyams said. “The callers said she was ill-informed. But she got that from Jon Jancek, Tennessee’s defensive coordinator.

“It’s frustrating, because sometimes a male audience isn’t going to give a female credibility when talking about football,” Hyams said. “Men don’t want to listen to women tell them about football because women haven’t played football.”

Hyams pointed out that college and pro football perpetuate bias with some of their sideline analysts.

“A lot of sideline reporters are attractive,” he said. “They want pretty women to be sideline reporters, and that’s a stereotype. And they need to dress appropriate. Some I’ve seen I thought were not dressed appropriate.”

Whiteside questioned the panel about their views on why a low percentage of women are in sports media and sports administration.

Thomas said, “I can tell you, when you are trying to hire women in athletics in general, it’s difficult because it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. Think about how many holidays you miss with your family because you’re at an event. People say, ‘Oh, you get to go to all the games.’ Yes, we do. All of them. And we worked all day before the game.

“That’s not a complaint. It’s a lifestyle, and you have to choose, and a lot of women are not going to choose that, and it’s not always because they don’t have the opportunity.”

Opportunity was the purpose of Title IX more than 40 years ago. The federal legislation called for equal opportunity for women in athletics. Whiteside wanted to discuss it, but the conversation gained no traction, perhaps because, as Thomas said, “The young women who played at the University of Tennessee don’t know about Title IX, because they never, ever had a time in their life when they could not participate. I think it’s a good thing that you (audience of students) don’t know much about Title IX because it shows that it is working.”

Burdick says that in regard to equal treatment of female athletes, the University of Tennessee is different than many schools that recruited her.

“I strongly believe we do things right here,” Burdick said. “And that’s why I came here. At other universities that recruited me, some of the women’s teams weren’t getting half of what the men’s sports get, so why would I go? In some cases, our female sports (at UT) are more successful than our men’s sports, and it’s a testament to what Donna Thomas and other administrators have done here. I think they treat us equally, if not better, than some of the men’s sports, and it’s something that makes the University of Tennessee special.”

Victor Lee is a freelance contributor.