When Journalism & Electronic Media Assistant Professor Guy Harrison was in his undergrad years, he wanted to be a sportscaster. As his knowledge and interests grew, he switched to studying the social aspects of sportscasting, specifically gender and race. Now, years of research that went into his book, “On the Sidelines” has been honored with the Outstanding Book Award from the National Communication Association’s Communication and Sports Division.
“The book is a feminist examination of women who work in electronic sports media–tv, radio, and podcasting. It explains how, even though there are more women working in the industry now than there have ever been, there are still many challenges that remain,” Harrison said.
He interviewed 10 current and former women sportscasters to gather qualitative data about their experiences in the male-dominated profession, and found many commonalities among their stories of harassment, misogyny, and obstacles to advancement.
One of the initial inspirations for Harrison pursuing this subject matter was his own experience as a young intern in a TV news station sports department, where he observed lots of bad “stereotypical locker room” language and behavior that was misogynistic. So before he took on this topic, Harrison did a thorough literature review to gain a better understanding of what had, and hadn’t, been studied. While there was plenty of research about women working in sports media—specifically in print media or what percentages of sports newsroom personnel were female—there wasn’t a book-length feminist analysis of women in the industry.
“The harassment that women get both online and in the workplace has made it to where there are many women who go to college wanting to work in sports media, and either because they see that harassment, encounter it online, or perhaps they encounter on campus themselves, they change their minds and decide not to go into sports journalism,” he said.
Women who do decide to forge ahead into the sports media world often discover that they are on their own in navigating various forms of harassment and gender bias, he said. Whether it is the delicate balance of looking attractive but not too attractive, or being assertive but not appearing angry, and so on, there’s a lot female sportscasters have to deal with that male sportscasters never do.
“One of my arguments in the books is that, those thoughts, those notions, didn’t come about by accident. They were built up over time by practices that started in the 70s or so by organizations hiring women who were attractive into roles that were never meant to be serious in terms of sports knowledge, even when they were filled by men. So it just became a trope that oh, the sideline reporter is not a serious journalist. Which obviously is erroneous thinking,” Harrison said.
Now it is up to the industry to recognize this problem and break down the ideas that continue to be perpetuated about women sportscasters, he said.
Harrison is very grateful to the women who were willing to speak up and provide data for his book, as well as to NCA for the recognition of many years of work. Overall, he said he’s glad their contributions and the topic are being recognized, because the stories and the ideas in the book are not isolated to women in sportscasting.
“Much of what we discuss in sports, you can say is relevant to society at large. Sports is kind of a microscope through which we can see many of the issues that we encounter in society. From that perspective, “On the Sidelines” is yes, about women sportscasters, but in many ways it’s about being a woman in the United States,” Harrison said.