Amy Burton

August, 2023

AWM Foundation, Blog, Scholarships

Marissa Kraus’ Essay, “The Impact of Women in Sports Media,” an AWM Foundation and ESPN Scholarship Project

Marissa Kraus was the recipient of the 2023 Alliance for Women in Media Foundation and ESPN Scholarship. Kraus is an undergraduate student attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying Journalism. What follows is her project essay on The Impact of Women in Sports Media.

The Impact of Women in Sports Media

Like many things in women’s history, finding a place for females in sports media took a while. Although sports media is still heavily male-dominated, it has drastically grown over the past century, particularly the last two decades.

In the last 20 years or so, sports media has progressed significantly in terms of racial diversity, gender equality, and in eliminating entities like sexism and misogyny, according to Anna Clemmons with Global Sport Matters.  

Of course, getting to that point wasn’t easy. Schools unfortunately don’t teach the history of women in sports media (although that would be an awesome class!) so I did some of my own research. My key takeaway? There are countless women that have contributed to women’s progress in sports media that would not fit in this essay. Phyllis George, Jayne Kennedy, and even Robin Roberts are all names that aided in the growth of women in the industry. Furthermore, it is also important to note milestones like Title IX, which encouraged women to pursue careers in sports media.

Of course, one can’t talk about the history of sports journalism without mentioning ESPN. While there are many prominent female broadcasters, sideline reporters, writers and producers with ESPN today, it wasn’t always like that. When network sports television began in the 1940s, it was majority male and wasn’t until 1975 when a female had a prominent role in network sports broadcasting, according to Doug Mead with Bleacher Report.

Today, ESPN reporters like Lisa Salters, Holly Rowe, and Pam Ward are recognized for their lasting impact on women in sports media. In fact, another well-known name, Shelley Smith, has made a direct impact on me.

During my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I learned of the name Shelley Smith, who actually attended UNL. In fact, many of the current faculty went to school with Smith and know her personally. As a budding journalist, this caught my attention, so I began to research more about Smith. I found that she was not just an ESPN reporter, but one of the most impactful female sports reporters in the industry. Her impact started at UNL at the same college newspaper I currently work for, the Daily Nebraskan, where she was the sports editor and even pushed to get access to the Nebraska men’s locker rooms. How cool is that?

Since then, multi award-winning Smith has worked for many publications including Sports Illustrated before landing at ESPN first as a part-time reporter and now as one of their top sports writers. She has also written three books and is an outspoken supporter of the National Breast Cancer Foundation after becoming diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.

To say that Smith impacted me would be an understatement. Her story and influence inspired me so much that I set up an interview with her and had the pleasure of talking with her personally. This conversation, which spanned from her memories of working at the Daily Nebraskan to stories from reporting for ESPN, was such an incredible opportunity. If I wasn’t sure about going into sports media before that phone call, I certainly was after.

There are so many other inspiring women in sports media who have paved the way for journalists like me, and I am forever grateful for their willingness to challenge the status quo. If it hadn’t been for those early female journalists who rallied for a spot on the sports broadcast, or for Melissa Ludtke who went to federal court to guarantee female reporters equal protection rights, the state of women in sports media would not be where we are today.

Beyond just getting a spot at the table, the progress of women in sports media has allowed progress in diversity too. Having diversity in sports media is important for more representative coverage, allowing underrepresented populations and issues to be recognized more by the public. However, diversity does not just mean gender, and women’s progress is just the start. As women’s growth in the industry continues, how can we gain diversity in other areas too, like race, ethnicity, religion and socio-economic status? Now that is a shower thought for every supporter of journalism.

Continuing to increase diversity is important for not only the future of women in sports media, but for all people in media.

There are more women in sports media than ever before, and it is an honor to be a part of that piece of history. Learning its history has shown me that nothing will change until someone is willing to get out of their comfort zone to make that change. While I may not be a Shelley Smith, I hope to make my own impact in the industry and maybe even inspire another budding female journalist one day.

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