Thursday, April 23, 2015

What It's REALLY Like Being A Lady In The Locker Room


sports media, sports, lady in the locker room
You will usually be the only woman in the majority of your work photos! 

As graduation approaches, I am doing my tour of college and high school campuses speaking to sports broadcasting, sports management or sports marketing classes about careers in the sports industry. I love visiting with young professionals and hearing their questions.

RELATED: 5 Things You Need To Get Out Of Your Sports Media Internship

Inevitably, I am always asked about being a "woman" working in sports media. The questions are generally these two:
  • How do you handle the feeling of having to prove yourself working in a male-dominated business? 
  • How you handle being a woman in a guy's locker room? It's not just students who ask. I get this question. All. The. Time. 
I was asked one of these questions today.

Let's pull back the curtain and discuss what too many professors, teachers, mentors and hiring managers won't:

What It's REALLY Like Being A Lady In The Locker Room.

Before I go any further, let me say that these stories are based on my experience. To that point, I have discussed this topic with many of my fellow female sports media and sports industry colleagues who have had similar experiences.

How do you handle the feeling of having to prove yourself working in a male-dominated business? 

First a little history:
When I was the sports director at KUAM-TV in Guam and a sports reporter/anchor/producer/photographer at WBIR-TV in Knoxville, I was the first woman to do sports in a full-time capacity in both markets. It was a big deal. There was a microscope on me because I was a woman. My news director told me this. The media reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel told me this. Everyone told me this.

Many times when I went places people tried to quiz me to find out if I knew anything about sports at all. Did I know what I was talking about? Did I know the stories? Did I know the teams?

I was likely in over my head. Looking back, I should have done a better job preparing for both professional situations.

In Knoxville, I got to be known as "That Sports Girl". That was my defining characteristic. I heard the whispers when I shot high school football games: "That's That Sports Girl". Any time I made a mistake (of which there were many) I heard about it from my boss, news director and viewers who called in to say "That Sports Girl screwed up again!"

By the time I moved back home to Dallas and went on to work for the Dallas Cowboys, WFAA-TV and KTVT-TV/KTXA-TV I learned to know my shit. Knowledge is a great equalizer.

To that point, though, for a few years, I was still quizzed. Many times when I told someone I was a sportscaster I was met with "Really? Do you like sports?" Uh, yes. "Do you know sports?" Uh, yes. "Who is the backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys?" Please.

A friend, or a person I at least thought was a friend, tried to "get" me before the NFL draft one weekend and asked me where quarterback Clint Stoerner went to school. Really? I could not only tell my "friend" what Stoerner did at Arkansas his senior year but also remind him about a defining moment for Stoerner in the 1998 Tennessee/Arkansas game.

It is my job to know these things. If it is your job to know something, don't you know it? Why people think we don't is beyond me.

I get that, in the case of sports media professionals, it's different because we do our jobs in the public eye so our mistakes are magnified. As a woman in this business, mistakes are magnified even more. If I mispronounce a name, I hear about it. If my male colleague does, he generally gets a pass.

Consider this example from about a decade ago. I was doing the 6pm sportscast at a station while my male colleague was doing the 10pm show. I made a dumb mistake at 6. My male colleague made the same one at 10. I received about a half-dozen emails ranging from a friendly "Gina, you know better than that" to "You dumb bitch! You don't know crap!". My male colleague didn't receive any comments from viewers about the error. Keep in mind, the number of people watching a 10pm newscast is usually much higher than a 6pm show.

A Few Words About Appearance
You will be judged on your appearance. Much more harshly than any man. A television consultant once told me that the main reason channel surfers stop or change the channel when flipping is because of the appearance of the female anchor or host. I don't know if that's true but I do know that your appearance counts.

It's tougher for women. There seems to be an expiration date for our careers. Think about it: you don't see a lot of women older than 50 (or even 40) doing sports anymore. I see men in well into their 70's on-camera.

Five months pregnant covering the NBA Finals

In this picture, I was doing a show before a Mavs/Heat game during the 2011 NBA Finals. I received a few viewer emails that I looked fat. I hadn't told anyone I was five months pregnant.

It's fine. You have to take the criticism along with the praise and, thankfully, there have been too many kind words, letters and emails to count. The mean-spirited ones can stick with you, though. Prepare for the fact it can sometimes be hyper-critical, from both bosses and viewers.

The Answer To The Question About "Proving Yourself":
Don't let the fact it can be different get to you. Let your work speak for itself. Don't feel like you need to show off, change your voice or act a certain way that's unnatural for you. Be yourself. You will get to a point where critics will stop doubting your credibility.

Work hard, do great work and be professional about it. Do this at all times. That will prove any skeptics wrong.

How Do You Handle Being A Woman In A Locker Room? 

Let's just get it out of the way: yes, there are naked people. In the real world, there is nothing natural about that but, oddly enough, when you work in sports media it becomes natural.

It's been a long time since I walked into a locker room or clubhouse for the first time. I did that recently and was reminded of that feeling again: all eyes on you, wondering who you are, what media outlet you're representing and if you will look around the room to, you know....look around.

Women are watched in locker rooms. Especially when they are new or not known. Some are watched by team representatives while others are checked out by athletes. Team representatives want to ensure that you are acting in a professional manner. In fairness, they do examine unfamiliar men who walk into the room for the first time but I have noticed women getting monitored a bit more closely.

Athletes are checking you out, too. They're human. You're a woman. For most of them, it's refreshing to see a prettier face who is wearing perfume. Some will hit on you. Some will talk about you. Some won't even think twice about you. All of that happens.

Again, it's your responsibility to be a professional. Once you have developed a solid professional relationship with a team and its players, no one will think twice about you being in there. At the end of the day you are there to do a job. Period. Act like it.

I have had a few team public relations representatives ask me to talk to young women about locker room decorum. Here's my advice: if you are unsure of something, ask. You can ask me (ginamillermedia@gmail.com). You can ask a trusted mentor or supervisor. You can ask team representatives. They are there to help you.

My final piece of advice on being in a locker room, whether you're female or male: always look up. Never look down.

Think about it for a minute.

What About You? 

The nature of the sports landscape is growing in that being a woman or man isn't a characteristic that defines you as much as it once did. As more women and people with diverse backgrounds enter this field, it's becoming about an individual's work, reputation and character that define him or her. That's the way it always should have been. I'm happy to say we're getting there, albeit slowly.

What has your experience been? Whether it be as a "lady in the locker room" or working with one, what have you noticed? Am I completely off base? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

A Key To A Successful Media Career
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