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The ugly truth about female rivalry in sports

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Hi friends,


Today we’re talking about one of the ugly truths of the sports industry: not all women are interested in lifting other women up and seeing them succeed. In fact, there’s often a (ridiculous and unnecessary) competitiveness between women in sports. We’ve even dealt with colleagues who have taken it a step further and actively attempted to put down or sabotage other females. It’s a sad and unfortunate reality that stems from a lack of opportunity and the fact that many have had to push and shove and claw their way into the boys’ club that is sports. To be honest, we understand where those women are coming from. They’ve often had to work twice as hard as their male coworkers to get the same opportunities and respect. No wonder they’re protective of their positions and their space. Wouldn’t you be, when you’ve spent your whole career fighting a system that actively discriminates against you, knowing that everything you’ve worked for and earned could be taken from you? Your whole existence in the industry can feel fragile. Who wouldn’t be protective and defensive?

But here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be like that. At the risk of sounding like a social media influencer looking for likes, we could all benefit from an abundance mindset. Creating more opportunities for the next generation of women in sports helps all women in sports. Imagine walking into a draft room and outnumbering your male coworkers. Or looking around a meeting and seeing diverse women from every department imaginable represented. How cool would that be?


Unfortunately, that’s not the case currently, and while we’ve made tremendous strides over the last few decades, there’s still so much work that needs to be done to change the industry. Toxic competitiveness between female coworkers and queen bee syndrome (if you haven’t heard of it, look it up! It’s absurd!) run rampant in many organizations.

Meghan

Our eyes were first opened to that during our ESPN internship. Midway through that summer, the organization brought all the interns together for a Career Summit in Bristol. Not only did we have a chance to meet the students based in LA and New York, we also got to listen to a series of panels and presenters from across the Worldwide Leader. While we won’t name names, one particular speaker stood out to us. As an on-air talent, she shared her journey through the industry, detailing the challenges she’d faced as a woman in a field that’s overly focused on looks and body weight. Her moving speech also highlighted the mentors she’d had on the way to becoming a SportsCenter anchor, and how she wouldn’t be where she was without the men and women who had advocated for her and lifted her up. In closing, she encouraged us all to reach out to her, saying she’d love to serve as a mentor, provide guidance, or even just serve as a connection in an industry where who you know can occasionally open as many doors as what you know. Naturally, Sam and I jumped at the opportunity.


Sam

We were so excited to reach out to this particular anchor! At the time, I was an aspiring sports reporter who dreamed of being on camera. She was doing my dream job and offering to help the next generation. As soon as the Summit was over, I sent her an email asking if I could potentially shadow her for a day, noting that I’d love to learn more about the responsibilities that come with hosting a show like SportsCenter. She said yes almost immediately.

Going into the job shadow, I prepared questions and dutifully brought along multiple notebooks and pens, just to be safe. By this point in the story, I’m sure you can see where this is going. Let’s just say it was not the dream opportunity that I had hoped. Instead, the anchor seemed annoyed to have me around, discouraged me from pursuing a career in broadcast media, questioned my experience, and at times was downright rude. By the time I met Meghan for lunch that day, just a few hours into my full-day shadow, I was ready to be done. It was shocking to comprehend how the woman I was shadowing was the same one who had stood before an auditorium of interns and promised to serve as a mentor and resource to anyone who asked. I was so stressed out and let down by the experience, I wanted to put an end to it right then. While I ultimately stuck it out, there’s no major plot twist or turnaround in this story. My day sucked. The conversations I’d had with the anchor in question had me questioning my own future and whether or not I had what it took. At the time, I was heartbroken and took her words more personally than I should have. Looking back, I recognize it for what it was: that toxic competitiveness. That experience is part of what inspired empowHERed. We had each other, but in our full-time roles in sports, we’d found very few female mentors who were willing to advocate for others.

 

So back to the present. How can we change the status quo and make the sports industry a more inclusive place? To start, we want empowHERed to be a supportive community for everyone, from students to executives. We created our mentor program and identified women who are not only killing it in their careers, but are also looking to send the elevator back down for others. One of our dear friends and male advocates, Rob Smith, always says that people often think that they need to make themselves irreplaceable, when actually the opposite is true. He tells everyone he works with, “I want you to be able to do my job. I want you to be able to replace me. Because if you can’t, how in the world am I supposed to advance?” Isn’t that an awesome and uplifting mentality?

We’ll leave you with this thought. You don’t have to be at the top of your field to start elevating others. Whether you’re a first-year sports professional or an industry leader, there are ways to empower (no pun intended) and include other women, to open doors, to stop the gatekeeping and competitiveness that drives so many away from this industry before they even get started. Whether it’s making time for an informational interview, writing a recommendation, or simply being a friendly face and support system, you can make a difference. Both for the next generation, and for yourself. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.

As always, remember, you’re awesome and you belong here!


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