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Make space on the couch: All hail women in sports

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VANESSA LIM | SENIOR STAFF

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NOVEMBER 18, 2022

Editor’s note: This is a conversation between past female sports editors of The Daily Californian as they discuss their sports department, football and women in journalism. 

What made you realize how historically male dominated the Daily Californian sports department was? 

Mia Horne: Growing up with brothers who were very into football, I’ve always internalized the feeling that men will know more and be more interested in sports than women. Starting at the sports department my freshman year, it was a natural progression in my mind that those in charge of the department would be men and that I would know less than them. I did in fact know less than them — not because they were men —  solely because they were older and more experienced than me. They were amazing editors and I learned a lot from them, but it also made it more challenging to undo my preconceived notions about women in sports journalism. 

Emily Ohman: I feel lucky, actually — I didn’t realize that the department had not been as historically inclusive as it was when I joined until a fellow staffer pointed out that I was slated to become one of the youngest female assistant sports editors in recent memory. At first, I thought, “Wow, that’s cool to be one of the youngest — wait, why did he bring gender into this?” That’s when I understood that it wasn’t always a guarantee to have a girl on the editing staff. Of course, people like Sophie Goethals, Christie Aguilar, Surina Khurana, Alison White, Lucy Schaefer, Julia Shen and others who were in my proverbial line of sight at the time were kicking ass and taking names as reporters. They quickly showed me that there was a place for everyone in sports and earnestly welcomed me into the world of journalism; I immediately felt as if I, too, could achieve the great things they were accomplishing. It wasn’t like we were at odds with our male reporters, either. They played a huge role in building the accepting, amicable and hardworking department that still maintains its reputation as the noisiest corner in the newsroom today. 

What makes football so male-centric? How can the sport open up space for women that wish to cover/take part?

MH: I think that the long history of football as a male-dominated sport is entrenched in society today and prevents women from taking interest in things like reporting and coaching. The question of creating space for women in the sport falls along the same lines as fostering greater inclusion of women in male-dominated workplaces. The more women that can get a foot in the door and provide mentorship to other women interested in taking part, the greater chance women will be inspired to participate and feel like they have a voice. My reason for joining the sports department and eventually become an editor was watching Emily’s success as the only female reporter on the football beat at the time. She encouraged me to join the department and provided mentorship along the way. Having female role models to look up to helps when entering any kind of male-dominated space, and is necessary to opening football up to women.

EO: Allow me to offer you two contrary Sunday Night Football stereotypes: one, a dad clutching a light beer in his favorite recliner, getting his weekly respite from his nagging wife, nuclear family and white-collar work responsibilities; the other, a woman who can neither stand nor understand her boyfriend’s compulsion to watch football every single weekend. Both are caricatures, and both problematic — there is no black-and-white, cookie-cutter ideal of what a sports fan should or should not be. So, let me then present an alternate representation of a football lover, this one a reality: my mom, both a ferocious Georgia Bulldogs fan and the nicest woman you’ll ever meet (unless you’re an Alabama fan) who taught me everything I know about the sport. There may be people who think women are better off on the sidelines, either literally as cheerleaders or figuratively as castaways who don’t belong in the realm — both are dated and embarrassing opinions. You don’t have to go “all in” on sports to be a fan. You don’t have to like chopping it up with the boys at bars about Waiver Wire pickups or the trials of coaching the worst fantasy team in existence to be a legitimate fan. You don’t have to memorize every statistic or know who has the most receiving yards in college football history to earn a place at the table (it’s Cooper Kupp, but who’s counting). Taking after my mom and showing little girls that they, too, have a spot reserved on the couch every Saturday to scream at the television during every jaw-dropping carry, miraculous touchdown or incredulous field goal will let women know that they have as much right to be invested in football as anyone. 

What was your favorite memory from being editor/in the sports department? 

MH: One of my favorite memories was leaving the Daily Cal office twice in one day to get frozen yogurt (Menchies) with my deputy editors Ryan (Chien) and Sarah (Siegel). We had froyo early in the afternoon when we first arrived at the office and also later the night while we were still working on a gameday issue. Our Menchies runs were made possible because we had the privilege of working in the Daily Cal office space in-person for the first time since the pandemic, and we became frequent visitors of Menchies over the duration of the semester. Being able to bond with my deputy editors and the rest of the Daily Cal staff in the office was one of the highlights of my time at Cal — the office’s proximity to Menchies made it even sweeter. 

EO: There are genuinely too many to count — the infamous egg incident, every bodacious Ink Bowl altercation, the Triple Crown win over Stanford in 2019, late-night Chick-fil-A runs and generating wall quotes during bouts of production-induced insanity that are funny in the moment but inexplicable and cringe the next day. The memory that stands out the most, though, is our department’s trip to Lake Tahoe. One evening, we all walked to the beach to watch the sunset, and despite the subzero temperatures and being unable to feel our noses, we were all laughing and smiling and enjoying each other’s company so thoroughly that we stayed out until it got dark. There was something truly magical about the friendships the sports department forged for me, and I am proud to say that they have lasted beyond my college years. 

What do you think can still be done for women in sports journalism? 

MH: This is a tough question to answer. I think the most important thing that needs to happen in order for women to be more inclined to enter sports journalism is outreach. If people already in sports journalism reach out and encourage women they know to become a part of it and do something like, say, apply for the Daily Californian’s sports department, we would probably see an increase in the amount of women in sports journalism. We’ve made a lot of progress over the years, but there is still much more ground to cover. There’s no one solution to increasing diversity in sports journalism, but the little things like encouragement and mentorship go a long way.

EO: If women’s sports were more popular, I think we’d culturally be less skeptical of female reporters or knowing a girl who likes sports. You’ve never seen real basketball until you’ve watched a WNBA game. Softball is faster and arguably more nuanced than baseball, but there is no clear pipeline for even the most successful softball athletes to have a sustained career at the next level. The U.S. Women’s National Team has received a lot of publicity for fighting for equal pay, but could the average person tell you that they’re the most decorated women’s team in the world in their sport? To get people comfortable with the notion that women are competent reporters, we should be idolizing our more-than-competent female athletes just as we do for men. Additionally, one of the main reasons why I felt so at home in the sports department was because not only did the women support each other, but our male counterparts supported us, too. They created space for us to thrive, where everything was merit-based. I think that’s what we need to see more of, too — men genuinely believing that women have a place in sports and actively helping to make those spaces. While we’re at it, why don’t we just dispose of gender constructs altogether?

Anything you want future female sports editors to know? 

MH: If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to not let challenges you face stop you from pursuing your passion. There will be many people in your way and countless things discouraging  you from moving up the ranks, but that should encourage you to work even harder. In my first semester at the Daily Cal, I wrote an article that was objectively not my best work. I received harsh feedback that almost caused me to give up on my goal of eventually becoming an editor. On top of that, I was rejected for an editing position shortly after the article was published. It felt like the stars were aligning to prevent me from climbing the ladder. I had to put my feelings of insecurity aside and use the feedback I had been given to work even harder. By doing this, I was eventually able to reach my goals.

EO: For every person that doubts you, talks over you, sneers at you, makes fun of you, writes you a scathing, highly misogynistic email, or says “You’re just a girl, you couldn’t possibly understand baseball” (not hyperbole — all are actual lived experiences), there are many more people out there to support you and want to see you thrive. Although there are obviously still detrimental beliefs about women that continue to hold us back, there are also so many people that genuinely want a diverse range of voices contributing to an increasingly diverse sports scene, and we owe it to them — and ourselves — to deliver. Making a more inclusive world where we don’t have to fight so hard to justify or feel so out of place liking sports will only be possible by continuing to exist in spaces where we historically have not. Notably, it’s not just women who are too often left out of the sports world — nonbinary, queer, gender nonconforming, and trans individuals are overwhelmingly underrepresented (and underappreciated) in both sports and their fandoms, and we have a lot of work to do to open the doors of opportunity to them as well. So, don’t give up, even when people become critical — never take the job for granted, because one day you’ll be washed up like me, reflecting on the good ol’ days and wishing for just one more chance to get the thrill of covering the Bears. 

What is your prediction for the big game?  

MH: Cal is going to win, obviously. I have full confidence in the fact that the Bears playing on their home turf will propel them to another victory worthy of storming the field for the second year in a row. The energy in Berkeley is going to be high — I predict that the waves of visitors coming over from across the Bay will head home disappointed when the day comes to an end. The best part of the Big Game is the school spirit it fosters, and although Memorial Stadium has seen relatively low student section turnout these past few years, I’m confident we can make Beastmode proud and pack the stands for the impending Stanford takedown. But a Cardinal defeat will only be possible if the Bears play like a unit, and everyone is going to need to pitch in to make it happen. The determining factor will be whether Cal’s defense, bolstered by sleeper talent like true freshman corner Jeremiah Earby and ever-reliable Collin Gamble, can staunchly hold the Cardinal at bay and give the Bear’s offense enough wiggle room to figure out their own uncertainties in real time.

EO: We didn’t have many major forest fires this year, so I think we could stand to see one tree burn for sure. I’m curious to see how the recent departures of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Angus McClure will affect the team, but with the Bears having been so defensively minded in recent years, I expect their absences to be rather negligible: I’m placing all my faith in Jaydn Ott and J.Michael Sturdivant to carry the offense just one more time. To forecast the Big Game, you almost have to disregard season records (which is convenient because they’re hard to look at) and more carefully weigh individual games as they relate to one another. Stanford upset Notre Dame, but Cal lost to the Fighting Irish; the Bears had a decent game against USC and the Cardinal had a pretty bad one, but both teams ultimately lost to the Trojans. Both Cal and Stanford only have one win against a Pac-12 team, so on paper, the two seem pretty proportional to one another. In the end, it’ll boil down to what it usually does: a methodological Stanford offense and a well-oiled Cal defense. If the Bears can do what they do best and play good defense — and not have any disastrous special teams errors, which cost them the Axe in 2020 — while managing to eke out some points, I think they’ll walk away victorious. Take it from someone with an intimate knowledge of the emotional roller coaster that is Cal football: The Bears have an uncanny way of pulling off astounding wins and agonizing losses, but I have a feeling that this game will be the former. 

 

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NOVEMBER 18, 2022