Three-time Olympian Vanessa James Credit: CBC photo

Now is an incredible time for female athletes. The Olympic Games in Tokyo were exhilarating with women reaching new heights on the track, in the swimming pool and on the basketball court. For the first time ever, women outnumbered men on the U.S. team. Viewership for the WNBA Finals was robust and regular season viewership was up. Young women pursuing sports journalism are embracing covering women’s sports, quite the change from female sports reporters feeling they have to cover men’s sports to be taken seriously. 

Some female athletes complain they don’t get enough coverage, and I agree that many journalists stick to basic narratives that identify only a handful of women as worthy of attention. So why did an athlete who tweeted her displeasure with a lack of coverage tell me to contact her agent for an interview only to have him ignore my requests?

Over the past 15 years, I have written approximately 1,000 articles for the New York Amsterdam News, more than 95% of which have focused on women’s sports. It’s time for me to share some thoughts. 

Last week at the Game Changers conference, a highly respected journalism professor cited as an example of what women athletes endure that the Phoenix Mercury had a playoff game relocated to somewhere other than their home arena due to performances of Disney on Ice. “It was this juxtaposition of skating princesses, basically, and WNBA basketball players,” she said. “It really kind of bothered me.”

As someone who has covered the sport of figure skating—credentialed media at 14 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and nine World Championships—I fully understand the difference between competitive figure skating and a Disney on Ice show. However, virtually every skater who performs in an ice show was a competitor at some point and their athleticism deserves respect. 

In 2018, I attended the WNBA’s Inspiring Women luncheon at the invitation of the WNBA with the understanding that I would cover it. I approached one of the WNBA players and asked for a brief interview. She asked who I was, and I promptly provided my info. 

Before I got my second question out, the coach of a well-known high school program intervened and insisted the player must immediately go to the front of the room for a photo op. I thanked her and said goodbye. When they were only a few feet away, this coach made a joke about me.

Female athletes and their coaches ask for better coverage, but they are so ready to dismiss a reporter eager to give it. And women in sports journalism need to respect all female athletes at least publicly, not just the ones they consider athletic.

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