WIMN’s Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…

Robin Herman

Robin Herman grew up in the post WWII suburbs of Long Island. She was a member of the first class of women admitted to Princeton University in 1969. She joined The New York Times in 1973 as its first female sports reporter.

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Robin Herman's Blog Introduction

Women, Media, AND... Sports

There is a whole genre of expressions and adages around sports in American life – that sports create leadership and character; that the sports world is a reflection of society; that sports is a metaphor for life.

So as we look at the sports-mediated mirror of our society, what does the reflection show us about women? Are we even in the picture? Lately, yes. But for many decades we weren’t.

It wasn’t until the 1970s and Title IX ---legislation that barred federally financed educational institutions from discriminating against women and girls in their offerings of opportunities, including sports-- that we started to get a toehold. And it wasn’t until the barrier-breaking, media-grabbing exploits of athletes like marathon runner Kathrine Switzer, who busted into the men-only Boston Marathon in 1967, and Billie Jean King who played serve-and-volley tennis, demanded more pay for women players and even staged a 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match against aging tennis pro Bobby Riggs, that we began to show that women could play tough and great, could bring in paying fans and deserved a place on this playing field of life

In a parallel vein, it wasn’t until the 1970s that women broke the barrier to simply reporting on professional sports. Women sportswriters (like myself) appeared in the mid-70s to the alarm, chagrin and sometimes amusement of male athletes and the all-male press corps. The locker room interview was in particular a time for media hilarity and hysteria. “Two Women Reporters Get the Bare Facts,” was one of the least objectionable headlines following the first entry of professional female reporters into a pro locker room to get post-game quotes. Male reporters thought female reporters were a story unto themselves.

Melissa Ludtke, then of Sports Illustrated, has written a nice roundup of those times that I’ve referenced in my blog: www.girlinthelockerroom.com. Nowadays female journalists are regulars in the sports pages and on television, but our roles are still too often on the sidelines – kind of like weathergirls for the NFL football broadcasts, out there on the field in the rain instead of in the anchor booth. This needs to change. (See the website of the Association for Women in Sports Media as it keeps track – they call themselves AWSM – pronounced as “awesome.”)

My aim in writing about women, media and sports, will be to cast a light on how women athletes are portrayed by the sports and advertising media, to see whether the media is covering sports issues of concern and interest to women and to monitor how the sports media itself is doing in including female journalists and photojournalists in its ranks. On a different and maybe less predictable tack, I am particularly interested in whether the sports media as a whole can develop a kind of a voice or angle on sports coverage that better speaks to a female audience. Sometimes I get a hint of that voice, more humanistic, enthusiastic, looking beyond statistics to performance and grace and drama; a voice that allows us to engage with the athletes and their competition. Sometimes I catch it, for example, in the chummy, throwaway blog posts of author Danyel Smith when she takes in a Knicks game. And it’s often there in the incomparable sports columns of George Vecsey at the New York Times, a sensibility you could expect from the co-author of Coal Miner’s Daughter. Laura Hillenbrand, author of SeaBiscuit: An American Legend, also has the touch – didn’t she make you read about horseracing and feel it too?

I plan not only to criticize but to bring attention to good writing and broadcasting, sometimes found in the alternative media and in weblogs where women perhaps feel freer to experiment with how THEY would like to talk about sports.

I bring to this task experience from my early career as a reporter for The New York Times, where I was the newspaper’s first female sportswriter, my many years as a journalist and now, as a public information director and instructor on the media and communications at Harvard University. Additionally, I keep my finger on the pulse of the blogosphere as editor of my blog and cyberhistory project: Girl in the Locker Room!

For more information on my background, see my biography, below.

Please send contributions of articles, broadcasts, advertisements, etc. that you think deserve attention and commentary. Share your own opinions on women, media and sports. E-mail me at girlinthelockerroom@yahoo.com.

Robin Herman's Biography

Robin Herman grew up in the post WWII suburbs of Long Island. She was a member of the first class of women admitted to Princeton University in 1969. She joined The New York Times in 1973 as its first female sports reporter. In 1975 she crossed a line in pursuit of the same post-game player quotes that her male colleagues routinely obtained. At the National Hockey League’s All-Star game in Montreal, she became the first female reporter to enter a male professional sports locker room. She left sportswriting after five years to become a political reporter for The Times and then a health and medical writer for The Washington Post. She has written a history of science book, Fusion: The Search for Endless Energy (Cambridge University Press, 1990) and lived in France for seven years. She is currently press spokesman and director of communications for Harvard School of Public Health where she teaches a graduate course, "The Media and Health Communications: Practical Skills."

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