Here’s a quick little history lesson for you: In 1990, Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson was attempting to conduct a post-game interview with New England Patriots cornerback Maurice Hurst when three players exposed themselves to her and acted in a way that, according to an NFL report, both “degraded and humiliated” Olson. As a result, the players involved were fined, but Olson was continually taunted by Patriots fans, to the point where she moved to Australia to pursue her career there.
The instance described above, while horrifying, is emblematic of a fight that female sports journalists have been waging since they entered the sector in the 1960’s — a fight to be treated as equals to the men in their field.
While the overt disrespect and discrimination experienced by Olson has undoubtedly decreased over the past few decades, it still remains in a myriad of forms — particularly for women of color in the sporting world.
And that’s precisely why the incidents that unfolded after Jemele Hill’s tweets about President Donald Trump are so troubling.
Hill, a Black female anchor who co-hosts an edition of SportsCenter on ESPN made two controversial tweets regarding Trump on Monday. The first one read, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists,” and was followed by others that expressed similar beliefs.
Immediately following the tweets, Hill received backlash from the sporting as well as political worlds, and ESPN issued a tweet stating, “The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes that her actions were inappropriate.”
While, admittedly, her language was overtly forceful, the point here is that the outrage would not have been so immense had it not been for the fact that Hill is a black woman in a profession dominated by politically indifferent white men.
First, it’s important to note that the world of sports journalism and broadcasting has, since its inception, been grossly inept when it comes to diversity. According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the Associated Press Sports Editors’ grade in 2012 for racial hiring practices was a C+, and its grade for gender hiring was an F — for a combined grade of a D+. In other words, if the sports media industry was in college, it would’ve retroactively flunked out decades ago.
To give some insight into what these grades mean, in 2012, 86.3 percent of sports reporters were white and 88.3 percent of them were men. If one intuitively examines these statistics, it’s plain to see that the prospects for women of color to break into the sports journalism world are pretty dismal.
It’s not that famous men haven’t said disparaging things about the contentious president, it’s that they haven’t been as publicly reprimanded for it — LeBron James, following the Charlottesville protests, tweeted, “Hate has always existed in America. Yes we know that but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again! Statues has nothing to do with us now!” The Cavaliers didn’t have publicly apologize for James’ words.
Elizabeth Banks tweeted, “America’s fate is not with the racist madman POTUS, it’s with the 300 Republicans in Congress not impeaching him. #DoSomething,” but her acting agency didn’t publicly reprimand her.
And to add the rotten cherry on top of the already molded proverbial sundae, the Trump administration’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee stated that Hill’s words were “outrageous” and a “fireable offense.” Not only is Hill being vilified for stating her true beliefs and feelings, her position as a citizen of the United States, who is free to criticize the office of the presidency, has now been openly harmed by the Trump administration — a harsh treatment which no other sportscaster, regardless of their comments, has ever been subjected to.
There are a lot of factors at play in this situation; it is certainly far too complex to discuss fully in a 750-word column, but when you boil it down, Hill is experiencing a type of treatment that far surpassed that which Olson and many others experienced decades ago. Her treatment stems from the fact that she is a Black woman in a male-dominated world, a fact that means her punishment will far exceed her crime.
Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]