Brooke and I met during my time at Inside Carolina covering UNC. She was one of the only other women on the beat during my tenure and was even a student then, working for the Daily Tar Heel. She's covered a lot of different teams and sports since her time at the DTH, working for The Colorado Spring Gazette, Carolina Blue Magazine, The Durham Herald Sun and The North State Journal where she is currently a sports reporter. We've shared plenty of war stories and plenty of margaritas. Here is our conversation:
When you decided, “Hey, this is what I want to do [meaning sports journalism],” did you know you’d be treated differently because you are a woman?
It should have been a warning sign when I got to the Daily Tar Heel orientation the first day and Jonathan Jones called me “freshman girl” for a long time. I was just referred to as “this is the freshman girl.” And I went to an all-girls high school, so we got the whole girl power thing going on there, and I’ve never really been the odd one out and didn’t really think anything of it. And then kind of little by little, it started to occur to me that okay, there are three other girls on the desk or four other girls—Kelly Parsons being one of them. I would go to games and a lot of times, it’d be the smaller sport and I’d be the only media person there anyway, but as it got to football and basketball I thought, okay, you know, there’s never a line in the bathroom. You were the only other person there, like fixing your hair or something, and I was like, this is kind of odd, but that’s cool. It took me a long time to realize that there were not a lot of people like me in my field. And it was kind of odd, kind of nice because everybody knows who I am even if it’s just calling me “freshman girl” or something like that. It took me a long time to realize I was different.
I was being introduced to men and male coaches and their first instinct was to hug me.
When was the first time you noticed being treated differently?
I will say when I started working at the Herald Sun, I guess 2 years ago now, I noticed when I talk to players or coaches—because at UNC it’s, you know, pretty regulated; there’s not a ton of room for coaches to say something or players to say something. But I started covering NC Central and it’s much more informal, and when I was being introduced to men and male coaches, their first instinct was to hug me. And I was like, that’s weird, we just met, I don’t know you, would you hug a man? No, you would shake their hand. But it was like “welcome to the family!” and that just kind of struck me as weird. You wouldn’t do that as like hey, here’s the new guy on the beat, you know, Joe Smith—nice to meet you man. This is Brooke—oh have a big hug! It was kind of odd.
You mentioned NC Central. You and I have talked about a bunch of the different places you’ve covered, because you have covered a lot of different teams. Is there one event, or what’s the worst discrimination that you feel like you’ve encountered just because you are a woman?
Last year, I was working on a big story that was kind of sensitive; it had to do with player harassment. A male coach of a women’s team was being accused of harassing his players from some players that were disgruntled, and their parents and they had been removed from the team and I was busting my butt to get this interview with this guy. Just going to school trying to reach out to him. And I’ll never forget, I was at a conference for women in sports media through an organization—AWSM: Association for Women in Sports Media; it’s amazing. And I got an email from another writer who worked at my paper and said, “Hey, this guy doesn’t want to talk to you; he feels like I would be more sensitive to this story and he feels like he’s known me longer. So I’m just gonna do the interview and then I’ll just give you the information.”
And I was livid. This coach had only been at the school a year longer than I had been covering so the excuse of he knows me better was ridiculous. And being more sensitive? Oh, I was so mad. It was early in the morning, I was pacing my hotel room, I threw my phone. I got so mad, and I called my boss and I said, “This is not okay with me.” And he backed me up. He was awesome. He said, “No, you know what? Either he talks to you, or we don’t do this at all.” And we eventually got it negotiated to where I talked with the coach that was being accused with his lawyer present, which is fine, I get that, you want to be covered. No more he said, she said stuff, but that was the worst that I’ve had it as far as the whole “oh, you’ll be more sensitive to my story.”
Can you think of any other examples in your everyday coverage? Are there things that you encounter that are kind of like “come on, man” or even feel like maybe set you back?
Yeah, I’ve had some coaches where for whatever reason they feel like they don’t want to give me cell numbers or, you know, respond to my direct messages if that’s the only way I can get in contact with them because they won’t give me a cell number. I try to reach out through DM; I slide in there, and they just don’t engage. And then I hear later, “oh, well so and so told me he doesn’t feel like you should have his cell number, so he just told me everything and then thought I could relay it to you.” And it’s kind of like, c’mon, what do you think I’m going to do with your cell number? Would you give it to me if you thought that I would be willing to act in an unprofessional manner with you? You know that kind of thing where it’s just frustrating because I’m the everyday writer that’s there and why wouldn’t you want me to be able to contact you? You know, just a level of trust. And I’d heard the same coach was giving his number to other guys who were on the beat who only showed up occasionally but yet I’m not trustworthy enough to have it.
If I tweet about eating a burger somebody will tweet, “Well maybe you should have more salads.”
Is there anything you can do about this stuff? I mean, I guess that’s the frustrating part. It’s like when this happens, what do you do? Do you speak out about it? Do you keep quiet? What’s the real answer here? Because it’s one of those things if you don’t speak out about it, it’s gonna keep happening. But if you do speak out, does it get any better?
Yeah, well it’s one of those things, can you really tweet about “oh, so and so didn’t give me their number”? Then you just look ridiculous. And you’ll get the trolls that are like “well, why do you want it? Are you trying to text him at 2 in the morning?” That kind of thing, and it’s like no, I just want to be able to do my job. But yeah, it’s a weird thing. I make sure that people that need to know about it, like my boss and sometimes not necessarily other people on the beat because there’s the competitive stuff, but people that I work around at other capacities … like, “Hey, this is what this guy is doing. He’s not being fair, and he’s not being respectful of me, and he doesn’t think that I can do my job.” That kind of thing. Just make sure that people know that this is the kind of person that he is and I’ve found that, you know, for other people when you mention “so and so did this” I get, “Oh, well that’s weird; he did that to me too.” You know, so just kind of talking about it and making sure that that’s a dialogue that’s happening so that if anything else monumental happens with any coach or any players that there have been run-ins in the past then maybe eventually there’s enough to do a story or a blog post or a podcast or something like this.
You mentioned the Twitter trolls. What type of stuff do you get on Twitter?
My mentions are not that bad, and I know that so many women have it so much worse than I do. Sometimes I get people commenting—if I tweet about eating a burger, somebody will tweet, “Well, maybe you should have more salads.”
Right? I’ve gotten that a couple times and I was like what? A) How do you know what I look like? I’m not anywhere you should see me regularly. And B) I feel pretty good about my body and it’s none of your business how I feel or don’t feel or if I want a burger for the third day in a row.
That dynamic is very interesting to me because and I just want to throw this in there. If you are an attractive woman in sports, you only got there because you’re attractive. If you’re not up to Twitter standards, you need to be more attractive to get further. It’s such a double standard, and it’s like you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. You have to be attractive apparently to make it far, but if you make it far and you’re attractive, then you only made it because of your looks.
Yeah, there’s really no way to win in those situations and it makes me so mad. Okay yeah, I’m eating a pizza or yeah, I’m having popcorn and wine for dinner—again. I’m really comfortable with myself and I have developed a pretty thick skin just as a byproduct of being me I guess, so that stuff doesn’t bother me a lot, but sometimes it does. When you get a tweet that says, “Okay girl, watch what you’re eating, watch your weight”—well, who are you to dictate my happiness and to dictate my own body image? I’m so thankful that right now, I don’t have to get on camera because I think more of that would come and I don’t know if I could handle that.
But do you feel like you’re kind of holding yourself back with fear of maybe somebody coming after you and saying those types of things?
I don’t know. Nobody has asked me to do it yet for my job. We’ll see what happens when it gets more into football season, and I’m definitely open to doing camera work, but yeah, sometimes it does feel like I do hold myself back just a little btt from worrying about the comments and what are people gonna say and that kind of thing. So maybe I compensate by doing stuff like the podcast where at least, you know, if I don’t want to get on camera, then I can spread my voice and spread my thoughts this way. That’s something that I definitely have to work through and realize that, okay, people are going to have their opinions and I have to just not read comments and not think about if they’re gonna say, “Wow, your hair looked really shitty today.” Well, okay, but I was spot on with this analysis of the running back position so shut up.
How do we move forward in this? How does working in sports get better for women?
I think having people who will speak up and say something when either their male colleagues, or coaches, or players, or whoever are saying degrading things. The thing that pops in my mind that just happened was Rachel Nichols; did you see that? She was on The Jump and when Brian Windhorst was like, “Oh, he must be sliding in your DMs,” and she was like, “No, that’s not what’s happening.” Being able to quickly correct that thought that people have or that train of thought that people jump to—“Oh, you’re a woman and so and so follows you or you have so and so’s number, shenanigans must be happening.” Just stopping it where it is and setting the record straight immediately when it happens rather than being quiet about it and waiting until something else happens. Just stop making excuses.
For the full interview you can listen to the podcast here.