Women In Sports: Lauren Brownlow

I've known Lauren Brownlow for about five years now.  She was the first woman on the UNC beat to approach me when I started my first job out of college working for Inside Carolina.  Lauren is one of the most intelligent, funniest, kindest and straight up good at her job people I know.  She's covered the ACC for over 10 years, working for publications such as the Sanford Herald, The Durham Herald Sun, ACCSports.com and Fox Sports Carolinas to name a few. Currently she's a radio contributor and writer at WRALSportsFan.com. She was also always there to lend a straightener in the bathroom whenever I needed it.

What kind of sexism or discrimination have you encountered in the field?

For the most part, any sexism I've experienced has been much more subtle if that makes sense.

Go on... 

Just as a for instance, you know when you're starting out in the business, you can sense that maybe people of influence in your line of work or that you work for or work with maybe don't want to get as close to you as they would to some of your male colleagues. That is a very real thing, that's always been a very real thing.

Can you explain that to me? What do you mean?

Well, you get the sense that, like, as much as you try to sort of engage in a friendship, right? Like an outside-of-work friendship or something where, I mean, I view it almost as much as networking as anything else, right? We're all adults here, let's go have a beer, whatever. Let's get together with our significant others because I've been married or engaged almost since I've been doing this job so it's not like I've been some single girl on the prowl, you know? 

Yeah but honestly, even if you were single, that shouldn't change how people in this industry approach you. And I get what you're saying. When I covered Carolina I was on and off single depending on if I had a boyfriend at the time, and it was always a strange dynamic, and I felt like sometimes the men on the beat or even the players or coaches would walk on eggshells. And you've known me for awhile—I'm very much a bro, and so it's like I would always try and relate on that bro level, and I think once a lot of the players or coaches got past that hump, then they were able to talk to me. For some reason, this is the first example that sticks out to me. We would have interviews with Larry Fedora three times a week after spring practice or fall practice and he would almost every time compliment me on something I was wearing. Which, okay, yeah that's nice and, you know, some people say I might be reading too much into it, but it's like—he doesn't compliment any of them on what they're wearing, you know what I mean?

Not to single out Roy Williams, who is a very nice man and has never treated me with anything other than respect, and I know Robbie Pickeral from the News and Observer was on that beat for a long time and she speaks highly of him as well, so it's not like he treated her any different either. But there was this one time during a press conference I was literally the only girl in the room. I think this was before you even got there. And he was like, "Oh, I do have a dirty joke I could tell you guys about, but there's a lady present." And I was the only lady. And I felt like such an idiot. I was like, first of all, I love dirty jokes; please tell the dirty joke, Roy, like, c'mon. I would be less offended by this joke than half the men in here, and then it's like, oh really? We can't have fun because of the lady in here! Like, come on.

I spent a long time early in my career sort of trying to, you know, hide myself a little bit almost.

I remember you've told me that story before and the more that I think about that and other instances, it’s like they're trying to be respectful and nice, but in doing so, they're singling you out and it makes it even more uncomfortable. Just treat me like a person. Just treat me like a writer. I understand what you're trying to do, and I in some way appreciate it, but it's not helping the cause.

No it's not, and I think that's, for me, when I say it's more subtle, it's stuff like that. It's stuff like I couldn't get an invite to somebody's house for dinner with my spouse or fiancée, but then I would see my male get colleague get that invite, you know? To go hang out. Something like that. You're singled out in a way that's meant to be polite and respectful but, in the end, it makes you feel singled out. And I spent a long time early in my career sort of trying to, you know, hide myself a little bit almost. Like hey, I'm gonna dress like a man, which is not a good look for me. But, you know, I'm gonna wear polos and be unflattering and all of that stuff, and just make sure I blend in as much as possible, right?

And that's the other thing, and Brooke Pryor and I touched on this a little bit. The looks thing. It's like if you're attractive, you only made it because you're attractive. If you're not up to the people's standards, then you shouldn't make it, you need to be more attractive. So it's like, what's the middle ground here? What do you people want from me? It's like a lose-lose situation, and that's the frustrating part because it's like, I wanna be presentable, I wanna be attractive, but then it's like, "Oh, she's trying to put a vibe out there, she's trying to, you know, coax these men in." And it's like, no, that's not it at all.

Yeah, this is just what I wear. It took me a really long time. I would say it took me almost 5 or 6 years, probably, when I started freelance covering all the other teams as well.

There are a lot of times I feel like I have to prove what I know. 

When I arrived? Be honest.

Well, that certainly helped because, you know, the more the merrier on the beat, right? It's just for me, it was like ok, I can be myself, I can look more attractive because that makes me feel good. I don't want to look like a frumpy before picture or something; that's not me, that's not what I look like most of the time. I would rather look nicer, and so I kind of started stepping out in that way more and becoming more comfortable with myself, and that was definitely really good. But more subtle examples too I guess is, you know, with the players and coaches and stuff, I feel like sometimes, and this could be completely self inflicted or at least partially, that there are a lot of times I feel like I have to prove what I know. And it's subtle, right? And it could just be a sportswriter thing too. It could just be that they look at all of us like they're idiots who never played the game or whatever, right? But I always try to make it clear to them that I know what I'm talking about or that I want their technical opinion or approach to something, that I can handle that information and spin it back in a way that makes sense, you know what I mean? Like hey, I actually know your sport pretty well, but I'd like to give people an inside look as to why a play did or didn't work, but I want you to know I know what I'm talking about so that you give me the real answer as opposed to the cliché BS answer that is useless.

Absolutely. You automatically go into it with the attitude like, okay, you have to assume that the cards are kind of stacked against you and it's sad. And you don't need them to dumb it down for the woman, and not saying that, you know, a majority or I can't even think of many that did do that. But I get what you're saying. It's kind of like a sports chip on your shoulder where you have to prove yourself before you get in there. And I don't know why the player that comes into mind that I never saw treat anybody different no matter what was Marcus Paige. God, let me just throw out how Marcus Paige is the best. He just answered every question no matter who you were with the same amount of respect and intelligence, and I really appreciated that about him.

We've talked about a couple of the women on the beat. It's very interesting because I feel like this industry creates a very competitive dynamic, not just amongst everyone, but more so in the community of women. I feel like this industry makes it seem like, oh, there can only be one or two of you that succeeds and you have to fight all the others kind of thing. I didn't feel that way on our beat; I felt like everyone got along pretty well as far as the women were concerned, but do you feel like there's an added level [bit] of competitiveness when it comes to women in this industry?

I think there definitely can be, and it probably exists more in terms of the TV side of things. And it's unfortunate, but it's so much a looks-based industry now, especially for women. So it's like, you know, you can set yourself apart by being better at your job on the TV side from a technical standpoint, but it's like you gotta look better than her too, and just stuff like that is just brutal and I hate that part of it for all of you guys because I've met some really, really talented and smart and really, really good sports minds in terms of on the TV side. And you come in with a certain stereotype of TV women in sports, you know, even as a print person you do. Like, oh, well they're the ones that are here because they look good. Well that's definitely not the case. I've learned that through the years—you, Jen Daniels from WTVD, who was a beautiful girl but she got it, she knew her stuff really, really well, and more than a lot of the men did. But I can imagine that yeah, there is this sort of feeling of, okay, well there's only room for so many of us, and that part of it kind of stinks. I never want to view things that way, and I don't. I tend to kind of view things as I'd rather help lift up another woman in this business than crap on her, I'd rather crap on some other dude if I have to. I get sad when women leave our industry! I was sad when you did... 

If a male reporter got information, no one would question where it came from, but for us, it's like, oh well you must have slept with someone to get that. 

I'm back! I'm coming back, baby. And honestly, a lot of the reason that I kind of needed that break was because I was getting frustrated with being a woman in the industry. I saw my career kind of going towards, you know, the sideline department. Not that there's anything wrong with that; sideline and court-side and all of that. God, you have to be so quick on your feet, you have to know so much stuff. That is a very tough position. But for me, it's just, it was like fitting the stereotype, you know? And I just wanted to do so much more, and I wanted to talk about so much more, and I wanted to learn so much more. And so, you know, the year break was very good for me and it was very informative, and I kind of did realize that I felt like I needed to compete with other women who were on air, and I don't want to be like that, you know? There's plenty of room for everyone. We need to do that; we need to support each other.

Not every woman in this business is like that though. There are certain women that will step on your throat in a heartbeat. And there are definitely some that—and I hate to say this, but I think we've all seen it—there are definitely some that will sort of do things with coaches or players that sadly help perpetuate that stereotype that we all have to kind of fight off. And look, it's their prerogative; it's 2016. If those guys are such cavemen that they assume that because one person slept with them that we're all going to do that, that's their problem, that's not the girl's problem. I want to make that clear. But it does still kind of suck because then you're fighting an uphill climb. But I hate that it's always put on the female reporter.

It's a very fine line because you want to build a rapport with coaches and players, but it's tough because you have to make sure that the line doesn't get crossed. And while some women do cross the line, it's hard because how do you do that [build a rapport] without coming across as like, oh hey, I do want to sleep with you. It's tough. It's a very fine line. I wish I could tell you the amount of message board posts that there were about me and various random people, like associated with Carolina football or basketball, and I'm just like, come one. One that I remember, and I sent it to him because he and I are still good friends—Bobby Frasor. There was a long thread and, for the record, nothing ever happened between me and Bobby. Bobby is in my group of friends. Bobby's the best. But there was this long thread, and Bobby and I just screenshotted it and sent it back and forth and we thought it was the funniest thing. And it's just like, where did this come from? It's amazing the stuff people get in their heads and run with. And it's like guys never have to deal with this stuff. Men never have to deal with this stuff. And it's funny and it's like “haha,” but it's also like, come on man; it's just infuriating that I even have to address this stuff.

Yeah, I mean, if a male reporter got information, no one would question where it came from, but for us, it's like, oh, well you must have slept with someone to get that. Stop.

What would be your one piece of advice to young women wanting to come into this industry? 

I think I would tell them to do probably what I didn't do for too long, which is just to be yourself and be comfortable with that. That's how you can craft your own voice and your own niche and your own personality in this industry. Most of these guys, especially your colleagues, they do want to be your friend. They will be supportive of you and you can make really good friends in this business. I have, for sure. So you can do that, but you have to be yourself. You don't have to try to be like Doris Burke—who I love, by the way, and I would totally be Doris Burke if I could, but I'm not Doris Burke; she is her own awesomeness. You have to just be you and don't try to emulate anybody else, and if you do that and you're good at what you do, then I think good things will follow you.

For the full interview you can listen to the podcast here.