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Leveling The Playing Field

Published on April 9, 2020, at 7:39 p.m.

by Macy Krauthamer.

Sports are a fantastic way to socialize. They have a special ability to bring people together, regardless of race, age, religion, socio-economic class or gender. That said, women make up nearly half of the NFL’s fan base, yet women account for just a third of league employees, as reported by CBS News in 2018.

Globally, the sports industry is overwhelmingly male, while public relations is overwhelmingly female — positioning the women who work in sport public relations at the crossroads of two gendered industries. In a field traditionally run by men, women are fighting for a career amidst many other eager applicants.

Courtesy of Miya Ball

Female sports professionals credit determination and hard work. “Never give up. Before I got to Creative Artists Agency (CAA), I applied and interviewed for several jobs. Some of them, I would fill out the application and then receive an email a week later telling me that I didn’t get the job,” CAA sports professional Miya Ball said. “It was discouraging but I knew I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I applied for positions that most people right out of grad school wouldn’t, simply because I wanted the experience and have the ability to network.”

Both in culture and in numbers, the sports world remains a male-dominated industry; however, there is notable, visible progress for women. Women now hold positions that were formerly held by men. Very talented women are in positions of high visibility, such as Jennifer Welter and Laura Rutledge.

“I think it just shows that women can do it just as well or even better. There are so many women out there in the sports world, and they’re doing a great job,” said Jordan Doyle, manager of social media for the Chicago White Sox.

The amount of women working in sports is increasing, and interest in the sports industry is growing among budding females in communications. Public relations jobs in sports now include positions as agents, PR representatives for athletes or athletic firms, event marketers, and social media managers.

“There’s always a stereotype when you say you work in sports: ‘Oh, you work in sports, so are you like a news anchor or something?’ People just assume that, and I think it’s funny because I’m actually a camera operator, editor and producer,” explained Mary-Clare Brophy, social media correspondent at Learfield IMG College with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.

Courtesy of Jordan Doyle

“Up until recently, all the major Chicago sports teams’ social media accounts were run by a woman,” Doyle said.

Today, women are collaborating on projects with athletes and are on the field interviewing the athletes. Unfortunately, there are still men who don’t see women as knowledgeable when it comes to sports. In a 2017 Cision article, Pedone, former CEO of Pro Players Sports Marketing Group Inc., said women pursuing a profession in sports need to focus on gaining knowledge to continue making breakthroughs professionally.

“As a woman in sports, it’s assumed that you don’t really know a lot, and that’s not always the case. If you want to know something, look it up, ask a question and do your research,” Brophy said. “You kind of have to know the right time to say something, but also you don’t have to be afraid to get out there and say what you want to say. Make your voice heard and just be confident.”

“Stay poised – working in sports, you never know what will be thrown at you, but it’s imperative that you always remain calm. Whenever I’m working on something, I always tell myself to think two steps ahead so I can mentally prepare myself for different scenarios,” Ball said.

Always have a professional mindset when networking and building relationships. In this field, genuine relationships matter; get to know people rather than simply asking someone for something in return, Ball emphasized. Connections are important to making a name for oneself in sports, Brophy explained.

Courtesy of Mary-Clare Brophy

“For me, with finding why I wanted to do this and getting [to where I am], the biggest thing was connections. I wouldn’t have gotten this job if my friend didn’t recommend me. Be prepared, always having your portfolio and résumé updated, and be knowledgeable about what you want,” Brophy said.

Ask people how to get involved, volunteer, intern. If they don’t have anything, then offer suggestions, “ask what they are working on, and take it upon yourself to ask how you can contribute, make yourself valuable,” Ball advised.

For women who might want to get into sports communication, it helps to have examples of successful women in the industry to look up to and show them it’s possible. In the sports community, there are networks to lift other women up and help one another succeed in this male-dominated industry.

“Be yourself and always act like you belong, because you do!” Ball concluded.

Gender does not and should not determine career goals and outcomes — hard work and perseverance do.

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