In observance of Women’s History Month, The Daily’s sports section is launching its second annual series aimed at telling the stories of female athletes, coaches and teams at the University from the perspective of the female sports writers on staff. Former managing sports editor Laney Byler starts the series with this column
I called Nicole Auerbach early on Friday morning, ready to talk about women in sports journalism.
She was one of two women from The Athletic that I wanted to talk to — her and Chantel Jennings, both alumni of Michigan and former sportswriters for The Daily. I wanted to know how they had gotten into sports journalism and learn about their roles covering national college football for The Athletic. But, most importantly, I wanted to learn about their experiences of being women in sports.
It didn’t take long for us to get there, as the conversation quickly landed on an internship she did the summer after her freshman year of college. It was 2008, and Auerbach had gotten an internship with The Trentonian in New Jersey. She’d be spending the summer covering the Yankees’ AA team, the Trenton Thunder.
When she was younger, she’d read Sports Illustrated cover-to-cover. She loved writing, and she loved sports, but she didn’t really think to become a sports journalist until college. While at The Daily that first year, she covered sports ranging from club ultimate frisbee to women’s gymnastics. For someone who thought that reporting sports would be the perfect job, that internship with The Trentonian after her freshman year had real potential to assist her in jumping into a sportswriting career.
Then she found out she was barred from entering the Thunder’s locker room. In 2008.
Games ended around 10 p.m., and she’d have to wait outside the locker room for players that she asked for (or sometimes the wrong players, or no players at all.) She realized she was missing out on the raw answers players gave immediately after their games. Then she had to race against deadline after her interviews, hoping to get her story in on time despite not having the same access as other people.
As far as obstacles go, not being allowed to enter the locker room was a pretty big one.
“I brought it up to my editor — one thing I’ve always been very fortunate to have is editors that have really had my back on this stuff — so my editor made it happen,” she said on Friday. “He called them, and they tried to tell him that the rule was because I was an intern and not a full-time employee at a newspaper — not because I was a woman. And he said ‘That’s ridiculous. She’s on deadline, she has a job to do, and you need to let her in.’”
“And then they did.”
For women in sports journalism, experiences can range from being barred from a locker room to facing a lack of female role models in higher positions. In a sphere historically dominated by men, Auerbach’s story shows how far some women have to reach to level the playing field.
Of course, that playing field was tidied up a little bit with a push from her and her editor. The next summer, when a baseball coach asked her, “Did you understand everything I said?” after an interview, she received the same amount of support from her editors. They made sure she knew she had the choice to cover that team or move on to a different one.
Having those allies in the room was one way to crunch a barrier for entry for women interested in pursuing sports journalism.
“I think that every woman in this field has stories like that, where you have to figure out how you’re going to navigate something and whether or not you’re going to tell your bosses,” Auerbach said. “Because you don’t want them to think that you’re not capable of handling yourself in the field and in these situations, but you also want them to know so they have your back, in exactly the way my editors did in both of those situations. Because they 100 percent went to bat for me.”
Of course, having allies isn’t all that helps. Both Auerbach and Jennnings stressed the importance of having networks for female support in the industry — for giving advice, for sharing stories and for having each other’s backs. For fields littered with obstacles such as those found in sports journalism, that network provides a group support system for women.
In our second annual series for Women’s History Month in March, the women on The Daily’s sports staff will be writing stories centered around women in the sports industry. Two of our sports photographers, Katelyn and Alexis, are sharing their thoughts in a SportsMonday column in two weeks, while Paige (a senior who really deserves an unbelievable amount of praise for organizing this series two years in a row) has been putting together a story on Sheryl Szady for weeks.
These women, among many others, are stepping up to the plate in March to pitch nine more stories in honor of Women’s History Month. We have stories to tell, whether you’re reading them to support the women in the stories or the women writing them.
“Everyone deserves a spot at the table,” Jennings said on Saturday, “and if it’s only women who are bringing women to the table, or if it’s only people of color who are bring people of color to the table, we’re not going to have an accurate representation. Or, it’s just going to be a really, really slow.
“It needs to be everyone. Everyone has to look out for everyone.”
Byler can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @laneybyler.