Sports media get an ‘F’ grade for lack of hiring women

Women are not getting their fair shake in the sports media industry. According to the 2021 Sports Media Racial and Gender Report Card: Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) study, media outlets have done an awful job in the hiring of women as journalists in the sports field.

The report, released by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) in September, gives APSE an F grade for its hiring of women.

In a released summary of its seventh such report, TIDES dropped an F grade on ASPE for its hiring of women reporters (14.4 percent) and a D for copy editors/designers (24.7 percent). APSE also earned F grades when it comes to hiring women for staff jobs (19.3 percent), sports editors (16.7 percent), columnists (17.8 percent), and web specialists (21.9 percent).

 For the 100 plus newspapers and websites affiliated with APSE, this is not a good look.

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“Unfortunately, opportunities for women continue to lag far behind opportunities for people of color as five of the eight categories analyzed for gender hiring practices earned a failing grade,” TIDES Director Dr. Richard Lapchick said in the summary of the report. “However, there remains signs of optimism as the APSE continues to be transparent in wanting to become more inclusive as an entity.”  

The optimism that Lapchick sees comes from the small increase of women getting hired. Positions such as reporters (11.5 percent to 14.4 percent), sports editors (10 percent to 16.7 percent), copy editors (20.4 percent to 24.7 percent), and columnists (16.6 percent to 17.8 percent) are trending upward for ASPE publications.

That still negates the fact that a lot more improvement can be made to level the playing field as it relates to media jobs.

“While women saw slight improvements in 2021, the overall record of the sports media for having women in prominent positions remains terrible,” Lapchick said.  

Former APSE president Lisa Wilson is a huge advocate for more women to break into this industry and have enough representation.

“We can be encouraged by the increases, but not the overall grades. And it’s still a major problem for women, especially women of color,” said Wilson.

With jobs such as sports editors, columnists, assistant sports editors, and reporters all receiving low grades in the latest APSE report, the numbers for women of color are even more harrowing.

Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, former co-hosts of ESPN’s “The Six” show their glamour side at the 49th Annual NAACP Image Awards on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Black women accounted for just 2.1 percent of all APSE staff workers. Latina women make up 1.2 percent, while the number for Asian women sits at 1.2 percent.

The representation for women of color as sports editors across the board is dismal. The TIDES’ APSE survey reported that Black, Hispanic and Asian women are sitting at the bottom of the line when it comes to being hired.

White women make up the most representation in these jobs (11.7 percent), while Black (1.7 percent), Hispanic (1.7 percent), and Asian (1.7 percent) women all come in very low in the employment chain.

The numbers improve a little better for women working as assistant sports editors, although the 2021 statistics are a decrease from the 2018 TIDES report. Women saw a huge drop off in these roles.

White men accounted for 56.6 percent of all assistant sports editor roles, which is a slight uptick from the 2018 report. In 2018, white women accounted for 20.6 percent of assistant sports editor jobs. That number slipped to 15.5 percent.

For Black or African American women, the numbers went from bad to worse. Three years ago, Black women held 5.1 percent of these positions. The new TIDES’ APSE report saw those numbers drop down to 3.2 percent.

Although there has been a minimal increase in assistant sports editor roles for Latina women, their numbers (2.3 percent) still lag behind that of Black women. Asian women account for only two percent of these jobs.  

When the media becomes more inclusive in its hiring practices of who and what is covered in sports, the better it is for everyone, Lapchick said.  

Sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumile of the Los Angeles Sparks. Chiney Ogwumike (right) has been an ESPN commentator for the last several years. She is also part of the network’s NBA coverage, appearing on shows like The Jump and First Take. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“As professional sports teams and leagues place a stronger emphasis on diverse hiring, we considered how the APSE compares,” stated Lapchick. “What would it look like if we had more people of color and women included in the sports media? I am convinced that stories would be more inclusive of all athletes and better represent and appeal to our entire society.”

Roles such as columnists saw an increase in the jobs for women. However, the increase in the number from the previous 2018 report card is slightly tipped due to ESPN.

The current columnist roles increased to 17.8 percent for women, however many of these women in this position work for ESPN.

Only two of the women were identified as African-American. If you take away the contributions of ESPN in hiring women, the percentage number would decrease. The drop would fall from 17.8 percent to 13.8 percent if ESPN was taken out, which is way lower than the 2018 reported number.

“ESPN has been a leader in the hiring of women and people of color in key positions. In fact, as will be seen, if we were to remove ESPN from the data entirely, racial and gender percentages across multiple categories would drop significantly,” said Lapchick.

Oct. 10, 2021. More diversity in the media, beginning with increased hiring opportunities of women and people of color will open up different cultural perspectives and outlooks on sports. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

Wilson said those job spots need to be filled with a diverse voice.

“We need those voices,” Wilson said. “We need that perspective. We need them making coverage and hiring decisions.”

The upper management is a newer role that was recorded in the 2021 TIDES report. White men held 53.4 percent of the job positions. There is no accurate breakdown of the percentage of power white women and women of color.

However, upper management had the highest ranking for women in the entire TIDES report card, Holding a total of 36.3 percent of positions.

This report marks a failed effort by APSE members to add more diversity to their workforce. While their overall grade balances out with a C grade for 2021, due to race hiring, their hiring of women has been poor. The F grade APSE received is reflective of their hiring practices.    

“This report is important because we need to hold ourselves accountable,” Wilson said. “There has been a lot of talk about diversity after 2020 and the racial reckoning, but we need to evaluate how we are doing as an industry as a whole. It has been a problem a long time in the making and unfortunately it will take time to fix, but we’re going to have to get there together.”

Reporter Dennis J. Freeman contributed to this story

Featured Image Caption: Georgia alum and former ESPN College GameDay host Maria Taylor (left) interviews ex-Bulldogs linebacker Roquan Smith (now with the Chicago Bears) during the team’s trip to Disneyland. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline