Panelists Talk Sports Media Landscape After #MeToo Movement

Boston College welcomed three sports journalists—Trenni Kusnierek, Tara Sullivan, and Maddie Meyer—to discuss how the #MeToo movement will leave lasting effects on how sports are reported and watched on Tuesday.

Kusnierek is a Marquette University graduate who works for NBC Sports Boston as a broadcaster and analyst. She has traveled the world covering sporting events, while also specializing in hometown Boston sports teams. Most notably, she served as NBC Sports’ curling reporter at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympic Games, as well as covering tennis at the 2016 Summer Olympics.  

Sullivan is a sports columnist for The Boston Globe, covering Boston sports, as well as leading the Boston Globe’s golf coverage throughout the year. After her graduation from Rutgers University, she wrote for The New Jersey Daily News, Newsday, and The Record, a northern New Jersey-based publication.

Meyer is a Boston-based photojournalist who works for Getty Images. While she traditionally photographs Boston sports teams, such as the Patriots or Bruins, her international projects are aplenty. She worked at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Most recently, she covered the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Her photos have headlined many mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

The panel, entitled “Sports After #MeToo,” began with a moderated discussion of numerous topics, where the journalists were asked to speak about their experiences in the sports industry. The conversation took multiple turns, as the journalists analyzed numerous prevailing issues in the sports world, ranging from journalistic independence in the current news climate to how players have been so vulnerable regarding mental illness in recent years.

Much of the initial discussion dealt with the issues of being a female journalist in the sports industry. In particular, the panelists focused much of the first part of the discussion on talking about the prevalence of online harassment that female journalists endure. Kusnierek and Sullivan spoke extensively on this issue, recounting experiences and instances of sexism and harassment that they’ve experienced as a result of their job.

“In my experience, [the harassment] has gotten worse since I’ve became an opinionist,” Kusnierek said.

Kusnierek insisted that the assumption that women’s sports acumen is much lower than that of men is why she’s born the brunt of abuse, a sentiment Sullivan echoed.

“When a guy makes a mistake it’s, ‘Oh yeah, they just missed something,’ […] but if a woman makes a mistake there’s an assumption that it’s because they don’t know what [they’re] doing,” Kusnierek said.

Sullivan recounted how she was barred from entering the clubhouse and locker room at the 2011 Masters in Augusta, Ga., while her male colleagues were allowed in. Following the end of round three on Saturday, Sullivan and her fellow reporters went to the locker room to conduct interviews. Augusta National, the golf course at which the Masters is played, has strict membership and accessibility policies, and in 2011 the club itself had yet to be opened to females.

Sullivan proceeded to tweet about the encounter she had with the security guard, prompting a wave of Twitter harassment.

“You can imagine the Twitter comments: ‘She is ugly, she is fat, who would want her in there anyway,’” Sullivan said.

The PGA of America issued an apology to Sullivan two days later, and, in 2012, Augusta National lifted their ban on female members.

Kusnierek also brought up the point that online harassment doesn’t just affect the victim, but has cascading effects that hurt other people in the victim’s life.  

“I just always wondered, have you ever wondered what it’s like for my dad to go online?” she said. “Have you ever wondered what it’s like for my sister to go online? Have you ever wondered what it’s like for potential boyfriends of mine to go online and see what these people say about me?

“We no longer think about how our words affect other people, and that’s the problem that I have with the bully tactics of these websites and commenters.”

All the panelists came to the agreement that, while the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements did a lot to improve the recognition of the struggle of females across many different industries, the broad-reaching effects of bringing females more power in haven’t quite hit the sports industry. The reason for that, as postulated by Kusnierek, is because of low female participation within the sports industry.

“We all know women that have had some really terrible, awful experiences, but for whatever reason those experiences in sports have not come to light in the way that they have in business and entertainment and news,” Kusnierek said. “Ninety-one percent of sports anchors are male, so if you decided to come out and take on this institution, it is essentially career suicide.”

The disproportionate gap between males and females working in the sports industry isn’t specific to just newcasting, however. As a photojournalist that focuses mostly on sports, Meyer is also familiar with the feeling of being the only woman in a group full of men. Of Getty’s over 100 sports photojournalists, Meyer is one of only six females, a number which she said has doubled since she started working there.  

Other topics examined included the new protocols regarding CTE safety and concussion protocol in the NFL, as well as discussion about Amazon’s newest all-female NFL broadcasting team. The panel finished with a question about how consumers and individuals could go about changing the negative perception of female journalists covering sports.

Kusnierek emphasized the importance of honesty, urging people to not watch female sports analysts simply because they are female, but instead extol female analysts when they are excellent at their jobs. At the same time, Kusnierek also stated that people should be constantly challenging the biases about females covering sports.

“I think that if you challenge people on preconceived notions and you make them think about the language that they use, that’s a good starting point,” Kusnierek said. “If you demand people to think differently, and ask differently, and if you want to see different voices and faces on things and people demand that, then that is when things change.”