UNESCO is pleased to make the audio and text of this interview available copyright-free for the celebration of World Radio Day 2018. Radio stations are especially encouraged to broadcast the interview, either in its totality or by extracting the answers and announcing the questions themselves.
UNESCO spoke to Christine Brennan who is an award-winning national sports columnist for USA Today, a commentator for ABC News, CNN, PBS NewsHour and NPR, a best-selling author and nationally-known speaker. Twice named one of the country’s top 10 sports columnists by the Associated Press Sports Editors, she has covered the last 17 Olympic Games, summer and winter.
What do you think of sports broadcasting in the USA, especially when it comes to women broadcasters Christine?
There are not enough, we need to have more but it is coming. And often you can turn on the television and you can see a woman anchoring the sports news in many cities in the country and certainly on the national networks. I want to see more women not only in the sidelines doing the reporting but also in the booze doing the color commentary or the play by play. Those days are coming slowly, it doesn’t happen quickly. I wish it happened faster.
I know it is difficult to quantify but if I still request you to quantify, what kind of percentage in terms of difference you see when it comes to women sports broadcasters and women sports coverage?
When I started back in 1981, they were just a few women in sports media so it would have been just 1% of the sports department would have been women. Or maybe not even 1%. Now the number is about 11-12%, it’s still not good – this is all newspapers and news organizations like USA Today, New York times, Washington Post etc. For TV, I think it is better –still not great but may be approaching 20% - both behind the camera and in front of the camera. It is better but it is still not good. When will it get to be 50%? Not in my lifetime and maybe not in your lifetime but it will come.
What would be the number for radio?
That’s a good question! I do not know that. I am sorry – no idea. I could guess and I am guessing probably between 10 and 20% category.
What has been your personal experience as a women broadcaster? What kind of difficulties did you face?
For me, I couldn’t get in the locker room early on in the 80’s because some were not allowing women reporters in, which was of course a blatant violation of the law because you weren’t letting the women do their job. You letting men into the locker room to interview football players or baseball players or basketball men but you are not letting women in.
They are lot of girls who want to make it big in sports broadcasting but we have to admit that there is a problem with the system, with the structure – isn’t it?
Sports has been male dominated, as you know, for generations. It does not happen over a night and I am aware of that. I have spent a good part of my career pushing for women in sports media. I was the first president of the association for women in sports media from 1988 to 1990. I started a scholarship internship program that is giving out awards now to over a 150 collegiate women. I fund two of those. I also fund other scholarships. Each year so I am in deep in terms of wanting women, young women to be able to have their dreams fulfilled as sports journalist in sports media. So this has been a passion in my entire life and will continue to be.
We see around the world that only 4% of sports stories are focused on women. In the US, there are some positive examples such as the women soccer team and the Olympics gymnastic team but what do you think of the overall situation of coverage of women’s sports?
Yes, it’s terrible. Mainstream sports media that I have been part of for 36 years has done a terrible job of covering women sports and there is an incredible shift in our culture. But college level- terrible, pro level- terrible!
What kind of differences do you find in how women athletes are portrayed in comparison with men?
The idea of people understanding you should not be talking about the color of an athlete’s hair if it’s a woman but not a man. Or how long her hair is compared to a man or what she looks like, her facial description unless you are doing it with the man as well. We shouldn’t do it with either one but It should be equal if you decide you want to go that route which I never have or you decide.
How do you think the media especially radio could try to improve this overall situation?
Certainly by covering women sports, by treating it equally.