Most Powerful People in Sports Media: Where Are The Women?


Yesterday, this site published a list of the 25 most powerful people in sports media. Half are employed by ESPN. A startling few were under 40. An under-40 list, or a list of where we think this will be in five years, may have been more cosmopolitan. Glaringly, only one, Rachel Nichols, was female. Perhaps, we made an omission or two. But, that list was bound to be, overwhelmingly, male.

There is a significant number of women in sports media. Many women do wonderful work. Our list of Top 25 most professional and competent people in sports media would have been populated with them. “Power” is a different matter.

Sports is a discussion industry. Power is shaping that discussion. Few women are offered a prominent platform. Those that are often feature as peripheral reporters or traffic cops. Men are offered their own shows, their own websites and project their thoughts over multiple media. Women tend to be tasked with asking the questions, rather than riffing on them.

First Take is an obvious example. Skip and Stephen A. talked themselves down a rabbit hole about domestic violence. Cari Champion, a woman and an experienced journalist in her own right, had to take a backseat as moderator. She weighs in more now, albeit while still having her opinions diminished for being a woman.

Rachel Nichols is the country’s “most impactful and prominent female sports journalist.” She has multiple decades of experience at major newspapers and networks. Yet, she features most visibly as a sideline reporter. When she does interject her thoughts, men complain she’s too talky or get condescending. Bill Simmons thought ESPN misused her brain.

Female voices that thrive in social media have struggled getting the opportunity to translate it to a professional setting. Michelle Beadlewas given her own show on NBC Sports Network (where Costas couldn’t do ratings), was saddled with a charmless man to keep things on the rails, had the plug pulled, and ended up back on Sportsnation.

Katie Nolan was found on YouTube for the better part of year after “Crowd Goes Wild” was cancelled. She did get back on TV, finally. Though, the show is buried on Sunday night with MLS as a lead-in, running uphill for the target demo against “Game of Thrones.”

Exceptions exist. ESPN features Jemele Hill on “His and Hers” and as a panelist on the Sports Reporters. Jackie MacMullan and Kate Fagan appear on “Around the Horn.” But the prominent faces are still Mike and Mike, Tony and Mike, Stephen A. and Skip, Dan and Bomani, Colin, Keith, Jason etc.

CBS started the all-women “We Need To Talk.” The title begs the obvious question why CBS’ female talent need a separate forum to talk. One would hardly term a 10 pm slot on CBS Sports Network a “prominent platform.”

NFL Football is king. There are more male comedians working in a non-sideline reporter capacity on NFL pregame shows than women.

Women face challenges everywhere. But, the sports media trails other journalism genres and much of the rest of society for inclusion. It’s easier to find powerful women heads of state and CEOs. One could even make a case there are more powerful women within the sports industry, working in executive roles or ownership. Moving to the periphery of radio and, yes, sports blogging, the gender disparity only gets worse.

Getting women more prominent billing and higher level opportunities in sports media is a complex problem across multiple media. There won’t be an effortless solution.