While the experience of every woman in sports media is different, Dana Benbow, Betsy Ross and Elyse Timpe, three women in sports media, all shared one circumstance in common: having to prove themselves to men.
According to Zippa, as of 2022, 20.9 percent of sports journalists are women.
Timpe, a second-year digital sports production student, is a member of Sports Link at Ball State and interns for Sports Girls Club, a social media brand devoted to empowering women in sports.
The Carmel-native said she has been lucky regarding her experience as a woman in sports so far, but sometimes when she is talking with guys, they assume she doesn’t know about sports because she is a woman. She has to spit out random football facts before they realize she knows what she’s talking about.
“And I know that's been the experience with a bunch of girls in my internship as well because we're all able to talk about how guys basically think down on us,” Timpe said.
She feels empowered when she is the only woman working in a group of men. But as one of the only women in Sports Link, she sometimes worries about only being there for diversity reasons.
“It's also like that internal battle of ‘Okay, am I actually good enough for this job, or is it because I'm the girl that I'm getting this job?’” Timpe said.
Her participation in Sports Link has allowed her to work Monday Night Football games and the opportunity to work alongside some of her role models: sports reporters Lisa Salters and Rachel Hopmayer.
“I was working the [Buffalo] Bills versus [Cincinnati] Bengals game where they tried to kick out the media, and [Lisa] stood her ground, and it was just so cool to see her not let them walk all over her,” Timpe said.
Having female journalists to look up to hasn’t always been the case for the sports industry.
According to ResearchGate, the first female sports journalist for a newspaper was Margaret Goss. She wrote for the New York Herald Tribune in 1924 and 1925, about 70 years after Henry Chadwick, the first male sportswriter, started writing stories on baseball.
The first female sportscaster on a local and national level in the United States, Jan Chastain, didn’t start her career until 1963. According to the American Sports Association, the first televised event broadcasted by a male was in 1933, 30 years before a woman stepped into the scene.
In 1987, Gayle Sierens became the first woman to call play-by-play for an NFL game, and it didn’t happen again until Beth Mowins in 2005.
Growing up, Benbow said due to a lack of females, her role models in the sports world consisted of old, white men. Benbow, sports enterprise reporter for IndyStar and Ball State alum, was born in 1974, a different time for women in sports media.
Though it has gotten better over the years, Benbow said it’s still rare to have a woman in print at the sports desk, as she is the only one at the IndyStar.
“It may be 2023, but still things do happen,” she said.
Benbow loves her position and editors at the IndyStar. She said while they do a great job of putting male reporters on women’s sports, she still thinks they have a bit of a tendency to give her stories about women. For example, she was assigned a story on how the uniforms for women's beach volleyball are “nothing” compared to the men’s.
“Maybe it’s just because it looks better coming from a woman discussing women not wearing any clothes in beach volleyball, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do think sometimes you’re given those types of stories because you're a woman,” she said.
Benbow said this can be an advantage though since she is able to write important pieces about women, and women often feel more comfortable talking about big issues with other women.
Though she enjoys covering serious, long-form stories, because she is a woman, other reporters and sources don’t always take her seriously.
“Sometimes sources will talk to you as if you don’t know the game. They’ll kind of talk elementary,” Benbow said. “It’s rare. All these circumstances are pretty rare but still there in certain scenarios. That’s why I want people to know it’s not a given that people just accept you as a woman in sports media.”
At games, she has had male reporters ask her why she was there, mock her and ask if she is writing some “little feature.” She has been told that women don’t know anything about sports and can’t possibly cover them, yet she is still doing it nine years later.
Benbow said she doesn’t usually get blatant comments about her gender, it’s more insulations and small things.
When she was covering the infamous “Deflategate” AFC Championship game in 2015, she went to the hotel and sitting in her room was an envelope titled “Mr. Dana Benbow.”
She once called the Indianapolis Colts for a story, and they called the male beat writer to ask what Benbow wanted to speak to them about.
“Would you do that if I were a man?” she said. “Little things like that, and I don't want to be oversensitive, but then again, you do have to ask yourself sometimes, ‘If I were a man, would this be happening?’”
She said she has to make sure people take her seriously as a woman sports writer, that they know she understands the sport.
Benbow has won multiple awards in the Associated Press Sports Editors contest, and while she is grateful, she sometimes wonders if she gets it because they need to award a female writer.
“I shouldn’t think that, but I think that’s the stuff women do,” she said. “We sometimes question that.”
Despite this, Benbow is living her dream job, and she hopes that by putting her name out there, young women can look up to her and see that they can live their dreams too.
Ross, an Emmy Award-winning sports reporter and '72 Ball State graduate, didn’t think about the idea of being a sports journalist until Phyllis George graced her TV. In 1975, Phyllis George became one of the first women to have an on-air position in sports broadcasting.
“There is such strength in seeing someone doing what you want to do because now that makes it possible. There is someone putting two things I love together and making a career out of it,” Ross said in reference to George. “That was really the first time that I got in my head I could do this.”
Ross has known she wanted to be a journalist since sixth grade. She started volunteering at the South Bend Tribune to get experience, covering local high school games and Notre Dame from time to time.
She said in the beginning of her career, she gained experience by going to sports directors and asking if they needed help. Ross said sports often needed people, so it allowed her to “dip her toes” in the sports section.
Ross is grateful for the help she had along her media journey, but Billie Jean King was the one who told her to pay it forward.
After interviewing King for a moment before she went back onto the court, Ross told King how thankful she was for King’s involvement in sports, opening the doors for many women.
King told her, “That is great, but how do they treat you here?”
Ross told King that since she’d grown up with the guys she worked with, they treated her well, so King told her to pass it on.
Ross said it’s really important to recognize the opportunities you were given and help the next generation see what is possible as well.
“I think that if you see what is possible in social media, online media for good or ill, it has opened up so many other avenues for work, especially in the telecommunications business,” she said. “It’s just so important to let people know, especially the girls and young women, to let people know the opportunities that are out there now for them to pursue what they want to pursue.”
At one Chicago White Sox game, Ross looked at the male broadcasters on the field and realized she wanted to be in their spot someday.
At the time, it didn’t occur to Ross that she’d never seen a woman cover baseball before, let alone on the field.
Now, whenever she has the opportunity to broadcast in a ballpark, she chuckles at the reminder of her original audacity.
Ross said she was so naive she didn’t think about how her male counterparts were being treated compared to her.
“Was I treated differently? Probably. Did it stop me? No. Did I really notice it? Not that I could remember,” she said. “Were there people along the way who said you’ll never be an anchor, you’ll never do it? Of course, there were. We all face that. As we get in our career, someone will tell us we can't do that or can never do this, but it doesn’t stop you, that just gives you fuel to your fire.”
Ross said the biggest challenge as a woman is making sure she is respected and that her work is credible. Sometimes, she has to do a little extra homework or “pregame work.”
She said she once “butchered” the name of a Russian hockey player, and she got multiple messages after telling her she was an idiot and that women shouldn’t do sports because they can’t pronounce names.
She had to work harder to study the history and the names of the players she covered. She had to do the extra work to be respected and to prove to herself she could do the work
Ross is now a former ESPN reporter, professor and the president of Game Day Communications, a sports entertainment company she founded. She is looking forward to expanding her company by going into esports.
Ross said her experience in sports public relations has been most rewarding, and Benbow feels similarly with her time in sports.
“It’s the best job in the world,” Benbow said. “Sometimes I can't believe I get paid to watch games and talk to really cool athletes and coaches.”
Benbow said sports have been a leader in many other ways like racial equality and social equity. She said it’s not just jocks. Benbow was able to make an impact through her story on the effects of merging the ABA with the NBA by bringing racial disparity to light.
“I’ve just learned that you can take so many lessons from what you’re writing about and make it so much more serious than the scoreboard at the end of the game,” she said.
Contact Lila Fierek with comments at email@example.com.