Contributed by Naomi Grey
Women in sports media often have the dual challenge of doing the work that is expected of any journalist as well as the tension that comes from being a female sports reporter in a male-dominated industry. That has been a major aspect in the careers of Quinnipiac graduates Robyn Brown and Naomi Grey.
It is not uncommon for people who decide to pursue sports journalism to have played sports themselves growing up. That is certainly the case for Brown.
“I actually was the firstborn and felt like my dad wanted a boy so the first sport I ever played was baseball,” said Brown. “That’s what he loved. He didn’t care that he had a girl. She was going to play baseball.”
Her passion for sports led her to play college basketball at the University of Mount Union in Ohio, but she knew her next chapter was in sports journalism.
Grey was also involved in athletics growing up. She turned that passion for sports into a career in sports media.
Both Brown and Grey earned a Master’s of Science in sports journalism at Quinnipiac. Grey felt she needed more education since the undergraduate program at Brooklyn College did not have a sports division.
“They didn’t have any type of sports focus so every time I was given an assignment, I went out (of) my way to try and turn it into a sports story,” Grey said. “I kind of taught myself sports journalism for four years. By the time I graduated, I felt like I still needed more, so I found out about the one-year master’s degree program at Quinnipiac, and I jumped all over it right away because a short 365 days just to focus on sports journalism is something I definitely needed to kickstart my career.”
Similarly, Brown couldn’t resist the educational offerings Quinnipiac had for those interested in a master’s in sports journalism. Both would quickly realize that not only would they receive the necessary education but also, a network of people that could provide opportunities that directly assisted their professional endeavors.
Brown’s first job search was a bit tumultuous. She initially wanted to intern with the Washington Mystics of the WNBA. But, after six months of interviews, nothing materialized. She was able to get her foot in the door when her advisor provided an important phone number.
“We were coming up on summer, I didn’t have anything locked down and Molly Yanity was my advisor and I was just saying ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,’ and she said ‘I know a woman, take this phone call and see what comes up from it,’” Brown said. “The woman on the other end of the line happened to be the vice president of the Connecticut Sun.”
After a 30-minute phone call and an exchange of video reels showing her work from student organizations, like Q30, the school’s main news TV outlet, and QBSN, she earned a sideline reporting internship with Connecticut’s WNBA team. The job would later turn into a career as the team reporter and marketing coordinator.
Yanity, an associate professor of journalism and the director of the sports journalism master’s program, was instrumental as an advisor to Brown who needed help landing her first job after graduating.
“The role of the professor is … kind of twofold,” Yanity said. “On one hand, we have skills and theories we need to teach. And on the other, you’re a mentor and an advisor. They’re both truly important roles.”
Brown is also the reporter for the New England Black Wolves of the National Lacrosse League and most recently went into the WNBA bubble, nicknamed the “Wubble,” in Bradenton, Florida, for the Sun’s regular and postseason. In the Wubble, she was one of a small number of content producers allowed and the only member on the campus for her team. That said, she took on more responsibilities.
“(For the Sun) I was our videographer, I was our photographer, I ran point on pretty much any ounce of media that took place inside of the Wubble,” Brown said. “I filled ice baths, it was kind of a little bit of everything just to make the season happen.”
Brown credits much of her success thus far in her career to Quinnipiac, specifically its clubs and professors.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the reason I got my job is because of Q30, and I will go to the grave saying that,” Brown said.
Professors like communications professor Barry Sacks were equally influential in Brown’s education as well as her confidence as a reporter.
“Barry changed my life,” Brown said. “I almost feel like he’s an uncle to be honest. Aside from my teacher, he was my first ever producer because he was also the game time producer for the Connecticut Sun.”
Once when she was more anxious than usual prior to a Sun game, Sacks managed to assist her by explaining why he was encouraged that she was nervous.
“He could see that I was kind of freaking out,” Brown said. “He goes ‘I’m glad you’re nervous because that lets me know that you care. If you weren’t nervous that would mean that you didn’t care.’”
Although Brown and Grey have carved a niche for themselves as female sports reporters, the reality is that there are still challenges that exist such as the added pressure of being a woman in sports media.
“I think all women in this industry enter this industry with an automatic chip on their shoulder because they know that men are going to look at them and expect the least from them unfortunately,” Grey said. “There are men in this industry that look at us and question our abilities.”
The tendency to doubt women in sports media is because of the stereotype that they generally do not understand sports. When Yanity was a sports writer who covered college football, the NFL and MLB, she had experiences of men testing her knowledge. She would be asked things like what team Barry Bonds played before the San Francisco Giants. This aspect of challenging a woman’s sports knowledge is significant for Grey. Men have asked questions like who won the 1965 Super Bowl.
She believes that these frivolous tests of her knowledge do not diminish her talent and ability as a sports journalist. She knows that for the past six or seven years, she has dedicated her entire life to knowing sports, citing she had to teach herself everything about all the popular American sports.
Brown also notices that a female reporter’s appearance is analyzed to a greater extent than their male counterparts. She understands how it is natural to take in account someone’s looks but said it should not take the foreground and leave knowledge and ability in the background.
“I think people put these limitations where you want to be beautiful but not too beautiful and look professional but not too over the top professional,” Brown said. “It’s like, what’s that happy medium? I think the best thing women can do is to be overprepared. Know that you are valuable and that the subject that you’re covering and the story that you’re telling matters.”
Yanity stresses to all her students that the industry isn’t easy and for women in the field, there are going to be challenges. And because of the advent of social media, there are more places for women to receive criticism.
“I try to be realistic about the business with all my students,” Yanity said. “The job market is very competitive. And for women, they do need to be ready for an onslaught of criticism about their looks and a healthy dose of skepticism about their knowledge. They just have to work that much harder.”
Yanity realized that when she left full-time sports reporting in 2009, Twitter was still in its relative infancy, and is where many women in the field face criticism.
“I never had to deal with the social media onslaught that I know women in the field right now do have to deal with,” Yanity said. “And it is brutal, and I don’t think there is any amount of preparation that can really get you completely ready for that.”
Because part of Brown’s job is to present in front of a camera, she receives some unflattering messages on social media.
“I probably will not show my (direct messages) to a lot of people because I do get a lot of not kind messages,” Brown said. “They only see my appearance so I try to filter those and so I’m not looking at what messages are coming in. I can’t imagine what Maria Taylor receives daily compared to little ol’ me and what I receive on some game nights.”
As a reporter and producer for the FOX and NBC affiliate in Rochester, Minnesota, Grey was heavily involved in covering the city’s local sports and spent time covering the Minnesota Vikings in a beat reporter capacity.
Although Grey is fortunate not to have any notable experiences receiving hate on social media, she agrees that there is a greater burden on women to look a certain way to satisfy viewers as well as their employers.
“Some days I don’t want to walk into the office with a tight dress on and heels,” Grey said. “That’s uncomfortable for me and would be uncomfortable for anybody. God forbid I was shooting a game and not looking the best, people are going to give me an extra look. There definitely is a heightened level of expectations for females, and I would love for that to eventually to dim down a little.”
At Grey’s first job, there was a no v-neck shirt policy for women and she disagreed with that policy.
“If I feel like I look professional still and the majority of people feel that I look professional, I’m not changing my clothes,” Grey said. “Your eyes should not be at the v-neck at my shirt, it should be on my face, listening to what I am saying.”
Now, as a job hunter, she is even more conscious of the absence of diversity in the workplace.
“Sometimes I do look at these newsrooms and I see the lack of culture, the lack of diversity and personally it makes me feel like — is there a place for me in this newsroom because there is nobody else who looks like me?” Grey said. “Are they willing to take someone who looks like me, or is there a certain standard they have quietly?”
As a Black woman, Grey is cognizant of how her race and gender are not the predominant makeup of most TV stations, newsrooms and media outlets. Sports desks at the nation’s top 75 newspapers and online news sites earned a “D+” grade for gender and racial diversity combined, according to the 2019 Racial and Gender Report Card, commissioned by the Associated Press Sports Editors.
“That is something I battle with a lot now that I am in the job search because there is a lack of diversity,” Grey said. “You go to a job and see 100 men and no women at all, you’re going to think ‘Should I work here, am I able to work here?’ If I look in the newsroom and there is nothing but non-Black people, I’m going to feel like ‘Hey they’re not going to hire me, so should I even waste my time in trying to apply?’”
Yanity knows how stressful it can be for a young female reporter looking for a job when the COVID-19 pandemic has made openings for positions scarce and diversity is already a prevalent issue. However, she feels that Grey is not in a bad place.
“On one hand that makes me worried for everybody, but the thing is that I also think on the other side of that we’re really in this national awakening of how important diversity is,” Yanity said. “We’re seeing we need more voices in a newsroom, and that we can’t just keep hiring the white dude. And Naomi’s in a really good place as a Black woman who really knows what she’s doing, she can bring in all kinds of diversity especially to a sports newsroom. The jobs right now that are available are going to be seeking diversity because that’s what the nation is screaming for right now.”
Being a female sports reporter presents unique challenges that men and those outside of the field will never fully comprehend. For Brown, she knows that self belief is what is necessary for her and other women who are hopeful of breaking into the industry.
“If you don’t believe in you, how will you be able to convince someone else to believe in you?” Brown asked.
Grey seconded that notion and knows that nothing could have fully prepared her for the challenging moments she faces because of her identity. From being asked about her looks and her knowledge ad nauseam, she knows that through her commitment and confidence she can prosper.
“I think the only way to get through this industry is by motivating yourself and not giving up on yourself,” Grey said. “Always look at the light of the end of the tunnel because it gets dark, so dark in between but you have to just keep thinking about what got you here, and ask ‘Why not you?’”
When Yanity was asked why Brown and Grey have reached such success, her response was simple.
“They’re driven and focused, and they were willing to sacrifice,” Yanity said. “Naomi moved to Rochester, Minnesota. Robyn just spent three months in Bradenton, Florida, without getting to see people. When you’re driven, you make sacrifices, and they’re doing that and they are succeeding. I’m super proud of both of them.”