No matter what sport you think of, usually, a man will come first to mind. There’s no doubt that men have brought the competitive entertainment we all love on the field and our TV screens, but we can’t overlook the ladies! Women sports reporters have been around for years but never got the recognition they deserve. For Black History Month, we want to spotlight how women in sports started vs. how it’s going now. I’m excited to highlight a few of the many women paving the path and raising the bar within the sports media industry.
“Venture outside your comfort zone. To stop growing is to stop living.” ― Robin Roberts
How It Started
Jayne Kennedy is a Washington D.C. native born on October 27, 1951. She was one of the first women to infiltrate the male-dominated world of sports with her role on NFL Today on CBS.
Kennedy’s talents extend to being crowned Miss Ohio USA 1970 when she was the first African American woman to win the title. Later that year, in 1970, she was one of the ten semi-finalists in the Miss USA pageant. She later began her acting career and had over ten notable TV guest appearances and roles in seven movies. Kennedy took advantage of every opportunity and maximized it. Unfortunately, Kennedy was fired from her position at NFL Today in 1980, allegedly based on sexist terms. Her dismissal was named one of the most significant firing controversies in sports history. Since retiring from television, she’s been an active advocate for the Children’s Miracle Network.
How It’s Going
Now, the number of women reporting, commentating, writing and hosting shows around sports seems endless. Among those women are Malika Andrews, Jemele Hill and Taylor Rooks, who have all found the balance of sports and entertainment. They each give fans insight into what’s happening in the games and into the players’ lives.
Andrews is a name that was heavy in the headlines last year when her new show on ESPN, NBA Today, was announced. But many may not realize her rise to fame wasn’t by chance; she worked for this. Andrews is an Oakland native and graduated from Portland University.
She started with ESPN in October 2018 and before her time at the Worldwide Leader, she worked at the Chicago Tribune & The New York Times. Andrews was one of the youngest sideline reporters ever for a Conference Finals and one of the star reporters in the NBA bubble at the heart of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. She’s also a proud member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).
Being mixed, Malika grew up in a Black and White household and never shied away from race. She and her sister Kendra Andrews interviewed with NBC Sports Oakland to talk about their careers and the climate of race in sports in 2020.
You can watch NBA Today on weekdays at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.
Rooks is currently a sports journalist for Bleacher Report and Turner Sports. A St. Louis native, she graduated from the University of Illinois, where she majored in broadcast journalism. She worked on major events such as the Big Ten Football Championship, PGA Tour and even landed an interview with President Barack Obama During the pandemic.
Her poise and grace have always allowed her to connect with players beyond the surface. Also, her background in scouting has given her an edge amongst others in this industry. When the facts don’t add up, like when racist “draft experts” tried to bring up politics to affect then NCAA star Lamar Jackson’s draft potential, Rooks had no problem setting them straight. She’s a great example of getting the work done and having fun while doing it!
Jemele Hill is a woman who says what she means and means what she says. “Stick to sports” was never her mantra and she understood that Black fans, players and reporters can’t turn off the issues of the world at any given time. This mindset, unfortunately, ended her 10-plus year career at ESPN, but it didn’t stop her.
Stepping away from hosting the prime spot at the Worldwide Leader to some would seem like the end but not for Jemele. Hill has since moved on, working for The Atlantic and hosting her critically acclaimed podcast Jemele Hill is Unbothered. She recently announced her new business venture in creating The Unbothered Network, a production company that will create and produce podcasts that feature and amplify the stories and voices of Black women that have been ignored and obscured.
“The Unbothered Network is more than just a content hub—it’s a space where Black women can hopefully see their full selves,” Jemele said in a press release. “There’s so much about the lives of Black women that hasn’t been fully explored, and so many of our stories have either been dismissed or overlooked. I’m also proud of this network because it not only centers Black women, but it’s also run by Black women. We can’t empower Black women if we’re not positioning them in leadership roles.”
In addition to all these beautiful women, there are so many others who work on the screen and behind the scenes. Tracey McCants Lewis is the Deputy General Counsel & Director of HR for the Pittsburgh Penguins. She’s happy to be a Black woman in a sport where there are very few because she can now open the door for so many others. Black women are making history; in baseball, Bianca Smith became MLB’s first Black Woman coach. In the NFL, Maia Chaka, became the first Black Woman to referee an NFL game. Jennifer King became the first Black woman to become a full-time NFL coach.
Each woman builds upon the other, so those coming after having more every step of the way. At the end of the day, it’s all about women supporting women. There are so many ways we can all do that. Podcasts like The Triple W Podcast hosted by four women NBA reporters, including myself, highlight different women in sports every episode — sharing the support across the board. You can listen to the podcast here and you can watch it here.
Anytime one of us wins, women, men and nonbinary, all win too. It’s a group effort that everyone can get behind. Who runs the world?! Girls!