The Impact of this Sarah Phillips Mess on Female Sports Writers

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A friend texted me Saturday and asked if I felt Sarah Phillips was ruining any opportunities for me. I texted back “No” as I had done several times over the course of the past week – the same question posed repeatedly to me via twitter DMs, texts, Facebook, and even email.

This morning, I was asked by one of my kids’ teachers to speak with the class next week about being a female sports writer and about all the obstacles I have to overcome on a daily basis. I volunteer frequently at the school, and happen to live next door to my daughter’s fourth grade teacher, so my answer was naturally “Yes, of course.” After I replied to the email, I sent back another response asking, “What exactly do you mean by ‘obstacles’?” The answer I received was probably one I should have expected: “You know, with all the Erin Andrews’ out there and that girl that lied to ESPN.”

So here is my long response, from my perspective.

A little over a week ago someone on twitter retweeted the following from @jmverlin: “Female journalists: how much does THIS piss you off?” with this link. It is the video of KSDK’s Julie Tristan, host of a show called “Show Me St. Louis!”,  that went viral after she interviewed World Series MVP David Freese at Six Flags while he was there to raise awareness for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. During the interview, she asked him questions such as did he have a girlfriend and if he preferred blondes or brunettes. The video has apparently enraged both female media members and women everywhere.  My response was simply: “Not a journalist, just a blogger/writer/podcast host. Some of us just have to work a little harder, it is what it is.”

That’s as simply as I can put it: it is what it is.

That response did not invoke sufficient disgust for some like-followers @StPeteRays and I shared who unleashed a series of DMs at me calling me “insensitive”, “cold hearted”, and my personal favorite “Woman hater”, among other things that I’d rather not repeat. Those like-followers decided I had induced too much outrage at my lack of outrage that they decided not to follow me on twitter any more. The outrage!

A couple of days later the Saga of Sarah Phillips hit the internet, and honestly, I had no idea who she was. ESPN employs hundreds of bloggers and writers that I have never heard of. This is not to say I don’t pay attention to ESPN, I’d be silly not to, but it speaks to the volumes of people on various levels that work for the sports entertainment empire.

That said, add in the factor that Phillips wrote about sports betting, and you have someone that would have easily lived on in complete obscurity, as far as I’m concerned.

I kept seeing tweets with the name “Sarah Phillips” followed by “ESPN”. I ignored them for most of the day, but after the same name was being repeated by several people, I clicked the link included in one of the tweets. It took me to the now famous Deadspin article.

I read it in disbelief as most did and chuckled at the thought that this girl had possibly pulled one over on ESPN, and then went about my business, the thought of her “ruining” anything for me never entered my mind. The tweets kept coming and along with them Deadspin updates. Later on, ESPN fired her and she gave her “side” in a string of tweets 140 characters at a time.

When I first started internet blogging/writing, admittedly I was infuriated by a couple of the younger, prettier female sports bloggers and all of their thousands of twitter followers. I hardly saw them post any real sports articles, and the ones they did post were not necessarily Pulitzer-winning material, mostly Q & A type interviews or appearances in other people’s posts. Meanwhile, I had researched a decade of University of Florida recruiting and chronicled the entire 2011 Gator baseball season. I was grinding out game previews, human interest stories, snark-infested opinion pieces, and everything in between. When the college football season was over I shifted towards analyzing and scouting players and started a podcast, the NFL Draft Cheat Sheet with Jayson Braddock.

Somewhere along the way I picked up my 600 followers and a few avid listeners every Sunday.

Several months ago, I was talking to an agent who asked me out of the blue, “Isn’t it hard being a woman, trying to be taken seriously and get ahead in this industry with all the young girls posting bikini pics?” My reply surprised even myself, “It is if you let it be. I can’t worry about the younger, prettier girls. I have too much work to do.”

That was the first time it dawned on me that it didn’t really matter what those other girls do or don’t do. I can’t be responsible for how they get where they are and how people perceive their work. In my younger and prettier days, I probably would have used that to get ahead if I could.

I don’t have major sports outlets knocking down my door offering me big contracts for big money. Quite frankly, I probably never will. I will never be plucked from obscurity and offered a job in Bristol, or in New York. Does it discourage me from doing what I love? Not one bit.

Long before I began blogging I loved to write. I won amateur writing awards for short stories and had a few poems published. I frequented football message boards and argued ad nausea with people about why I was right and they were wrong.

A year and a half ago I infused the two, and the guys at took notice and asked me to join their crew as the lone female member. I was more appreciative for the opportunity they had offered than I can ever express, and after a few months of twitter conversations with Jayson Braddock, I asked if RotoExperts would be willing to give me a shot as well.

They were and here we are.

I have a handful of “real life friends” on twitter – people I’ve been friends with since high school, a nephew, and one of my brother’s college friends. I have met my boss in person, and indeed my picture matches who I say I am. I have spoken with several other RotoExperts, bloggers, radio personalities, scouts, agents, players, etc. I often joked that Jayson and I spent so much time on the phone in the last four months he was like my “Draft husband”.  I have nothing to hide, and the thought of posing as anyone or anything I’m not had never occurred to me. I can understand how some females feel intimidated in a male dominated industry and use their looks to get ahead; as I said 10 years ago I may have felt the same way.

The content of what you are writing has to be the focus. Knowledge of a subject is what will get your voice heard on the radio. Without either, it doesn’t really matter how pretty you are. You will just be another flash in the pan. Someone will come along who is just as pretty and who uses dedication and hard work to further her career.

The internet is full of gimmicks. You can choose to be one because you feel that is the only way you can compete with the younger, prettier girls. Or, you can choose to focus on content and knowledge which is what you need to compete with the male sports writers – because that is your true competition. The rest will sort itself out.

And yes, some of those male sports media members have made sexist remarks towards females in the same industry. I myself have been told I was just a “dumb girl” that had “no business writing about football”. My long standing opinions that Brandon Weeden would be an NFL starter immediately, Nick Foles is a better draft pick than Kirk Cousins, and Janoris Jenkins was hands down the best CB in the draft left me open for criticism just as it did for Jayson who shared similar opinions. The difference between the comments we both received is this: no one ever called Jayson “a stupid b****” who “needs to get back into the kitchen” (For the record, I love baking and do it all the time. Even though this comment was meant in a derogatory manner, I was actually in the kitchen reading the email while I was making cupcakes. I just laughed at the irony).  The issue is a matter of sensitivity. Some women are very sensitive to these situations, while others are not. I happen to fit into the latter of the two categories.

Make no mistake, that’s not to say I am insensitive to the plight of other females I have befriended. If I see one of them engaged in an argument over sexist remarks and sense they are offended, I will always offer her support.  Just because it doesn’t offend me personally, does not mean it isn’t offensive to others.

It also does not mean that I condone sexism in sports media. I certainly do not condone discrimination on any level. I just choose my battles differently. It took me a while to get to the perspective I have today, and that is just what it is: my perspective.

I’ve never had aspirations of standing on a sideline, microphone in hand being fed questions through an ear piece from a producer. No one has ever said to me, “Sure, I’ll read your article, you’re hot” and honestly no one ever will. But I like to think that I have gained, maybe not significant, but some respect from my peers, and have on a couple of occasions even been thanked or complimented for something I’ve written.

That, to me, means more than being hot ever could; because at the end of the day, something I love to do has touched someone, in some way.

So when one of these sexist sagas happens upon the internet and I’m asked if it ruins anything for me, my answer is, and will continue to be: No. I choose not to let it. I’ve got too much work to do.

Dory LeBlanc, co-hosts NFL Draft Cheat Sheet on RotoRadio and freelances for Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You may email Dory at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @DoryLeBlanc