- Courtesy of FSN Pittsburgh
- Fox Sports reporter Lacee Collins on-air with veteran broadcaster Stan Savran
In 1975, Pohla Smith became one of the first women in the country to enter journalism's "boy's club": the sports beat.
As a reporter for the United Press International wire service, Smith covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates in an era when locker rooms were closed to women -- which is just how many athletes and male reporters wanted it.
"I was not universally welcomed with open arms," says Smith, now a consumer-health reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. One player, she recalls, "tried to grab my hand and put it on his genitals." Smith's response was to tell him, "The only reason you need me to see this thing is because you're getting so fat you don't know it's there anymore."
Another time, Smith recalled approaching Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw for an interview outside the locker room. "Bradshaw took my tablet and signed it," she says. "He thought I was a fan."
Three decades later, such boorishness is much rarer, but sports journalism is still a male-dominated profession. In Pittsburgh, there are currently just three full-time female sports reporters compared with roughly 50 men covering sports for local media outlets.
"I am surprised that there aren't more" female sports reporters in Pittsburgh, Smith says. "I don't know the reason why."
"Pittsburgh's old-school," surmises Susan Reimer, a Pittsburgh native and former sports reporter for the Baltimore Sun. "Even though your grandmother can name the [Steelers] offensive line, that doesn't necessarily translate into [female] hires at the TV station."
Indeed, whether you're reading the paper, watching TV or listening to the radio, chances are you're getting your sports news from men.
The exceptions are: Shelly Anderson, a Penguins beat writer for the Post-Gazette; Lacee Collins, who covers the Pirates and Penguins for FSN; and Karen Price, a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. (Price did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
"I wanted to be a sportscaster since I was a kid," says Collins, who has been covering sports for 10 years. "I knew when I took this job that it was me and a bunch of boys."
By the time Collins arrived in Pittsburgh in September, the Arizona native was no stranger to being the only woman in the locker room. When she worked in Tucson, "I was the only female radio, TV or newspaper reporter covering sports there."
Still, Collins says she expected to find more diversity in Pittsburgh. "There is a definitely a large female sports-fan base here," Collins says. "I was somewhat shocked when I found out I was the only female on TV here. ... For example, today there are 30 guys in the press conference for [Penguins coach] Dan Bylsma. And then there's me."
"That's not unusual," says Marie Hardin, a sports-journalism professor at Penn State University. Although the past few decades have seen increasing numbers of female sports reporters nationwide, she says, the local sports-media landscape in most cities looks very similar to Pittsburgh's.
"I do think we've come a long way," says Hardin, noting successes in large media markets like New York, where there is more public pressure for diversity. "But the culture in sports media has to change to be more accepting of women as equals of men."
"I'm interested in diversity," says David Shribman, editor of the Post-Gazette, noting that, in addition to Anderson covering the Penguins beat, the paper's sports editor, Donna Eyring, is a woman. "But in the eight years I've been here, I don't recall getting one application from a female wanting to be a sportswriter."
Sports journalism "is still pretty male-dominated," adds Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist for The Oklahoman and chair of the Association for Women in Sports Media. "You can't snap your fingers overnight and get a 50/50 split. It's got to happen over time."
But given current trends, seeing significant improvement could take a while.
For one thing, Hardin says, women are still constrained by their work-family realities. Covering the sports beat involves lots of travel and late nights, and it can be hard to juggle that with the need to take care of kids.
Another problem, says Hardin, is that many female journalists aren't sure they'll ever be promoted beyond the position of beat or sideline reporter. "They see a ceiling," she says.
John Mehno, a freelance sports writer who contributes to the Beaver County Times and the Pittsburgh Sports Report, says women have established themselves in the sports scene -- at least to some extent. "We're at a point now where there's no shock value" about a female reporter, he says. "Now it's just another writer [players] do or don't want to talk to."
Still, Mehno points to the total absence of women from sports commentary -- on the air or in print. "I don't think there's ever been a female talk-show host [in Pittsburgh]," he says. "If I were the program director at The FAN [a sports-talk station at 93.7 FM], I would be looking hard for a woman to try to work into the rotation."
When The FAN launched last year, it did feature a female sports reporter, Kalena Bell. But listeners faulted her for on-air gaffes, and she has since left the station. Another local sports-talk station, ESPN Radio 970 AM, also does not employ a female on-air personality. Executives at 970 ESPN and 93.7 FM The Fan did not return phone calls or e-mails for comment.
"Even [hiring] a woman as a co-host would be interesting," Mehno adds. "There are women out there who really know their stuff."
But where overt sexism is concerned, the situation for women has been improving dramatically.
Reimer, a former reporter for the Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Press, launched her sports-journalism career in 1979 at the Baltimore Sun. And, like the Post-Gazette's Smith, she has some unpleasant memories from those days. For example, Reimer recalls a locker-room interaction with a player on the then-Baltimore Colts. Noticing she was pregnant, "He turned to me and said, 'You've been getting some, huh, girl?'
"It was hugely unpleasant," Reimer adds.
Reimer, now a lifestyle columnist for the Sun, says people often ask if she would return to covering sports. "My answer is no," she says. "It was incredibly uncomfortable."
In contrast, Collins and Anderson say they've never been harassed on the job because of their gender.
"I've never been made to feel really uncomfortable," Anderson says.
That's not to say female reporters don't need thicker skin. Discrimination continues: In September, Mexican television reporter Inez Sainz made headlines after she was harassed by players in the New York Jets locker room. And early this month, ESPN fired announcer Ron Franklin after he called female colleague Jeannine Edwards "sweet baby."
Less glaringly, the jokes overheard in the locker room can sometimes be crude or off-color, Anderson says.
But "that's just part of the locker room," she adds. "I don't take offense to that kind of stuff. The best way to deal with it is with a sense of humor."
"You need to be able to handle boys being boys," Collins agrees. "If you can't handle certain things, then you're in the wrong business."