Women Cracking the Glass Ceiling in Sports...

JA AllenSenior Writer IMarch 7, 2009

We get all warm and fuzzy when we think about equality and all that we have accomplished in the last century. Right, ladies? These warm feelings were especially prevalent after the '60s and '70s when 'equality' became the buzz word.

Throughout the next 30 or 40 years, we were deluded into thinking that women were edging closer to men—that women with equal talent and ability have grown nearer to parity.

Women in the United States make 73 cents for every dollar a man makes. This makes the Equal Pay Act a joke! Women with equal ability are still making less than men and still bumping against the proverbial glass ceiling.


The glass ceiling is a limitation blocking upward advancement. It is "glass" (transparent) because the limitation is not immediately apparent and is normally an unwritten and unofficial policy.

This invisible barrier continues to exist, even though there are no explicit obstacles keeping women from acquiring advanced job positions. There are no advertisements that specifically say “no women hired at this establishment,” nor are there any formal orders that say “women are not qualified”—but they do lie beneath the surface.

The "glass ceiling" is distinguished from formal barriers to advancement, such as education or experience requirements.

In Politics

Recently after the last political contest concluded, Hillary Clinton alluded to the “glass ceiling” by stating that she and her campaign for the Democratic party nomination for president had cracked this invisible ceiling. According to Marie Cocco of the Washington Post, however:

"The glass ceiling remains firmly in place—not cracked, as Hillary Clinton insisted as she tried to claim rhetorical victory after her defeat in the Democratic nominating contest. It wasn't even scratched with the candidacy of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee—unless you consider becoming an object of national ridicule to be a symbol of advancement.

As divergent as these two women are ideologically and temperamentally, as different as are their resumes, they both banged their heads—hard—against the ceiling. Both were bruised. So was the goal of advancing women in political leadership…"

No headway, it seems, was made in politics during the 2008 campaign. Yet, surely women have advanced in another popular media arena—the world of sports.

In Sports

No better place to judge the advancement of women in this profession then to take a page out of ESPN. The mighty sports network has done an admirable job of integrating women into positions as anchors, sideline reporters, correspondents, and other important positions.

Women have made great strides.

While ESPN has promoted women, they must be beautiful women—the importance of their physical appearance has increased.

In a strange effort to make women reporters appear more professional, ESPN has tightly scripted their on air remarks, so much so that, in general, the network has restricted the personalities of the reporters and made them appear somewhat lifeless—uninteresting.
Even so, Linda Cohn says women are getting more opportunities. The problem remains that they are judged first on appearance and second on their knowledge and ability to report on noteworthy sporting events.

The argument could be made that this same standard applies to men—but not as rigidly. Men are forgiven more for physical imperfections.

Andrea Kramer, who grew up in print journalism, says that women in sports broadcasting today belong in one of two groups; those who grew up loving sports who also report on, write about, and talk about sports in print or on radio or television and the second type, women who want to be on television and who think sports are cool.

She says the audience knows the difference.

According to an article in Sports Business daily, women are also held to a higher standard because they are women. If Chris Berman makes a slip of the tongue, it is just that—but if Linda Cohn makes an error, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about!

Women, according to John Shannon, NHL Executive Vice President of Programming and Production, need to be 20 percent better than their male counterparts just to be credible. Fans are unforgiving of errors by women reporters.

One common myth among men is that they, men, know more about sports. They have an innate ability to understand the finer points of the game because they have participated—been part of the male cadre on the field of play.

Secretly they believe women are interlopers—some intelligent, some word-wise—but not insiders.

The sports community continues to consider women writing, or talking about sports an anomaly...a departure from the norm. Yes, they concede, there are those rare exceptions, but for the most part, women are not as gifted or as knowledgeable as their male counterparts.

They are just cuter and easier on the eye. Right?

Sports fans continue to refer to Erin Andrews as “hot.” That is why they watch her and not because of the quality of her work. Playboy publishes an annual list of the sexiest sportscasters.

Despite huge advances, the glass ceiling remains intact, glistening and edgy in the wide world of sports where women are still sorted, sullied and sometimes stalked based on a scale of their looks from 10 to one.

It is difficult to construct a remedy for this social issue—to find a secret passage to the top—through the looking glass...

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