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Cristiana Caruso covered the 2019 MLB Draft for SB Nation’s MLB Daily Dish, and one moment of her experience was a perfect metaphor for women’s current place in the draft analysis landscape.
“I couldn’t find my seat at the table, where my assigned seating was, and I was just really panicked, because I felt like everyone was staring at me,” Caruso said. “I felt like everyone turned to look at me when I walked in, and it was just like, oh, my God, the pressure’s on.”
Women’s voices are becoming a bigger part of the sports conversation, but there’s still a huge divide between the number of men in the sports media industry compared to women. One area where this stands out is draft coverage. When Caruso did find her seat at the MLB Draft, she was one of just four women in the room.
Draft analysis is a different beast. Breaking down a player’s film and being able to identify their tendencies and then project how those will play at the next level is fundamental. Many women haven’t played sports at a level where breaking down film is a necessary part of the game, so this creates a barrier. Throw in the extra scrutiny women face in sports media, and it makes it more challenging for women to find their voice in the draft analysis realm. That’s how it’s been for Alexis Chassen, who covers Ohio State for Land-Grant Holy Land and the Eagles for Bleeding Green Nation.
“With the draft and scouting players being so subjective, there’s a lot of push back if you make a bad prediction, especially if that player ends up being a bust,” Chassen said. “There’s already so many people quick to criticize women in sports ... so feeling confident in making declarative statements regarding draft picks is something I personally, at least, struggle with.”
Of the big four pro sports — NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL — only basketball and hockey consistently present opportunities for women to play the game competitively at any level. That stands out to Stephanie McCarroll from SB Nation’s 49ers team brand, Niners Nation.
“More than most other professional sports, football has the fewest opportunities for women to play the game -- and that leads to a lot of ‘How do you know? You never played,’ bad-taking by readers,” McCarroll said.
Add to that a general reticence to take female sports journalists seriously, and making one’s mark on the draft landscape becomes even more daunting. Caruso experienced this after a reader complimented the MLB Daily Dish draft coverage, from “(site manager) Eric (Cole) and all of his guys over there,” on Twitter.
“Yeah, basically, he was like, ‘his guys,’ Caruso said. “And I was like, ‘I’m a girl,’ and he was like, ‘Well, what are you really contributing?’
“And I was like, ‘Whoa, wait, I thought you just said we did a great job, and now suddenly that I have different chromosomes, I’m not doing as good of a job? I’m really confused right now.’”
We spoke to several of the talented women who write for SB Nation’s team brands about the lack of female draft analysts for all of the major U.S. pro sports and what we can do to carve out a space for women in draft analysis.
We need more women in leadership roles in professional sports
There’s progress being made, but it’s slow going. Right now, there are just a handful of women in leadership positions in pro sports. But those women on NFL sidelines, coaching up NBA players, playing professional hockey, or scouting for Major League Baseball teams are steering us in the right direction.
“There are definitely barriers that exist for women that don’t exist for men,” said Micah Allen, who runs SB Nation’s Oklahoma State team brand, Cowboys Ride for Free.
“There is still a lot of work to do when it comes to equality. Women struggle to be taken seriously as reporters still,” Allen said. “You make just one mistake and the entire fan base of a team is against you. I think this will change with getting more and more women involved in football in general.”
We’re seeing that happen now, with female coaches along with women representing big-name players like 2018 first rounder Saquon Barkley and 2019 No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams.
Rebecca Lawson, who runs SB Nation’s Dallas Mavericks team brand, Mavs Moneyball, thinks more women in these roles will help normalize women’s voices in sports.
“They have a few really prominent female coaching voices in the NBA these days, and that’s a trend that’s been, from everything I’ve seen, very welcomed by the players and the organizations — I won’t say the fans, because there are always those assholes on Twitter who … are always those assholes on Twitter,” Lawson said. “But by and large, at least, in the NBA community, I’ve seen from the intelligent people who talk about the NBA, that’s a welcome trend. And I think part of that does come from the access to WNBA and where they’ve been playing and have that experience, that competition, that they can then go to the players.
“If you want to think about it that way, I do see it as a good analogy for there being more paths in general in the NBA for women’s voices, not only in draft analysis, but just in every aspect of the game.”
Professional women’s hockey is also creating more opportunities for visibility, both in media and in front offices.
“Right now, we are starting to get more professional female hockey players who are getting a chance to go on and do commentary on games or doing the intermission reports and stuff, so we’re starting to see more women who have played the game at a high level give their opinions,” Sarah Avampato from our Kings site, Jewels from the Crown, said. “And of course, there’s still always going to be that segment of fans who are like, ‘I don’t want to hear a woman talking about sports on my television.’”
Big names in sports media like ESPN’s Mina Kimes are also helping to pave the way for women in sports journalism in general.
“(Mina) Kimes’ interview with Aaron Rodgers a year ago was groundbreaking in opening doors as well; Rodgers doesn’t open up much, and him choosing to do so with her specifically made a statement,” Melissa Triebwasser from our TCU site, Frogs O’ War, said. “And that’s what it’s going to take -- prominent players, coaches, etc., putting trust in and giving opportunities to female reporters, allowing those voices exclusivity that ensures people will go to them specifically for information.”
Women in sports have to support each other
Even with women earning more visibility in sports media, coaching, agency, and other leadership roles, it’s discouraging to hear well known men in sports media complaining about more women in sports. Longtime New York sports radio host Mike Francesa is one of them, and he’s had some archaic things to say about women in coaching positions.
“Not everybody is attuned or designed to do every single job,” Francesa said, not in 1957, but in 2017. “And as we move forward there’s no saying that everybody has to be able to do every single job. Some are better for some people, that’s all. That’s not being chauvinistic. That’s not being stone-aged. That’s just being reasonable. I’m just looking at this with some modicum of common sense.”
Any woman who’s written about sports on the internet has almost certainly been told to “get back in the kitchen” at least once. I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade, and I’ve probably received that response thousands of times, and that’s a conservative estimate. Not everyone is going to like what women have to say about sports, but that shouldn’t slow us down.
“When I and many other women show knowledge about the draft, it is often met with surprise. Apparently, because I have a uterus, it is completely astonishing that I can explain the difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense,” McCarroll said. “So, while support from male writers and athletes is great, we need to have confidence in our own work and not be afraid to voice our opinions.”
Part of the hesitation to embrace analysis from women is the idea that women haven’t played the game. It’s an unfair criticism.
“I think there’s an old, tired rhetoric of ‘Well, you didn’t play the game; how could you know,’ type of deal,” Caruso said. “Well, 90 percent of these people (commenting) didn’t play the game — how can they know? But for some reason, women, there’s a higher bar. It’s like you have to prove yourself, and sign a blood oath, and it feels like there are so many people who want to say, ‘Nope, stop right there,’ and gate-keep knowing baseball at such an intimate level.”
That sentiment is also common in NHL circles.
“It’s a lot of random men being like, ‘How can you tell me who this prospect is? You didn’t play; you don’t know how good he is or how hard the game is,’” Avampato said. “Well, you didn’t play, either. I checked the NHL site; you don’t have a bio on there.”
Traditional gender roles and the expectations they carry impact women in professional sports across the board. Caruso spoke with Kelly Rodman, a scout for the Yankees, at the draft, and Rodman shared the scrutiny she faces in her role because of her gender.
“She was like, ‘I don’t think people understand that as a female, but also a scout, I’m away from my family for months at a time. And I get really criticized about that because I’m a woman away from my family, but all these men who are away from their families, yes, it’s hard on them, too, but nobody’s criticizing them as harshly,’” Caruso said.
Those same perceptions of gender roles work against women in draft coverage. Patti Curl covers the Chicago Bears for Windy City Gridiron, and she explained why that can hold women back in the draft field.
“To some extent, credibility in the draft world is measured by how loudly and confidently someone can state their opinion,” Curl said. “Certainly women are capable of loudly and confidently defending our opinions, but it’s not a quality that’s encouraged as often in women as it is in men. Add to that the issue many of us have encountered that male fans are less inclined to trust a female analyst, and it’s not surprising that it’s a field few women have succeeded in.”
Representation matters, and elevating women’s perspectives on draft coverage can attract and engage more female fans. Kathleen Noa, who writes for The Phinsider, SB Nation’s Miami Dolphins site, said that support from female readers has helped build her confidence.
“I was approached to start writing for an NFL fan site because of my passion for this sport and because they wanted a female perspective,” Noa said. “I was very anxious when I first started and was afraid I would be judged and laughed at because I’m a woman. I never played football, so what would I know? My confidence grows each week because other women have reached out to tell me they appreciate my views and love the fact there is a female perspective instead of just men.”
And progress is still being made. As I was making edits to this piece, the Cavs announced the hire of Lindsay Gottlieb as an assistant coach. Every expansion of female influence in professional sports opens the door a bit more for women who want to dive into draft analysis.
Don’t be afraid to make your own space in draft coverage
Why would women even want to jump into draft coverage considering all of the extra scrutiny and barriers female analysts face?
“I love talking to players because the same rhetoric I hear every single time I interview a kid that’s about to get drafted, is, ‘My entire life has led up to this,’” Caruso said. “And it’s like, you have what someone has spent countless weekends, countless summers, thousands of dollars in equipment and training and so on, for this one moment.
“And what I love about the MLB Draft, too, that you kind of get different from the NFL and the NBA drafts since they’re only a few rounds, it’s kind of more hyped up. You could get a kid who goes in the 10th round, in the eighth round, and they come out a hidden superstar. Your placement in the draft doesn’t predict at all what you’re going to be.”
For Avampato, it gives her an opportunity to help fans look past the present and be hopeful about what the Kings’ future holds.
“Prospects and draft coverage have always interested me, because it gives you a chance to envision what your team will look like in the future,” Avampato said. “My background, too, education-wise is I have a degree in psychology, and I’m always fascinated as to what makes people tick. And sometimes the prospect stage is really fascinating for that, because you get to see how these 17, 18, 19-year-old kids respond under pressure and deal with adversity and who’s stepping up already as a leader and he’s only 17. You get to see a little glimpse of what kind of man they’re going to turn into.”
There are women doing amazing things right now in the draft and prospect analysis space. Emily Waldon of The Athletic not only focuses on minor league prospects, but also the pay inequality they face despite being a part of a billion-dollar industry. Hannah Stuart is one of the lone female voices in NHL draft analysis. Her work is excellent, but according to her Twitter bio, she’s not under contract with any outlet to produce it. Melissa Jacobs of The Football Girl has a running list of women who provide quality NFL Draft analysis (including our own Alexis Chassen) on her site, though it’s not terribly long.
For women who want to dive into draft analysis, the knowledge and passion are there. They just need opportunities.
“For many of us female sports writers, we have loved sports even when they did not love us,” McCarroll said. “Even when sports tell us we do not belong. We persevere. We love the game although there is a constant feeling of always trying to prove ourselves.”
The best advice for women who are interested in draft analysis, or sports journalism in general, came from Kelly Rodman, via Caruso.
“(She) basically said to me, ‘One of the best things we can do in this field is to make our own space and make ourselves present and not be afraid to take up that space,’” Caruso said.
And that, at its core, is what it will take to elevate women’s voices in draft analysis.