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Good morning, Amplify readers and sports fans.
I'm Shawna Richer, the sports and features editor at The Globe and Mail, where I oversee our coverage of sports, as well as longer features on a diverse mix of subjects.
Two questions I am most often asked by readers and people I meet: how did you – a woman – get into sports journalism, and why doesn't The Globe cover more women's sports? (The latter is not always asked kindly, but I deeply appreciate the interest and the passion of Globe readers.)
The answer to the first – chance – is the opposite of the answer to the second – we do and it is an ongoing priority. We put much time and intention into considering how to get more stories about women in The Globe's sports report. And we will not stop.
In the early nineties, when I first started in sports journalism, there weren't many women covering sports in Canada – probably about as many as there are today. I was asked to take on the beat because editors at the London Free Press wanted a woman in the sports department. No one told me how to do the job, but I quickly discovered I could do it differently. I covered football at the University of Western Ontario, and other university sports, as well as Triple-A baseball. I turned game advances into profiles, and obscure elements no one else noticed into features. I tried to tell more stories about what was going on around the game than in it. Being a woman gave me unspoken permission to ask questions male reporters wouldn't. That early experience carved a career path that, with the exception of a few detours, I am still on. Since then, it's become clear to me that two things are equally important: Journalists writing about women in sports, and women writing and editing sports stories.
Still, sports coverage in our general interest publication is not gender balanced. It is weighted to the leagues – NHL, NBA, MLB, CFL, NFL and MLS – that drive professional sports and that readers expect and demand. But, we still strive for gender neutrality (reader e-mails and metrics confirm a demand for this too). The answer is not one or the other. The answer is always both.
Over the next 16 days the spotlight will be on the Olympics, where women shine biennially and the work required to give them all the light they deserve is effortless. But it doesn't end there.
Essential reading to get you in the Olympic mood is Cathal Kelly's profile of Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith, which underscores that hard work and values can put you on top.
Tim Layden's recent profile in Sports Illustrated of American skier Lindsey Vonn opened my mind about an athlete that people either love or hate, but who, because of her obsessive dedication, deserves to captivate one last time.
Casting back to Olympics past (and I must really like complicated people) this immersive narrative by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in the New York Times will make you understand and re-consider Tonya Harding and her legacy.
Meanwhile, it's incredibly cool that The Washington Post has four female sportswriters covering their major professional sports beats.
As all of these stories play out, The Globe will continue to find opportunities to write meaningfully and more often about women doing amazing things in the world of sports.
Enjoy the Olympics, but stay tuned afterward. We'll be thinking of spring and perhaps golf and the big season ahead for Brooke Henderson. Stories about women in sports don't disappear when the Olympic spotlight is turned off.
What else we're reading:
It's hard to write about women in sports without thinking about the Larry Nassar case – a case that was impossible to ignore and must not be forgotten. The women who came forward to make allegations against him are the bravest in sports. It's worth revisiting this harrowing piece by Dvora Meyers, writing in Deadspin, about the culture of abuse created by USA Gymnastics.
And abuse in sports is unlikely to stop. This week we learned figure skating stars in America fallen off in favour of Russian counterparts who are paying a heavy price for success with their physical and mental health. – SR
Evelyn Russell thinks she was born too soon. When she was seven years old in the late seventies, all she wanted to do was play baseball. But in Ancaster, Ont., where she grew up, only fastball was offered to girls. So, she tried out for the boy's minor baseball team and made it. She stayed on the team until playoffs, when organizers realized she was a girl and benched her.
At the time, she says, she didn't realized the magnitude of what had happened. "I just wanted to play baseball," she says.
For Russell, joining the team was almost a catalyst into her daily fight to break gender stereotypes in the world of sports. In her early teens, she would spend days hanging around the local Mountain Arena, watching games, playing ringette and looking for other opportunities to skate or get on the ice. When the equipment manager of the Hamilton Mountain A's junior team – who is now her husband – asked her if she wanted to work as a scorer and scoreboard operator on a part-time basis, she agreed.
Forty years later, Russell is involved in the biggest moments in sports in the Hamilton area. She's scored the World Juniors and NHL exhibition games, the outdoor games at Ivor Wynne Stadium and the Memorial Cup. Over the years, the fact that she's a woman hasn't gone unnoticed. Once, two hockey players were given penalties and yelled profane things as she sat between them. Halfway through, one player looked at her bug-eyed, sat down and said, "Oh. Sorry, m'am."
As the off-ice supervisor, she helps run a crew with over 13 people that do everything from the time clock, to the paperwork and the scoring. And all this happens in her spare time, since works full time as bakery manager.
Russell looks forward to the moments when kids ask her about her work in sports. "It just warms your heart when the little girls – and the young boys – come up to you," she says. "I was born too early, but it helped to get to where we are now – the girls can play with the boys." – Shelby Blackley
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