Nashville was the site of the biggest event in women’s athletics this year – the NCAA Women’s Final Four. As a result, a lot of attention has been given to the efforts of women competing in athletics. During the lead up to the Final Four, one of the NCAA’s “legacy programs” highlighted the issue of women working in sports media.
This is a topic that has been discussed on the national level for some time. We turned to our local female sportscasters and sports writers to learn about them, how they got into the industry and how their experiences have related to some of the national headlines.
Teresa Walker – Associated Press Sports Editor
Readers across the state of Tennessee have been familiar with Walker’s writings as the Associated Press Sports Editor for years. She has been with the AP in Nashville since 1989 and is responsible for coverage of the Titans, Predators, Memphis Grizzlies and college teams across the state.
Dawn Davenport – WKRN & ESPNU
Viewers in Nashville have known Davenport since 2008 when she joined WKRN. She spent six years covering sports full time, having won “Best Sportscaster in Tennessee” in 2011 and 2013 before making the switch to WKRN’s “News 2 This Morning.” She didn’t leave sports altogether, though, as she began her first season as a sideline reporter for ESPNU’s Saturday night primetime college football game of the week.
Audra Martin – WKRN
Martin is the newest name to the Nashville sports media, joining the WKRN sports desk in August 2013 to fill the spot vacated by Davenport.
What made you want to become a sports reporter?
Walker: I’ve just always been a tomboy and watched sports. I grew up watching the Cubs when we lived in Chicago, and after we moved to Nashville, I watched the NFL on Sundays with my mom.
Davenport: I grew up in a sports-oriented family. My dad was a walk-on basketball player at Duke, and my mom has always been really into sports. My brother and I were outside playing sports all the time growing up, and I played volleyball in college at Auburn. [Sports] were just what we did for fun! In college, I ended up with a mass communications major and am really lucky that I fell into what I’m meant to be doing. It wasn’t really until college, though, that I realized I could make a career out of it.
Martin: I grew up a sports fan, which was odd because neither of my parents were sports fans. I also grew up playing sports, but my entire life I thought I was going to grow up and be a police officer. It wasn’t until my first semester at the University of Central Florida as a criminal justice major that I ever thought of it. I made a 4.0 that semester, and the university sent me a letter saying because of my grades I might be a fit for some of the restricted majors that were offered, and the television program was one of them. When I read that letter, something just clicked, and I decided to change and become a broadcast major.
How did your career path bring you to Nashville?
Walker: I started my career at The Daily Times in Maryville and for two and a half years was covering school boards and police beats. I got to cover everything but sports. Then when I got to AP, I started off covering college basketball and football by phone, because that’s how we covered it back then. Then I got the chance to start writing sports fulltime for AP, and it was amazing.
Davenport: I spent two years in Wilmington, N.C., and then moved to Richmond, Va., for a few more years before moving here to Nashville… It is such a great place that you fall in love with and just don’t want to leave since it is such a great town.
Martin: After I graduated from college, I actually decided that I didn’t want to pursue a career in journalism. Instead, I decided to try and do something more behind the scenes on the media or PR side. I flew out to the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas on a whim and went to the job fair. I actually got multiple job offers and ended up taking a sales position with the Atlanta Braves, thinking it would be a foot in the door. It took all of five months for me to realize I missed television and I couldn’t get it out of my head. After shadowing the Braves broadcasters for one day, it solidified that I had to pursue television.
I began working with the Atlanta Thrashers. In my second year, they needed a fill-in rink-side reporter, and it was a dream come true. The ironic thing, though, was that the next year the Thrashers were sold and moved to Winnipeg. When the team left, I made it my goal to get back into broadcasting. While I was looking, I actually worked behind the scenes on “Family Feud” for two years.
I had a great time working there, but it was always in my mind that it wasn’t sports broadcasting. Then one day, [“Family Feud” host] Steve Harvey said, “You can never have ‘Plan B,’ because if you have ‘Plan B’ you are subconsciously telling yourself it is okay to fail at your dream. If ‘Plan A’ fails, you make another ‘Plan A!’” After that, I sent my resume tapes out all over the country and ended up getting a job in Huntsville, Ala. I was there less than a year before WKRN called, and two weeks later I was here in Nashville.
Does sexism exist in today’s sports media world? How do your work experiences here in Nashville compare to other markets you have worked in or visited?
Walker: I have been very lucky. I think working for the AP helps; it’s a name that is recognized and is a national standard, so I’ve not run into those issues. That said, I’ve been married for 17 years, and I think that having a wedding ring on helps. Dealing with the Titans, they have been great. I’ve never run into any issues when I’ve gone down to Memphis to cover the Grizzlies or Tigers, and the same with the Predators. It really is refreshing. When I hear stories from other women in the industry, I’m really sad for them because I have not run into that in Tennessee. It is a market that has not had a lot of women in it over the years, but largely I have just been “one of the guys.”
Davenport: I have personally never been treated any differently being a female in this business, ever. Maybe I have been lucky, but as a female in the business you just have to know exactly what you are talking about and be knowledgeable, then you won’t be treated differently. As far as senior leadership positions, maybe there aren’t as many females as we would all like at this point, but I can say I have never been treated any differently in any locker room or covering any sport.
Martin: [Sexims exists] to an extent, but I think it is getting better. You are never going to get away from it; it just comes with the territory. Sports have been a man’s world, and, being a woman in that world, you just have to work that much harder. I like always having to prove myself, though, because it just makes you work harder. In Nashville I haven’t had any problems. Everyone has been friendly, and I think a lot of that was because of Dawn – I came to a place where there had already been a female in this role and laid the path… In Huntsville, I was the first female sportscaster at my station. The people, viewers and players have all been great in Nashville, and I’m incredibly grateful.
You are all active on Twitter and other social media outlets. Do you ever get tweets or messages related to your appearance or gender instead of your reporting? How do you respond if you do?
Walker: I get some… Back during the NFL conference championship games, I tweeted out my picks, and I had someone respond back with an inappropriate name. Thank goodness, though, there is a block button. If you call me names, you get blocked. I don’t really converse with them much, because when you start out a conversation with some names, there just isn’t a conversation to be had.
Davenport: I don’t get a ton of it, but occasionally. During football season, I got a tweet that said, “Great report. Now get back in the kitchen,” but, honestly, I think you would get that in any profession. There are unfortunately people in our society that don’t think women belong in the workforce, and there is nothing we can do to completely eradicate that. I think it is something you just get used to. You do your job, and maybe one day you can change their mind.
Martin: In Huntsville, I got a viewer email that said, “Call me a bigot, call me sexist, call me whatever you want, but there are certain things I don’t want shoved down my throat, and your female sportscaster is one of them. I’m old school and I want my sports news delivered from a man.” I’ve also gotten my fair share of requests for dates and pickup lines on Twitter, but they have never really bothered me. You just have to take it with a smile.
When younger girls ask you about becoming a sports reporter, what is the first piece of advice you give them?
Walker: Anytime I see a woman who is in journalism and thinking about sports, I try to help them because when I was growing up I saw Phyllis George on the CBS “NFL Today” show, and that was the only woman I saw. I try to help them any way I can and also refer them to The Association for Women in Sports Media, which is a networking ability that women didn’t have when I was coming along.
Davenport: It isn’t easy! I made pennies and just scraped by in the beginning. It is over 40 hours a week consistently. For those that think it is just “stand in front of the camera and look pretty,” it is definitely not. It is a lot of hard work and a lot of research. If you want to be in this profession, you have to be constantly learning and ready to work!
Martin: You have to be prepared to work harder than the guys, and you can’t be scared to ask questions. Also, if you want to do this, you have to have faith in yourself and you can’t be scared of rejection or moving to a small town. Otherwise, eventually you’ll be like me and be 28 years old and realize you could have spent the last five years of your life doing what you love instead of jobs that were just okay.
Women playing and working in sports has been in the spotlight with the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Nashville this year. What would you like for people’s primary takeaway to be from all the added attention this year?
Walker: It is nice that the Final Four is coming to Nashville, but there are women working here in the state. We could probably use some more, and I would say if you are female and looking to get into sports then give it a shot because there is definitely room for growth.
Davenport: There are a lot of people who don’t give women’s athletics a chance, and these women are phenomenal athletes. I think if they would just give it a chance, they really would enjoy it.
Martin: That we aren’t going anywhere! We are willing to work as hard as anyone else and embrace it, because there are some incredibly talented women athletes. They deserve the same respect the guys get!