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Why Women Struggle To Find A Place In Sports Media

Issues of workplace harassment and abuse have been in the forefront of Canadian media lately. While stories continue to pour in, one thing remains constant: women are not given the equal respect they deserve.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

I always knew writing was something I did well; lists, short stories, piecing together characters and scenarios. It always came naturally, but I didn't think I would be able to turn that passion and knack into a living. I barely have as it is today.

I was taken to my first ever Toronto Maple Leafs game by my father when I was nine years old; it was nothing short of a storybook moment. I remember my reluctance to hold my Dad's hand as we weaved through the hoards of people on the Air Canada Centre concourse. Eyes wide, hands clasped because the sleeves of my Garry Valk jersey were too long, and sitting on the edge of my seat.

That was the moment I knew I was about to see something spectacular, something was about to grab me and take me away.

While I watched the players glide up and down the ice and literally felt the buzz of the crowd, it became clear this was a feeling I wanted to have again. I wanted to be part of this. I couldn't aspire to playing with the team because I am a woman, my Dad already filled me in on that one. What I wanted was to find a way to get back here, immerse myself in this feeling and this collective objective of seeing the blue guys leave the ice victorious.

I put this idea in my back pocket and thought about it as I wore my jersey - much to my mother's chagrin - to school the next day. I was in grade five and as I took off my winter jacket, placed it on its hook and sat at my desk, I was given more than a few looks from those in the classroom. Soon, the wave of excitement I was still riding came to a halt and a few of the boys in my class asked me why I was wearing a Leafs jersey. "You can't like them, you're a girl."

When I went home that day I hung the jersey up, closed my closet and never wore it outside again. I listened to the voices that didn't matter, but at nine years old when your classmates are telling you you're doing something wrong, something only boys do, you listen.

It wasn't until I had to apply for university that I decided to go after the only thing that made sense to me: I would go into sports journalism. I wrote a lot, I watched a lot, and I took in everything I could from radio to intensely listening to broadcasts for not only NHL games but MLB, NFL, and PGA. I was diving head-first into the world I was told I didn't belong in, but it's where I knew I fit.

My only letter of acceptance came from one of the most competitive journalism programs in Canada. I worked hard to get into a program of 30 and the work had just begun. My classes focused on hard news. Everything I wrote about sports was considered to be ignoring bigger issues. At this time I could have packed it in like I did in grade five, but I didn't. My marks, admittedly, were lower each time I wrote about sports.

Why, at an educational institution, was I being penalized for writing about a topic that fit with the assignment but happened to be out of the norm compared to my classmates? I felt stifled by authority. This was the first time it clicked that my gender was still an issue when connected with sports. It will always be an issue as long as my knowledge and capabilities are considered sub-par to the men around me.

The root is a lack of respect and trust for women from select men in positions of power. I've always wanted to write, I have a degree that says I can read and write, I have years of experience under my belt. What makes me unqualified to talk about my area of expertise? Inappropriate comments, "jokes" and ignorant presumptions of knowledge and capability are the exact things authority figures can't let slide.

Founder of the Everyday Sexism Project Laura Bates said, "What we need is a cultural and a social shift in our attitudes toward women... It's the people in the workplace that laugh along and call it banter... that make (a woman) feel unable to report (it)."

Whether it's feeling uncomfortable, being harassed or knowing you're facing discrimination, a lot of these issues go unreported and unnoticed by others in places of power. These are institutionalized issues, they're present on the streets, in the comment sections, and on social media.

Twitter put in place a process for reporting harassment and abuse which involves filling out a long form. You have to link to the exact tweet the report pertains to and explain why by checking off a couple different boxes. The process takes time, and  you begin to wonder if it's worth it to report an anonymous person on twitter. Nobody would say such heinous things to your face, that's for sure. The added complexity of being a woman in a male-dominated field gives obtuse minds what they think is permission to be vulgar to highly knowledgable individuals.

There is a vast difference between trolls we all try to ignore and blatant harassment. I posted a video of Brayden Schenn's overtime goal on Oct. 28 against the Los Angeles Kings where he jumped around and punched Drew Doughty away when he began to wave the goal off. I woke up the next morning to my mentions flooded with Flyers fans calling me biased, a fangirl, and a joke. Move on, you won the game. Then there were these tweets that completely encapsulate what it means to harass someone under the guise of being a troll:

If I don't report them, nothing happens and they continue to think it's OK to talk to women like they're oblivious. It's hard to hold those accountable for unacceptable behaviour when nobody is telling them they're in the wrong, and questions still arise asking a woman, "What did you do to elicit this response?"

American educator, filmmaker, and author Jackson Katz said, "The dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance because that's one of the key characteristics of power and privilege."

Stifling a woman's report of harassment or abuse is to keep the boat from rocking. To keep a cycle of abuse turning, and the issue of inequality raging on as men continue to thrive in positions of power. If a woman stands up to a man she's seen as brave, bold and feisty. If a man stands up to a man concerning the best interests of a woman, he's a hero. There's a large difference. "We need more... men standing with women not against them, pretending that somehow this is a battle between the sexes," Katz said. "Isn't your silence a form of consent and complicity?"

If it's OK for workplaces to hire women as a facade for equality and treat them like second-class citizens, it perpetuates the idea women are lesser than men. When men attack women on social media they assume invulnerability because these conversations are happening online and not face-to-face. If the shield they hide behind is impersonal conversation, it's a shield that sheds light on their own values and beliefs: women don't belong in "their" world.

I shouldn't wear my jersey, I shouldn't be writing about sports and I shouldn't be trying to break into a business men have ruled for decades. I'm sorry, but those aren't the rules I abide by.