Over the last week, many friends, listeners and co-workers have asked my opinion about the recent sexist rant of a San Francisco sports talk show host. As Damon Bruce of KNBR (a CBS Sports Radio affiliate) was sharing his opinions of the coverage of Jonathan Martin’s harassment complaint against the Dolphins, he included the following choice nugget: “A lot of sports has lost its way…part of the reason is because we’ve got women giving us directions. I’m willing to share my sandbox as long as you remember, you’re in my box.”
Bruce, who hosted a Saturday baseball show on my network during the spring and summer months, goes on to say: ”I enjoy many of the women’s contributions to sports…well, that’s a lie. I can’t even pretend that’s true. There are very few…a small handful of women who are any good at this at all. That’s the truth. The amount of women talking in sports to the amount of women who have something to say is one of the most disproportionate ratios I’ve ever seen in my freakin’ life. But here’s a message for all of them … All of this, all of this world of sports, especially the sport of football, has a setting. It’s set to men… It’s a man’s world.”
I believe the point he tried to make somewhere in his rant is that a feminine attitude and approach to bullying in a pro locker room is misguided. He was trying to say an emotional response to the pro football culture comes from people who can’t possibly understand what happens in the locker room; and he equated that emotional (and in his opinion, soft) response with women. He obviously veered off topic and failed to deliver his point effectively. And once Bruce ripped women in sports media, his perspective was lost in the uproar.
My tweeted response after initially hearing the rant: “@ALawRadio Most men couldn’t handle the road I’ve traveled @DamonBruce Any time you want to tell me why you’re so much tougher than me, call my show.”
Damon sent me multiple private messages within moments of my tweet. He apologized profusely, told me he respects my work and career tremendously, and said he never intended to disparage women in our business. He also admitted he should’ve left gender out of his rant altogether. Of course, that’s not what he did and definitely not what he said. While I believe the subsequent death threats and his suspension from KNBR are way over the top, Bruce owns the words he uses on the air, just as I do when I screw up on my radio show.
My initial reaction to Bruce’s comments was indignance. To climb to the highest rungs on the sports broadcasting ladder, women have no choice but to be tough and thick-skinned and resilient. I can only share my experience, but I empathize with Martin who says he’s been bullied and harassed since he joined the Dolphins. Early in my career, I was verbally and sexually harassed. I was ostracized and mocked, and I never fit in. I was warned about a “locker room atmosphere” and told to get used to it. It’s never been a real comfortable environment for me, not since the beginning. In sports radio, at least 90% of the producers and talent are male. I don’t look like everyone else, talk like everyone else, think like everyone else, or act like everyone else. I’ve never been part of the fraternity, and nothing’s been handed to me. I don’t get jobs based on how I look since it doesn’t matter on the radio. And I run into a double standard everywhere I turn. My male counterparts can make mistakes or get their facts wrong, and most often, they’re given the benefit of the doubt. When I mess up, people call me all manner of nasty names on social media and yell about how I shouldn’t have a job. Every time I host a show, I receive tweets about how women shouldn’t be allowed to talk football since they never played. I once responded by telling a hater that John Clayton (one of the most respected NFL insiders on the planet) never played pro football either. The listener replied, “He played in high school.” Right…because high school football is EXACTLY like the NFL! The discrimination against women in sports media is inherent. It comes with the territory…which means I had to sink or swim. Let it get to me or use it to make me tougher. So when I hear guys like Damon Bruce claim that women don’t have anything to say and don’t belong in the man’s world of sports, I can feel my heart rate go up. What does he know about harassment and surviving it? What does he know about feeling the pressure that comes with so many people rooting for you to fail? What does he know about banging your head on a glass ceiling until you find a way to crack it?
My secondary reaction to Bruce’s rant was to grin because I know the truth. Every doubter, every piece of hate mail, every vulgar name, every listener or male colleague who treats me like I don’t belong…it all serves as motivation. They tell me I’m not good enough and can’t do the job, and I respond by working harder so I can prove them wrong. I cried the first time I read a nasty message from a listener and the first time I came across an internet chat room ripping me to pieces. These days, I laugh. Without the resistance, obstacles, and discrimination, I wouldn’t be nearly as good at my job. I wouldn’t know the value of being unique and staying true to who I am. I wouldn’t be as comfortable in my own skin or know how to stand my ground when I defend unpopular opinions on the air. I wouldn’t know how to choose my battles nor would I appreciate the beauty of the breakthrough. I wouldn’t understand what it means to hang onto my faith and God’s promises for dear life in those darkest moments when it feels like all hope is lost. For those reasons and more, I wouldn’t trade any part of my journey or one painful experience for the easy road.
Thank you, Mr. Bruce. You’ve splashed fuel on the fire. Who cares if you want me in the sandbox? I’ve earned my piece of real estate, and I’m here to stay. Women in sports media are here to stay, like it or not.