Jackie MacMullan -- Gripping stories trump gender
I'm looking forward to convening in Tucson this week with some of the top women in sports for the espnW Summit. There will be a number of thought-provoking panels, including one in which we will discuss journalism and content regarding female sports.
It has been a lifelong struggle for me to find a way to promote women's athletics on the sports pages. When I worked at the Boston Globe, I used to joke that my stories on female athletes amounted to "pro bono'' work because rarely were such features assigned. If I wanted to get them in the paper, I had to initiate the idea, push the story, then carve out some "extra time'' to get the pieces done.
And if the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots were involved in the playoffs (which occurred more often than not), I was expected to completely focus on those professional teams. In the Boston market, both male and female athletes who competed for the local universities and colleges suffered from this caste system.
Having said that, there is no editor on this earth who doesn't love a good, compelling story. When you have one, it doesn't matter if the person is young or old, black or white, male or female.
Let's zero in on the word "compelling'' for a minute. Compelling doesn't mean the athlete who scores the most goals or won the most MVP awards. He or she might be fascinating to watch, but people love human-interest stories that accompany the athletic feats of these stars. In this world of shrinking news holes, the most gripping stories will get the nod.
Do female sports journalists have an advantage covering male athletes? I've been told we do. My male counterparts are fond of saying female sports journalists have a way of drawing out the emotional side of the athletes they cover. "They tell you things they wouldn't tell a man,'' they grumble. I'm not sure I buy that. I think it has more to do with being an effective communicator, knowing which questions to ask and possessing a certain sensitivity regarding the subject. I know plenty of men who fit that bill.
Besides, those of us who have been around a while can recite a plethora of examples of when it has NOT been advantageous covering a locker room full of men who simply do not want you in there.
What heartens me the most is looking around a press box and not being able to count the number of females on one or two hands. It's simply not a big deal anymore for a female to be covering sports, nor should it be.
The next step is to figure out a way to cover our own gender with the same gusto and consideration that we give the male athletes. I can honestly say that I had more fun covering the high school girls' basketball state championships than I did covering the NBA playoffs.
Of course, when I volunteered to cover the girls' state tournament, it happened to be my day off.
Jackie MacMullan is a television analyst for ESPN and a columnist for ESPNBOSTON.com.