By Brooke Williamson
On one 108-degree summer day not too long ago, I was among the sports reporters at Valley Ranch, the Dallas Cowboys practice facility. Let me set the scene even more: No formal press conference or interviews. Purely practice, no game day setting.
While we waited to talk to the players after practice, a male colleague said to me, “You probably shouldn’t wear that.” Pausing to think about it, I realized I was wearing pretty much the same thing he was—Nike dry fit shirt (not fitted), a golf skirt (he had on athletic shorts), and Nike tennis shoes. Sure I was at work, but this was football practice. You don’t wear a suit to football practice. If this were a game, then it would be a different story.
He proceeded to tell me how I was “drawing attention to myself” and that I should “wear something different next time.” Thrown off by this, I started asking him questions: Since I was wearing pretty much the same thing as every other reporter on the field, if I were to wear, say, a dress, like I would for a game, then wouldn’t I be drawing attention to myself? Instead, I was dressed in standard practice attire, trying to blend in. What was the problem?
Sounds like a trivial story, but when comments about what you wear fly at you every workday, at some point you ask yourself: What gives? I am professional and appropriate, yet the jabs come out of left field daily.
Appearance: How much does it matter?
In the world of sports broadcast reporting, appearance is a major part of the job. Professionalism, personality, and the ability to captivate an audience each rank as a “must.” How you look doing that job is the cherry on top. Do we want to watch people who look thrown together or put together? The latter is your answer, I suppose.
Celebrity stylist Mary Alice Haney, who is no stranger to styling for the camera, acknowledges that what a woman wears is important, as are a number of other variables.
“A late night show is different than doing a press junket,” Haney says. Although the context may differ the end result is the same “because every woman wants to feel amazing.”
Held to higher style standards
Before the start of the 2012 season, Major League Baseball released a “dress code” for all working media. After it was posted, it became very clear who the dress code was designed for. A sample of new guidelines:
- Flip-flops are not permitted in clubhouses.
- Jeans should be clean, neat and presentable.
- T-shirts bearing offensive, disrespectful or inappropriate messages are not permitted.
- No muscle shirts.
- Clothing bearing MLB club logos should not be worn in press areas.
- Clothing should be appropriate for a business casual work environment.
In addition, the guidelines stated, journalists should avoid wearing certainstyles of dress when interacting with players. These included sheer or see-through clothing, tank tops, one-shouldered or strapless shirts, and clothing that exposed the midriff or undergarments. Also banned were “excessively short” – cut more than 3 to 4 inches above the knee – skirts, dresses or shorts.
Not surprisingly, women journalists felt singled out by the dress code. And many of us in the trenches, daily reporting on professional sports, including baseball, could not help but wonder: What spurred such a staunch stance on the issue? Is the league going to measure the length of men’s shorts? And if the dress code is put into place to protect the players, to keep women from being a distraction, then why not go straight to the source: the players.
Derek Holland, a pitcher with the Texas Rangers, deals with female reporters on a regular basis. His take on the issue is, to say the least, simple. “You just got to be professional. Our group of women [reporters] in our locker room have always been professional. Nothing has ever caused a distraction or anything like that,” says Holland.
Yet, as professional as we may be, that double standard continues to exist. Women, in this case, are working in a man’s world. So what’s the “upside” to this, if there is one? The upside is that all the talk and banter about this subject – women covering sports, in the locker room, dressing “appropriately” — reveals the power that a woman can hold. A woman confident in who she is possesses a strength that demands attention, especially today in a market where sports-as-entertainment reaches all demographic groups: men, women and children.
In a way, fashion is a variable that may bring another demographic to the sports world. Women are often interested to see what female reporters on the sidelines are wearing. During the 2013 World Series, Fox Sports broadcaster Erin Andrews revealed the name of her stylist, told viewers what designer she was wearing, and discussed the inspiration behind her clothing choices and personal style. She broadcast all of this to her 300,000-plus instagram followers.
Kevin Morrell, a former ESPN producer, now works for Fox 4 Sports. He notes that there is no better way to bring in new sports fans than with female reporters. “A woman’s presence in sports broadcasting has grown substantially,” Morrell says. “It expands the demographic, [and] there’s not a better way to do it than with professional women.”
Perception is reality. In the world of broadcasting, the way female journalists look and dress matter. A woman may rattle off statistics and know the game better than most of her male colleagues, but her level of professionalism will also be judged by the impression she gives. It’s the entire package.
For most women in the business today, however, the “double standard” they face is not seen as a handicap. Rather, it only makes success that much sweeter. As basketball great Michael Jordan himself once said: “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”