I have been reminded countless times from family, friends, and Beyonce during my 22 years on this Earth that women are amazing. I mean, we can literally grow a human inside our bodies for nine months and continue to go to work, keep everything square at home, and fit in some time around all of that to eat and sleep. Simply put: women get sh*t done. And that’s awesome.
But there’s only one problem and that’s the gender gap in collegiate athletics. Men are predominantly head coaches for women’s sports, most athletic departments have male Athletic Directors and many of the sports broadcasters for college sports are men, too. I never really experienced the gender gap in collegiate athletics because our Sports Information Director didn’t let one exist in our office—in fact, more than half of our student assistants are women and both of our graduate assistants this year were as well. I had told him that my goal for my career was to be a role model for other young women and never put a ceiling on my dreams. I knew that gap existed within the field and I was sure I’d face obstacles at some point, but even knowing the inevitable didn’t really prepare me for the moment it actually happened.
My first obstacle came during the winter sport seasons while I was the primary contact for our men’s wrestling and volleyball programs. This was my first time working with men’s teams and I was a bit nervous about how the student-athletes, coaches, and even parents would respond to a woman writing game recaps and working the home events. And I’m young: I’m 22 years old with the physical stature of a recent high school graduate, and I wouldn’t say I’m overly intimidating or anything. Luckily, both coaching staffs were amazing and my worries about my gender soon vanished.
Everything was going smooth—I was learning about two new sports, gaining a lot of valuable experience for my career, and celebrating both teams’ successful seasons—until our first home wrestling dual. It was my responsibility to handle the pre-match announcements and lineups, which didn’t phase me since I am very comfortable with public speaking and the microphone. I wanted to make sure the fans were engaged and excited since the team was doing so well and having been a student-athlete myself, whenever I did announcements, I wanted it to be an energizing moment. So I took a deep breath, switched on the mic, and began reading my script:
“Good evening and welcome to Gregory Arena and Merner Fieldhouse on the campus of North Central College. Tonight’s College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin men’s wrestling dual features the Vikings of Augustana College…” I paused for a moment to give the fans time to clap and cheer.
Alright, don’t panic: the visiting team is sometimes quiet, just stay calm. Let’s rev up the home crowd…
“…and your NORTH CENTRAL COLLEGE CARDINALS!”
It took a few seconds before a few of the wrestlers shouted a “woo” or two from the bench and a handful of parents in the crowd joined in. I couldn’t help but notice a few of the people in the crowd offering me sweet smiles, as if they were trying to tell me, “it’s okay, sweetie.”
It wasn’t until after I had finished the announcements and played the National Anthem that my disappointment hit me. I couldn’t help but think that sports fans would rather hear a male’s voice come over the public address system rather than mine. It probably doesn’t help either that I look very young for my age—I’m often mistaken as one of our student workers—so perhaps that was part of it, but nonetheless, the whole thing really bothered me because I so badly wanted to make each home event special for everyone involved.
After this experience, I felt that I was more hypersensitive to how I was doing my job and wondered what my gender had to do with it. As volleyball season got underway, I felt more self-conscious and timid when I had to turn on the mic or answer a question at a home event. My anxiety hit a new high when it came time for North Central to host the volleyball conference tournament and I was the point person for much of the tournament operations. I remember thinking how this was my first time managing a conference tournament and I was just wrapping up my first season covering volleyball. That, along with my new insecurities, had me completely stressed over the two-day tournament. It was silly because I knew what I was doing and I did my job well, so there wasn’t really anything to be worried about. But I couldn’t help but think that people just didn’t take me seriously.
But then it hit me: women are amazing and making our mark in collegiate athletics, though difficult, is nothing insurmountable. After these experiences, I realized that if I wasn’t able to face these challenges head on, I wouldn’t be in this position and my boss wouldn’t give me these opportunities and responsibilities. If I wasn’t capable of doing this job, I wouldn’t have gone to Phoenix with our women’s triathlon team to cover the national championship or been a mentor to a student worker at the Division III men’s cross country national championship. I for sure wouldn’t have gotten to assist our Sports Information Director at the Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championship as an undergraduate assistant, either, if I wasn’t meant to be in this field. That realization rekindled my confidence and drive to truly excel in sports information.
I’m so glad I had the support of my boss and am able to be a part of an incredible community of female athletic professionals. My experiences are not exclusively my own because I know there are so many other young female professionals getting started in collegiate athletics that go through the same challenges and perhaps obstacles far more trying than my own. Although it can be discouraging at times, I hope that it never deters anyone from chasing their dream. I know it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle where the summit seems to not exist. But if anyone is going to make that climb and come out stronger and ready to take on the next challenge, I’d be sure to put my money on a woman.