Today would seem to be the best of times for female journalists interested in covering sports. Networks like ABC and cable-sports channels such as ESPN employ a swelling stable of women anchors and correspondents -- and even though too many of them are stuck doing sideline reports while the dudes chat, Robin Roberts and others are increasingly receiving star billing. Likewise, more women than ever before are seeing their bylines in the sports sections of daily newspapers, and if few have been bumped up to columnist status, many are filling major reporting slots. Locally, Lynn DeBruin covers the Broncos for the Rocky Mountain News, while Paula Parrish and Lynn Zinser pull similar duty for the Colorado Springs Gazette. Indeed, DeBruin, who moved to the Rocky last year, thinks women sportswriters' decades-long battle for equality has largely been won. "Is that even an issue anymore?" she asks.
In talk radio it is: The only woman regularly yakking about sports on a Denver station is Susie Wargin of KOA's Sports Zoo, co-starring Scott Hastings (profiled this week), yet her nicknames, "Sports Chick" and (because she's pregnant) "Sports Mom," are more befitting of a mascot than a person on the same footing as her male peers. And the situation is only moderately better on local television. Mere months after the World Cup victory of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team led many observers to declare the arrival of women's sports, most sportscasts throughout the country continue to be dominated by reports about boys, boys and more boys as delivered by, well, boys. Sure, women sports reporters and anchors pop up every so often, but they're usually cast in minor or supporting roles. That's certainly true in Denver, where only two women, Channel 4's Marcia Neville and Channel 9's Carol Maloney, earn significant sports-department face time -- and both of them are relegated to covering the comparatively low-profile high school beat for their respective stations.
The short supply of women sportscasters in these parts is hardly a new phenomenon. According to Neville, who's been covering high school sports at Channel 4 since 1983 -- an eternity by TV standards -- only four females have served as full-time sports staffers for major Denver outlets over the last sixteen years: her, Maloney, Kathy Chin, an ex-Channel 9 employee who now works for a station in San Diego, and Janib Abreu, a secondary anchor at Channel 7 who received plenty of positive press, including a Best of Denver award from this very publication, but was axed last summer anyway. Abreu has since resurfaced at WABC in New York City.
Channel 7 news director Diane Mulligan, who didn't re-sign Abreu when her contract lapsed (but did recommend her to WABC), believes these numbers are so puny because there are so few female applicants for sports positions. When the station was looking to revamp its sports department last year (a mission that ended with the hiring of three veteran male sportscasters, Tom Green, Mike Nolan and Steve Gottsegen), Mulligan says, "I must have looked at 200 audition tapes, and I can't remember seeing even one from a woman. And I don't think Denver is out of the ordinary in that regard. I've worked in eight different markets, and from what I've seen, women sportscasters aren't prolific, by any means." But is that the case because fewer women journalists are interested in sports or because they know that their odds of landing a job are higher if they concentrate on news or weather? Maloney, who hooked up with Channel 9 last year and currently hosts Prep Rally at 7:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, isn't sure, but she has her suspicions. "I hope someday it won't be an issue at all and sports fans won't judge you by what sex you are," she says. "But right now, I think a lot of people still do."
For Maloney, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, sports isn't something she just discovered. She grew up a tomboy, playing every sport imaginable alongside jocks of both genders and was a guard on the women's basketball team at Drake University, a school in her hometown. She got a sports intern gig at a Des Moines TV station while still at Drake that led to a full-time sports job on another station, and subsequently moved to an operation in Mason City, Iowa, where she toiled as the weekend weather anchor and did occasional news reports. When she asked the news director there if she could add sports to her repertoire, she remembers him telling her, "'Sports is no place for women.' That let me know right then that I needed to get out of there." She had better luck at a couple of other Iowa stations, but she still found many male viewers resistent to the idea of a woman serving them sports on a regular basis. "Whenever I was out in public, I would just get bombarded with questions about what I did and didn't know," says Maloney, whose grasp of sports is impressive. "They'd test me on my sports knowledge, always putting me in the position of having to legitimize my position. It's such a double standard. If Ron Zappolo slipped and said something on the air he didn't mean, no one would think anything of it. But with a woman, they always assume you don't know what you're doing, so you have to watch every word."
Neville makes similar observations. "I still think women in sports have to be better," she says, "because if you make a small mistake, not only don't you know anything about sports, but no other woman does, either. I'm not sure that people are as open to letting a woman make mistakes as she learns her craft the way they might with a guy." Despite this, however, Neville seems to be among the least bitter people in a profession that manufactures resentment at a dizzying pace. She hasn't moved even one additional rung up the ladder at Channel 4 since her arrival there during John Elway's rookie season, and as part of her duties, she's required to turn up at trophy presentations at high schools across the city and state -- a promotional chore that you don't see main Channel 4 sports anchor Marc Soicher participating in on a regular basis. But, Neville insists, "I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. I can't see myself being tied to a desk, so anchoring sports and news or anything else wouldn't drive me like reporting does. I love to go out and be at events and talk to people, and the high school level is great. I love the accessibility, I love the enthusiasm, and I love the daily reinforcement that there really are good kids out there. This is the perfect place for me."
That's not to imply that Neville is totally satisfied with the status quo. Throughout her Channel 4 career, she has pushed to get more attention for sportswomen across the board. "There's nothing more frustrating than to watch two weeks of ten o'clock newscasts and seeing no female athletes and no scores and really nothing about women in sports," she says. She's especially proud, then, of her contribution to Colorado Sportswomen, a show that she's been hosting since its 1993 inception. The program appears only quarterly (its next broadcast is at 6 p.m. on Saturday, December 18), which puts Channel 4's commitment to it in perspective; if men's sports were covered only four times a year, there'd be a helluva lot of airtime left to fill. But in Neville's view, it's a positive step that allows her to spin off segments to other newscasts, thereby helping to chip away at the hegemony of men's coverage. "It's our way of giving women in sports more of the exposure they deserve," she says.
Cj. Grammer, the creator and producer of Colorado Sportswomen, is receiving more attention as well. She recently won the 1999 Women's Sports Foundation Media Award in local sports journalism for a 1998 program that focused on young women attempting to break down sporting barriers; among those featured was Katie Hnida, who's now trying to catch on as a kicker for the CU Buffaloes football team. Grammer, who's been at Channel 4 since the mid-Eighties and has overseen outstanding programs such as this year's coverage of the Bolder Boulder, agrees with Maloney and Neville that "a lot of guys seem to want to hear about guy sports from guys." But she sees the increasing coverage of women's sports as having a happy side effect for female sports journalists. "On those occasions when you see something about women in sports, you'll often see women covering it, and I think that both of these things will continue to grow together. Remember, it was only 1972 when Title IX came in and presented a mandate for women to have equal varsity-sports access to guys -- and I think if you would have told anyone back then that the highest-rated events at the 1996 Olympics would be women's events, they would have laughed at you.
"The reason people watched those events in such huge numbers isn't because women were involved," Grammer goes on. "It's because they were so good. Because of the availability of resources, the level of play is so much higher, and that makes them better games to watch. Now, do these games always get covered? No -- we're not where we need to be yet. We're so entrenched with the NFL and the NBA and the NHL that you have to wonder if there's going to be room for the rest of us. But my answer is, 'Yeah, there is.' The audience for women's sports may not be the same as the audience for men's sports, but there is an audience. And it's getting bigger."
Maloney hopes this forecast will assist her as her career matures. Although she enjoys covering high school sports ("It's easy and fun and important to a lot of people"), she confesses, "It's not the end-all ambition of what I want to do. When they interviewed me for the job, they asked me, 'Can you imagine yourself doing this for ten years?' I think they were looking for someone who could be like Marcia. And I had to be honest with them and say, 'I'd love to be your high school beat reporter, but I don't want to be limited to that.' And gradually they've let me do more things -- like filling in as morning anchor on the weekends -- and I've loved it." Still, she'd like to do more, and when her contract is up a year and a half from now, she plans to make note of that. "If 9News will let me grow there and cover a bunch of different sports stuff, I'd sign a twenty-year contract, because I love it there so much. And if they won't, maybe I'll get a chance to grow somewhere else."
The September 30 edition of this column included mention of "The Building of the Pepsi Center," a hype-filled supplement in the September 26 Denver Post, a publication that's a "founding partner" of the arena. Now a much more extreme variation on this ethical theme is shaking the Los Angeles Times -- and one of the people who helped set the events into motion was Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz. The story so far: On October 10, the Times published "Taking Center Stage," a 164-page love letter to the Staples Center, a new, $400 million arena built by Anschutz and company as the home for another of his properties, the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, as well as the NBA's Lakers and Clippers. Because the Times is (you guessed it) a founding partner in the Staples Center, the paper's objectivity would have been questionable under the best of circumstances. But the scent of "Stage" became considerably more pungent when it was revealed several weeks later that the Times had agreed to share monies generated by the Staples Center mag with, believe it or don't, the Staples Center/Anschutz.
To their credit, a number of "Center Stage" reporters, none of whom knew anything about the financial arrangements until long after the October 10 issue was on the streets, presented a letter to Times editor and vice president Michael Parks requesting an independent investigation into the matter. In addition, Otis Chandler, 71, the former publisher of the Times and great grandson of General Harrison Gray Otis, who bought the paper in 1882, ripped the current management at the Times for the way they have "abused and misused" the editorial department in a five-page harangue he insisted be read aloud to the staff. With the controversy out in the open, the Times is now in the unpleasant position of having to cover its own gaffes, ensuring many more mentions of the Staples Center in future news articles. Anschutz sure seems to have gotten his money's worth.
Closer to home, the Rocky Mountain News finds itself in an awkward place owing to the involvement of one of its business columnists, Dean Bonham, in news-making litigation spurred by the on-again, off-again sale of the Pepsi Center, the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche earlier this year. After it was announced that Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Laurie and husband Bill Laurie had agreed to purchase this package from previous owner Ascent Entertainment for $400 million, Bonham, whose Bonham Group specializes in sports marketing consultations, told Ascent stockholders that really rich Denverite Donald Sturm was willing to pay at least $40 million more for the properties than the Lauries had offered. Shortly thereafter, the initial deal fell apart, and Sturm subsequently bought the Nugs, Avs and Pepsi Center for $461 million -- a deal that was still wrapped in red tape at press time. To complicate matters further, Bonham sued Sturm in September, claiming that he deserved a 1 percent finder's fee or a contract to manage the newly purchased holdings for his part in putting Sturm together with his new toys.
With Bonham's name showing up in reports about the suit in both the News and the Post, the appearance of a conflict was a definite possibility. But Rob Reuteman, the News's business editor, says he'd moved to prevent that from happening months earlier, when Bonham first began speaking out against Ascent's pact with the Lauries. "I told him, 'Okay Dean, you no longer can write about Ascent, because you've become part of the story.' And he said, 'Fine.' Then, when some of the people involved started blaming Dean for the teams being re-auctioned, we decided to instantly identify him in all the stories as a weekly columnist for the News." Reuteman concedes that "this has been a little weird for him and me. But I think by being totally honest with the readers, we resolved any kind of ethical questions." Bonham, too, says he's put extra effort into keeping everything aboveboard. Because his columns are made available to 400 papers in the E.W. Scripps chain, which owns the News, he says he seldom writes about Denver topics (although a column last month concerned the naming rights for the new Broncos stadium) and adds that when there's been a new development in his lawsuit, he's contacted reporters at the News and the Post on the same day so that he can't be charged with favoritism. "Even if the News hadn't told me not to write about Ascent, I wouldn't have," Bonham notes. "Because I couldn't be objective about it."
That kind of thinking might not occur to Post sportswriter Adam Schefter, who continues to cover the Broncos even though he's co-written books with star running back Terrell Davis and coach Mike Shanahan (see "Ball Carriers," September 16). In a November 3 article, "Broncos Starting to Feel the Money Pinch: Salary Cap Hardship to Force Major Changes," Schefter quoted from the Shanahan tome Think Like a Champion: Building Success One Victory at a Time without mentioning his involvement in it. Obviously, readers should consider the source.
When Diane Carman wrote "Payoffs: A Plague in Politics," a column published in the October 28 Post, she wanted readers to take a fresh look at Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, whom she suggests may have been doing political favors when he attached a rider to an appropriations bill that directly benefited Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, whose political action committee donated $5,000 to his campaign last year. But she stirred up more ire than she bargained for when she underlined her view of Campbell with the line "A pimp's a pimp, after all, even if he looks good in a headdress." Almost immediately, an aide on Campbell's staff called the Post to complain that this characterization was racist. Carman responded by mentioning the accusation in her October 30 column. But while she wrote that she deeply regrets "whenever my message is misinterpreted," she did not apologize; her conclusion was, "My conscience is clear."
That wasn't nearly enough contrition for David Cournoyer, director of public education for the American Indian College Fund. After the October 30 piece, he phoned new Post editor Glenn Guzzo, and when Guzzo's response didn't satisfy him, he flew into action, issuing a November 3 press release demanding an apology from the Post for Carman's column. "This is a perfect example of ignorance," Cournoyer says. "Would they ever call Mayor Webb a pimp? Not in a million years. But they seem to think, well, there's only a couple of Indians around here; no one will notice. But they're wrong -- and I think if Diane Carman has any honor but is unwilling to apologize, she should consider quitting and finding another line of work. Because what she wrote is absolutely offensive to an entire group of people."
Guzzo, whose paper ran six letters about the Carman-Campbell matter on November 8 (including one from Cournoyer), doesn't defend the line in question. "I would not have written it if it had been me," he allows. He also reveals that he and Carman have had "more than one conversation about this, and we'll continue to talk about it," adding, "Personally, I would apologize to anyone who felt offended, because somehow I hadn't been alert enough, sensitive enough, knowledgeable enough to realize that would be the effect." Nevertheless, he feels he should leave the decision of whether to apologize to Carman, who, it turns out, has no interest in doing so.
"I am extremely sensitive to the fact that my words have power beyond what I intend," Carman says, "and my sensitivity has been increased by this experience. But to apologize would suggest that there was some intent on my part to manipulate the public's opinion negatively about Indians, and that was not my intent in any way. This is a dangerous area to get into, because a charge of racism is impossible to defend yourself against. So I just have to fall back on knowing in my heart what was there and what I intended, and I don't feel I should have to apologize for that."
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One more thing: On Howard Stern's November 5 program, shock-haired boxing promoter Don King said he's offering $4 billion to purchase all of the stations Clear Channel must divest in order to merge with AMFM. In the extremely unlikely event that that happens, it probably won't be good news for listeners. But for media writers, it'll be proof that there's a God.
Have comments, tips or complaints about the media? E-mail "The Message" at Michael_Roberts@westword.com.