Sportswomen Wanted

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."