Breaking into the Sports Industry as a Female

received_10152515522675423.jpegBy: Melissa Armstrong

Before I express my opinions, I just want to clarify that I am by no means a “feminist”. In fact, I hate the term feminist. I would rather call myself an “equalist”. I think equal pay, equal opportunities, and equal treatment is what is really necessary. To me feminism singles out and groups together one gender, which contradicts the goal of everyone being treated as a whole. However, I do think that feminism is a necessary concept in order to achieve intangible equality and change stereotypical thought.

Growing up I never knew the inequalities and challenges women faced. I was never exposed to the stereotypes either. This sounds like I was sheltered, but I am thankful for that and thankful for not being exposed to those realities. I was oblivious to those problems, and because of that I was never afraid to follow a dream because I was a girl. I also never altered my dreams based on society’s idea of what I would or would not be capable of achieving. It was not until the past few years of my college experience where I have felt for the first time that my gender could be at my disadvantage.

I declared my major in Sport Management in 2012, and shortly after declared a minor in Legal Studies. My goal was and still is to become a sports agent. I knew going into it that I was going to be striving to achieve a goal in a male-dominated industry, yet I never let it discourage me. I meet people every day who ask me what I am studying in school, and I have heard many different reactions to my response. There are those who support me one-hundred percent, and admire my ambition. Then there are others who make comments insinuating that they think I am not aware of what I am getting myself into. My favorite reaction is, “Oh wow, you know that is a really competitive field for a female to get into?” …. Here I am with one week left in my undergraduate education. I would say that I am pretty aware, and committed to what I just spent the past 4 years of my life studying.

When people are skeptical of my future aspirations of being a sports agent, I do not let it bother me. In fact, I can only name one time in particular where I felt truly stereotyped, because I was a 22-year old girl with probably zero knowledge of sports. Surprisingly, it was in a small sports memorabilia store right in the heart of Vienna, Va. I went in with no budget, and a couple ideas of what I wanted to get my dad for Christmas. I grew up learning about the historic Yankees, and the Baltimore Colts. I would read Yogi Berra quotes as bedtime stories, and I could name the entire 1997 Baltimore Orioles roster, along with all their batting averages. I went in knowing that I wanted something special to add to the collection my family has collected and passed down from generation to generation. I really wanted something from the historic Yankees or something memorable from Memorial Stadium. I stood around in this tiny hut without one single employee asking me if I needed help finding anything. I watched nearly 6 men come in after me, and receive prompt and helpful attention. I tried to get help numerous times, but failed. The best items were behind the counter, so receiving assistance from an employee was necessary. One man shopping around was also asking for Yankees memorabilia. They took out a huge box of old Yankees items, the exact box I would have liked to see 20 minutes earlier if someone had asked. Just when I thought I couldn’t be anymore offended, he was shown an autographed picture of Roger Maris and turned it down because he didn’t know who he was. I stood around for another 20 minutes or so, but it became pretty apparent that they didn’t want to waste their time helping a girl who obviously had no idea what half the stuff was. I finally felt the need to lean over the counter and ask the employee if they had anything from Memorial Stadium. The response I got was simply, “Oh, I have no idea”, as they walked away to help someone else find their treasure. At this point, I had no interest in giving them my business. I felt so snubbed and insulted. This was truthfully the first time I felt that my gender was at my disadvantage, and I was pissed to say the least.

The sports industry is completely male-dominated. Although there has been a significant increase in the number of women entering the field in the past few years, there is still a misconception that women do not know enough about sports to work in sports. I think the biggest misconception of all is that the sports industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, which means it is a business that needs a lot of brains to operate it. Just because a women works in sports does not mean that she needs to be able to play in a professional NFL game. I have seen some of the men that work in the front office for sports teams, and for the record I think that there are plenty of women that could beat them in a game of one-on-one if it had to go down that way. Just because a woman might not have experience playing football, or basketball it doesn’t mean she isn’t qualified to work in sports. Women are becoming a huge part of sports, and that is a fact. The NFL reported that around 45% of their fan base is women. The New York Yankees said that they sell more women’s apparel than any other merchandise. Fantasy sports is also another industry vastly growing with female participants.

Playing fantasy football and baseball have been a huge part of my life for the past few years. It is my favorite hobby. It keeps me in the know and I thoroughly enjoy the research, and the competition element. I won my male-dominated fantasy football league for the past two years. As proud as I am of my accomplishment, I can’t help but get irked by some of the responses. When I was about to win for the second year in a row, all I heard were jokes saying how the system had to be rigged, or it was definitely a fluke. People even joked that they weren’t going to pay me because I am a girl, and girls shouldn’t win fantasy sports. I was never once acknowledged or complimented for being my strategies or skill. The only positive comments I received was that it was impressive that a girl could win two years in a row. A girl winning means she only gets gender-driven compliments I guess. News flash to everyone who doesn’t already know–we are not actually physically playing football against one another. If you can read, and understand what good numbers and bad numbers are you can win fantasy sports. Not to mention a huge portion is pure luck.

Our political society is changing at a faster pace than the sports industry. I strongly believe that more men would rather have Hillary Clinton run our entire country, than have Condoleezza Rice become the commissioner of the NFL. I also do not take the large number of sexualized, female sports reporters as examples of women becoming more incorporated into the sports industry. There are more registered NFL agents, than NFL players. In that number, there are maybe two dozen registered female sports agents. How many of them have you heard of? Probably none.

I do have faith in our society and I believe we are evolving for the better. We have come so far regarding opportunities for women over the past century. However, I think that the sports industry will be one of the last to see a female take on a high-powered and highly-respected position. Although, I am just starting out on this career path, I am already witnessing the daunting amount of competitiveness and immense amount of doubt that I was warned of. On the optimistic side, I truly believe that being a female in this male-dominated industry can have many advantages. All we need is that one, exceptional female to make a difference and pave the road for everyone else. What I have learned the past four years is to be different and give people something to remember you by, and I think that being a successful pioneer with big ambitions in this field will do exactly that.

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