The ripples of female voices on the fringe in sports broadcasting a decade ago built into a wave crashing onto every major network. Fox Sports amplified Kristine Leahy’s voice after she toiled at the update desk for Colin Cowherd’s radio show. Digital star Rachel Bonnetta hosts a gambling show for FS1 called Locked It In. Even legacy media organizations not known for their progressive approach to coverage like Sports Illustrated have gotten into the act by hiring talented voices like Charlotte Wilder. This new class of compelling female personalities are now driving conversations and becoming the smartest voices in a specific section of the sports media market that had so often been reserved for loud men.
The rejoinder to arguments against women’s sports has always been an economic one — let the free market decide. As media companies scramble to squeeze every last drop of value out of their content creators, people who can do multiple things well become desired commodities. Drawing from a pool of men only would leave these networks with what we’ve long come to expect from them: A long line of relatively homogeneous — and outright boring — dudes.
“If all of a sudden you’ve got the cream of the crop women and you’re giving them a platform to say smart things, they’re going to say smarter things than your B guys,” explains Kate Fagan, who has become one of the top personalities on ESPN. “We’ve seen before the sports media world you’ve got your varsity and your JV guy lineup. Well, now you’ve got two varsity lineups, and now you’re seeing ESPN saying ‘Holy sh*t look what happens when we put Mina Kimes on.’ She’s an A+ talent with smart things to say, rather than having another guy with an A- take.”
Audience preferences are slowly evolving as the media landscape undergoes its own transformation. For years, the most prominent women in sports media were either sideline reporters or hosts, tossing to men for their opinion. The tide has started to turn, and it’s this group of ultra-talented, social media savvy women who have kicked down the door, driven by a yearning for something genuine and unique.
“It used to be, ‘I want to be a woman in sports, I have to be a sideline reporter,’” says ESPN’s Katie Nolan. “Now it’s ‘I want to be a sideline reporter because it’s a thing I want to do,’ not because I’m a woman and I want to work in sports. You can choose to be a reporter. You can choose to be a host. You shouldn’t be limited based on your boobs.”
The torchbearers for women offering their opinion in the sports world were names everyone recognizes: Jemele Hill, Michelle Beadle, Rachel Nichols, etc. In modern media culture, representation now looms large in every discussion, but that hasn’t always been the case.
“Growing up, I didn’t watch ESPN that much because everyone on it was for men except SportsCenter,” Nolan says. “I would watch SportsCenter because that was just news… all the other shows were, ‘This was how I feel about this stuff from my perspective,’ but it was just dudes.”