Photo by Pat Radigan
By Pat Radigan
On the front page of the Detroit Free Press this week, the paper printed a list of names.
Some were identifiers: Names like Victim D, Victim 73 and ‘AN’ to protect anonymous actors.
Others were more recognizable: McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols.
The casual sports fan may not be as familiar with Nichols, but they should be. She started as “Athlete A” — credited as the first to report the heinous actions of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. Nichols is also a three time All-American after just one season at Oklahoma, a year that saw her notch a perfect 10 on all four events for the Sooners.
I first learned Nichols’ name when I kept seeing the name “MagsGotSwag” pop up in Husker gymnasts feeds. They were teammates at the club level. Now, Nichols name is known for other reasons. Reasons no one would ever wish to have their name known for.
If you navigate over to the third column, and down 22 names, you’ll find Kamerin Moore.
Again, the casual Nebraska fan may not know the name; Moore was a Husker, even if just for a year. Her career was cut short due to injury, but she still made her mark. Moore was part of a vault lineup that set a school record, and took part of Nebraska’s NCAA journey that season.
Now, she’s in the news for other reasons.
Instead of making jokes, pointing fingers and any other form of snark in this week’s newsletter, we’re going to be taking a look at this tweet, and the effect the modern sports media landscape has on important sports stories.
Over the last year, we’ve witnessed: US Women’s Soccer & Hockey fight for fair pay, the WNBA stand for racial equality, and US Women’s Gymnastics deliver justice against sexual abuse.
Once again, female athletes are fighting for themselves because that is the only way. SO PROUD.
— Chiney Ogwumike (@Chiney321) January 24, 2018
It’s a cross-gender, home and away series with Iowa this weekend on the hardcourts. Both games carry conference implications, but for much different reasons.
What’s Going On
01/27/18 | 7 p.m.
Pinnacle Bank Arena
No. 25 Iowa
01/28/18 | 2 p.m.
Iowa City, Iowa
No. 12 Nebraska vs.
No. 8 Michigan
01/27/18 | 2 p.m.
Swim and Dive
1/26/18 | 4 p.m.
1/27/18 | 9 a.m.
No. 16 Nebraska vs.
1/28/18 | 2 p.m.
Track and Field
1/27/18 | 1/28/18
Colorado Springs, Colo.
1/27/18 | 1/28/18
#1: Being Like Oprah
While everyone was speculating about Oprah’s potency as a presidential candidate after her rousing speech at the Golden Globes, I think there is one line that the gathered sporting community should talking about more.
“It is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award,” she said. “It is an honor — it is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them.”
That line really got me thinking: How do we as the sports media represent individuals of different backgrounds and cultures? We’ve seen the impact that the storied tradition of walking-on for Nebraska football has had in bringing guys like Andy Janovich and Chris Weber to Lincoln. And we heard all about the Rolfzen twins and Kelly Hunter growing up Husker volleyball fans before coming to campus and winning a few titles themselves.
But what are we doing to expand those archetypes?
Softball and soccer are huge sports in Nebraska, yet you could hardly tell that the Huskers have pros in both sports. Haley Hanson was just taken No. 7 in the NWSL draft, and Taylor Edwards has won three straight National Pro Fastpitch titles with two different teams, and earned a spot on Team USA. This year, Edwards was joined by former Huskers Kiki Stokes and MJ Knighten, and you could tune into national TV to see a Pro Big Red representative hitting homers in big moments of a title run.
So why aren’t we doing more to tell their stories? Why don’t we run snippets and updates and all the same things the media does to cover Husker football players that rise to prominence or the professional ranks?
Sports needs more female role models, and more representation of women in all areas: Coaching, administration, broadcast booths and so much more. And it starts with highlighting those who have broken down barriers, and highlighting the need to continue changing the demographics of those who cover sports.
#2: Equal Pay, Equal Play
What hasn’t been covered, or really even talked about, is how a lot of these same issues plague college sports in ways you may not think about. And before we venture any deeper into this topic, let me make one thing clear: Nebraska is one of the few exceptions to this issue.
The Huskers are committed to improving all facilities, for all teams, and has a support staff in place for student athletes that does not change depending on which sport you play.
That’s not the same for all schools though. It could be little things, like shifting men’s basketball to a suitable arena but moving women’s basketball to a local high school while your arena is under construction. Or more large-scale matters: The difference between chartering flights, flying commercial or having to take a bus to absurd lengths in pursuit of athletic excellence.
And here’s the kicker: Most women’s athletes don’t have the allure of professional sports, in America or elsewhere, to look forward to. They are in college, and playing a sport, to start a career in something else. To do that, though, it means working around travel schedules, on-court activities and somehow trying to fit in a social life/college experience.
When you’re playing in front of tens of thousands of fans, and chartering flights to and from every game, that’s a lot easier. Especially when you may not even have to graduate to go pro.
But I don’t think enough people consider how it’d feel to play most of your games in front of mostly family and friends. To have to bounce between the bus and hotels to do homework in the few hours you have between games, meetings and treatment. To know that your knee may never be quite right again, and that certainly won’t help in your life as a school counselor, but it’s worth the sacrifice.
Some do it for their teammates. Some do it because being an athlete is the only life they’ve known. All of them deserve the financial and resource support that you get if you play the ‘right’ college sports.
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I’ve learned a lot in my time running Corn Fed Sports, but no lesson has smacked me across the face as hard as the realization that the women’s sports community is much more alive and vibrant than I could have ever imagined.
Not just certain college sports, and not just at the professional level. I’ve also realized that while there is a lot area to improve in diversifying the sports media, there are a lot of current examples of individuals who are breaking the mold. Like Nancy Armour, who wrote this:
For the evening crowd, If USA Gymnastics really wants to make a statement, it will close the Karolyi ranch. Immediately. https://t.co/rV8ePXvlIT
— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) January 17, 2018
In case you haven’t been following all aspects of this case, they closed the ranch. Not because of that column, but it’d be naive to think having it written in the USA Today didn’t help.
And then I think about what you usually see in the newspaper as ‘fringe sports content’ I notice it’s usually something about fantasy sports, betting or some kind of banquet, award, etc. for men’s sports. Especially in markets such as Nebraska.
Earlier this year, the Nebraska women’s basketball team was working its way toward a win on the road. At the same time, Bobby Bowden was receiving an award in Omaha. I’ll let you guess which event the Omaha newspaper tweeted about more often from its Huskers account.
Last spring there was a similar instance. Les Miles was in town for a coaches clinic, and it drew a large crowd of sports media at the same time as a Nebraska soccer exhibition game. The game was against FC Kansas City, a professional club, and featured USWNT member Sydney Leroux.
That meant that while a majority of the media outlets that cover sports were listening to an out-of-work coach speak at a coaching clinic, one of the best athletes in the world at her sport was competing on the Nebraska campus, against Husker athletes. And we were the only ones there taking pictures.
I’ve often asked myself, “Is it really that bad that sports leans so heavily toward the sensibilities of traditional male sports fans?” Before this case, I never really had a good answer for this issue. But when you consider the fact that all of these Larry Nassar came from a single email to the Indy Star, it’s easy to see why we need sports media members actually focusing on journalism and covering sports.
Even if it doesn’t make as much money as gambling information and pandering to the lurid curiosity of sports cynics. Because journalism, especially investigative journalism, is so much more valuable to society than tips on who to start in your fantasy matchup.
“The final takeaway is that we as a society need investigative journalists more than ever. What finally started this reckoning and ended this decadeslong cycle of abuse was investigative reporting. Without that first Indianapolis Star story in August of 2016, without the story where Rachael came forward publicly shortly thereafter, he would still be practicing medicine, treating athletes and abusing kids. Let that sink in for a minute. Right now, he would be at his office … not far from this courtroom and the Michigan State University campus abusing children, had it not been for the investigative reporters and Rachael who brought this case. We know federal law enforcement did not stop him nor did trainers or coaches or deans or medical supervisors. Victim disclosures to adults didn’t stop him. Reporters began the story and excellent victim-centered, offender-focused police and prosecutors grabbed the baton and brought us here today.”
– Angela Povilaitis
Michigan Assistant Attorney General
I don’t know about you, but I feel consciously worried about our society’s penchant for ‘sticking to sports’ in moments of societal strife. It bothers me that those of us who have the comfort to worry about trivial sports matters think that others who are marginalized should shut up and move on. It’s a level of machismo that’s nauseating.
But maybe this case will open their eyes to the fact that just tuning into the Olympics every four years and worry about the performance aspect of sports comes with costs. And hopefully it will show how casual sports fans supporting large organizations, simply because fans love their athletes, is a slippery slope.
They can blind you with gold medals, and marketable moments, but at the end of the day, sports are about so much more than brand recognition and personal gain.
Maybe, just maybe, we can start finding ways to move forward as a culture if we start seeing the potential of sports to help address pressing societal issues. You can say #ItsOnUs and #TimesUp all you want. Until they are matched with real action, and those in power make meaningful moves and statements to address these issues, athletes will continue to be marginalized in ways we can’t imagine until it’s reported on.
And until the echo chamber of sports media still looks increasingly white and increasingly male, don’t expect a ton of attention to be given to those who need it the most.