Sidelined is a look at the misogynistic underpinnings of sports media

Julie DiCaro’s new book, Sidelined: Sports, Culture and Being a Woman in America, details what it’s really like to work as a woman in sports media.

In the introduction to her debut book, Sidelined: Sports, Culture and Being a Woman in America, Julie DiCaro writes that “No one should have as many bad days as women who work in media do.” As she shows throughout the rest of the book, these bad days are often filled with harassment from co-workers as well as from people they will never meet; a questioning of their ability in ways both subtle and overt; and the isolation that comes from often being the only woman in the room at any given moment. DiCaro writes that “Whatever issues women have in society in general, they’re amplified by a factor of about a million in sports. Women who work in the industry swim in a toxic stew of gender inequality.” By looking at these issues and the unique way they are faced by women who work in the sports industry, she has created a persuasive and memorable text about sexism in athletics.

Sidelined is less a book about on-court athletics than it is about the women who work in the sports industry and the difficulties they face on a daily basis. It details the struggles they must overcome in order to get their foot in the door as well as the harassment they often encounter once they’ve established themselves. DiCaro writes about the history of women fighting to gain access to locker rooms as reporters and then have their voices heard as they try to bring an alternative viewpoint to an environment dominated by men. She cites a study by the Women’s Media Center which states that even today, in print media, women are reporting on sports just 10 percent of the time, a number that only rises to 21 percent when accounting for digital media. The disparity is stark.

Abusive comments are an almost inescapable part of being a woman in sports media

Perhaps the book’s most unsettling chapter is the one where DiCaro and a number of other women recount their experiences being harassed on social media. She writes, “Most days, going to work entails having to wade through a bunch of ugly comments on our social media in order to get the information we need for our job.” There are a number of stories recounted which display the constant battle being waged between the desire to avoid the abusive comments for the sake of one’s own mental health while also feeling the need to keep an eye on them in order to keep oneself safe. This chapter will jar anyone who has never had to face such a torrent of hatred on their own Twitter feed — a place anyone working in sports media practically has to be in order to do their jobs at all. Such harassment essentially functions as an attempt to get women speaking out on issues focusing on the intersection of sports with gender and politics to shut up. Women need to have the ability to do their jobs without daily worries about abusive comments and threats, as well as whether the men making them intend to actually follow through on them.

Another enlightening section focuses on the lack of reckoning towards those in sports media who have sexually harassed or assaulted their colleagues. DiCaro tells the stories of Jennifer Decker and Adrienne Lawrence, who both spoke of their time at ESPN with Decker saying that she was taken to a strip club by a number of male employees and was reprimanded while all the men faced no repercussions. Lawrence meanwhile claimed that “ESPN male executives kept scorecards and ranked female ESPN employees by attractiveness” and “that women at ESPN are expected to put up with men openly watching porn.” Lawrence is quoted as saying, “I think society on the whole has this idea that sports is a man’s world. And if you walk into it, that’s on you.” Collectively, these stories alongside several others, speak to an overarching culture of pervasive misogyny. While abusive individuals need to be held accountable, this chapter reveals a larger problem that enables these men to act without fear of reprisals. Until that changes, more cases like this are sure to occur.

In the introduction, DiCaro writes that “sports have always been a microcosm of society and a lens through which to view gender inequality.” This is certainly true and she does a fine job of detailing the ways that sexism runs rampant throughout the world of sports, on and off the field, though primarily off. Accordingly, Sidelined could have benefited by having a larger focus on the sexism that athletes themselves face. By focusing so strongly on women in sports media, Sidelined often feels like an insular book, one that will be of interest to those who work in that industry themselves or have aspirations to do so, but may seem less intriguing to those who are outside of it.

DiCaro’s debut book is nevertheless an important look at the ways gender inequality arises and persists in an environment dominated by men. It details the harassment women face from fans and co-workers, asking why so little seem to care about it or do anything to stop it. It questions why women’s sports are marginalized and not capitalized upon when a market for them clearly exists. Altogether, Sidelined is an impassioned plea for change, a spirited reveal of sexism in sports and the work that needs to be done to create a more equitable world.