Introducing Ball Like a Girl, a Conversation About Women in Sports

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”

That was how Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton answered a question in early October posed to him by Jourdan Rodrigue, a Panthers beat writer at the Charlotte Observer.

The backlash against Newton was significant. He ended up publicly apologizing to Rodrigue a day later, after he had been chastised by the NFL league office and dropped as a spokesman for Dannon yogurt.

The way the Newton-Rodrigue exchange played out — with cameras rolling, at a press conference — made it a major story. (The story took a strange turn when Rodrigue herself ended up issuing an apology for racially insensitive tweets she had sent while she was a college student several years ago.)

But to Nicole Auerbach and many other female sports reporters, the exchange was noteworthy for how typical it was.

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Auerbach, a senior college football writer for The Athletic and an on-camera analyst for the Big Ten Network, tweeted that male players and coaches often challenge female reporters about their sports knowledge, while male colleagues are rarely subjected to that kind of pushback, despite the fact that very few of them have played college or pro sports.

After all, having been a player is not a requirement for good sports commentary. But neither is being a man.

Many times, the skepticism comes from colleagues. I experienced this early in my career when I joined a panelist discussion on a local sports television program — I was the only woman invited on the show. After we finished recording, I was told by a male colleague that I “provided good insight for a woman.” I remember thinking, “was that intended to be a compliment?”

That dynamic, of course, isn’t the only challenge facing female sportswriters, and women working elsewhere in sports.

After the recent flood of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, hundreds of women across the sports landscape have publicly shared their own stories and declared “#MeToo.”

The #MeToo campaign has brought much-needed attention to sexual harassment that has become a norm for sports journalists and female athletes.

Many notable reporters and athletes have recently stepped forward with their stories, from WNBA basketball star Breanna Stewart to Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney.

Gender inequality and sexism exist on many levels — from team management, where men traditionally have occupied most of the top decision-making positions, to professional female athletes who are fighting for equal pay and travel accommodations in 2017.

Yet here’s what makes all of this not just challenging and interesting, but exciting! There are more women in prominent roles across the sports landscape — from beat writers to play-by-play announcers to coaches — than at any other time in history.

ESPN announced earlier this year that Doris Burke, for decades one of the most knowledgeable and hard-working basketball broadcasters in the country, would step in as a full-time color analyst on ESPN and ABC’s NBA broadcasts, moving from a role as a sideline reporter and fill-in analyst. Two women — Sarah Kustok with the Brooklyn Nets and Stephanie Ready with the Charlotte Hornets — are regular color analysts on NBA regional broadcasts. Jessica Mendoza, an Olympic gold and silver medalist in softball, became ESPN’s first female MLB analyst in 2016.

In recent years, women have been entering previously uncharted territory as assistant coaches in American male professional sports.

Becky Hammon was hired by the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach in 2014, becoming the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the country’s four major leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). There are currently four female assistant coaches in American male professional sports.

And women are playing leading roles in other places you might not expect. For all the negative attention it’s gotten for its controversial, sometimes misogynistic content, Barstool Sports is led by a female CEO, Erika Nardini.

As women’s roles in sports continue to evolve — we want to celebrate these milestones, but also create thoughtful discussion on where we go from here.

In 1972, the passage of Title IX made it illegal to discriminate against female participation in sports at federally funded schools. It’s been 45 years since that pivotal ruling, however, female athletes still aren’t celebrated with the athletic traditions, and narratives that surround their male counterparts.

It’s time to change that.

Never before have there been more women in sports with fascinating stories to tell. Which brings us to a launch we couldn’t be more excited about: Heavy is proud to announce the creation of Ball Like a Girl, a brand dedicated to sharing the stories of women across the sports world.

The Ball Like a Girl podcast will go live once a week, featuring an in-depth conversation with a prominent woman in the sports world. We’ve already taped Episode 1, which features Auerbach as our guest. It’s a fun, but serious conversation that we think you’ll enjoy. Nicole talks about the every-day challenges of being a female sports reporter, and opens up how she found success early on in her career.

Upcoming guests also include NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala and ESPN’s Laura Rutledge.

“Like a girl” is a phrase often used with a negative connotation — most of us recall the iconic Sandlot scene. If you run “like a girl,” throw “like a girl,” or play “like a girl,” it’s considered an insult. However, we disagree — that phrase should conjure images of confidence, strength and power.

Take a listen to our introductory Ball Like a Girl podcast below.

Next week, we’ll launch our first episode, which will be available on SoundCloud and is coming soon to iTunes. Join the conversation on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.