Written By: Kristen Mori
Walk into any fantasy football draft, Super Bowl watch party, or sports bar on a Sunday in the fall, and you’ll be predominantly surrounded by men. Similarly, sit it on a math or computer science lecture at your local college for the same effect. Combine the two? If you’re a female, you may as well be a unicorn.
It’s a an exaggeration, but not a gross one. Women are a rarity in front office staffs; the NFL saw its first full-time female official in 2015, and just this year, a female interviewed for a head coaching job in the NBA for the first time. The less glamorous behind-the-scenes staff is only marginally more equal. In other words, the proportion of women in sports’ front office staffs is vastly different from the proportion of qualified women.
I want to make this very clear: I am not accusing any franchise of being sexist in their hiring practices. It is not, in my opinion, simple enough to be able to point the finger at the people at the top, as there are many other factors that come into play. The purpose of this article is not to break down these reasons, but to share my experiences, although it is sometimes impossible to do the latter without doing the former.
I grew up in a household that promoted the idea that women can do whatever they want, and they can do it just as well as men can. It wasn’t a very sporty household, either. My real introduction to football came when I moved across the United States and walked into my (female) third-grade teacher’s classroom and saw an enormous photo of Brett Favre, surrounded by various other green-and-gold paraphernalia. My new classmates — all of them — asked me, “Packers or Bears?” Having lived up to that point in the southwest and northeast I had no stock in this rivalry, but I soon learned that if you lived where I did, no matter who you are or where you’re from, you either watched the Packers-Bears games, or you were basically excluded from all conversation for the day, or even the week.
Why am I telling you this? I want to explain that I grew up in an environment where it was normal for women to be very vocal, expressive, and knowledgeable fans of sports, and I was soon to be one of them. These are very formative years in a person’s life, and I truly believe that they helped me build the confidence to pursue my dreams and ultimately become not only a Blitzalytics analyst, but an analyst for a professional sports franchise. Unfortunately, however, many, if not most, girls do not have the same experience as I did, and it could easily be a huge deterrent to getting where I am.
I am lucky, as I have outlined. But there have been moments that remind me that I am very much in a man’s world, and looking back, I think there were more moments like that than I realized at the time. In high school, I walked into class proudly wearing my favorite team’s colors despite the fact they were eliminated the previous Sunday, and another student asked “You know they lost, right?” In college, I, a 4’11” girl, made a joke about posting up on our center, only to have another fan cut in and say, “Do you even know what that means?” As president of my school’s sports analytics club, and one of a handful of female members, I faced a shocking amount of disrespect, and my friend said, “You have to wonder if this would be happening if you were a guy.” Would they have behaved differently if the person in authority was a male? We’ll never know.
But you have to wonder. And that’s the problem.
As I mentioned, I have some amazing male friends who treat me no differently than their male friends. But in other cases, I have to earn respect, whereas a man would just be granted it. After weeks and weeks of coming into class on Mondays able to keep up with the chatter of what happened across the league the day before, then I got the equal treatment. Maybe at the time I was too happy at being accepted to notice how unfair it was. If you’re wondering what made me think back and realize, the answer is simple: I have witnessed other very sports inclined women receive appalling discrimination, and it has caused me to reflect on my experience as a fan and now an employee, both upon the parts where I was lucky and I was not so lucky.
I have a habit of double- and triple-checking facts, even when I am certain of them. Have you ever taken a math test and plugged the simplest calculations into your calculator, just to be sure? Imagine that same feeling, but the consequence is not a lower grade, but potentially losing the trust you worked so hard to earn. While some may realize your slip-up was just that, there are those that will use it to fuel their beliefs that women somehow possess some inferior ability to comprehend sports. I believe that the blatant sexism in sports fandoms is dwindling, thankfully, though I believe that microaggressions still exist and can be just as harmful. I even find myself fall victim to them; it’s very easy to think, “is she a fan, or is it just that her boyfriend is a fan?” Ideally, we don’t have these thoughts at all, but if we do, it’s important to be aware of them and try to train out of them.
For women who are wanting to break into the sports world, and particularly the sports analytics world, I can offer a few words of advice. It is certainly easier said than done, but have confidence. In fact, the same can be said for men. It’s a competitive industry no matter who you are. Instead of letting the critics’ words be discouraging, try to look at it as motivation to prove them wrong. Think of the younger generation of women that will be looking for positive role models to inspire them to pursue their dreams, no matter how lofty. Take every opportunity to learn, be better, and meet people who can help you along. There will be plenty of people who don’t believe in you, so at the very least you have to believe in yourself, even though at times you won’t want to.
Now, for the shameless plug: Blitzalytics has been nothing but positive for me. I have not experienced any discrimination, neither blatant nor microaggressive. We are constantly searching for more qualified writers, and we believe that a diverse team will only improve us. The men on the team have been extremely supportive and encouraging, and it is a great place to get your portfolio started. From my experience in job-searching in the sports industry, one of the best things you can do for yourself is start a blog. If you have something to show interviewers, you are already that far ahead of the competition. If you aren’t ready for something like Blitzalytics, start a personal blog about sports and build up some confidence and experience. We will always be here!