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Brennan leads sports journalism panel of Oliver, Nichols and Hubbarth

February 19, 2015 | By Clare Ling (BSJ18)
Women in sports power team, Brennan, Hubbarth, Oliver, Nichols
Christine Brennan and Cassidy Hubbarth
Pam Oliver and Rachel Nichols

Christine Brennan (BSJ80, MSJ81) moderated a discussion on the female voice in sports media, joined by panelists Cassidy Hubbarth (BSJ07), Rachel Nichols (BSJ95) and Pam Oliver Tuesday evening in a packed McCormick Foundation Center Forum.

The four addressed the current and future states of women in sports journalism, as well as social media and overcoming stereotypes in the fifth installment of the Beyond the Box Score lecture series hosted by Medill and Northwestern Athletics.

Brennan, an award-winning sports columnist for USA Today, was quick to start off with a nod to her alma mater.

“When you think about the history of this university, both on the field of play and in the press box, there has been no school that I can think of that has been more welcoming, that has been at the forefront, that has been understanding of the issues of women in sports and women in sports media,” Brennan said before advancing the conversation to discuss the current environment female journalists face in the sports industry.

Nichols, the sole sports anchor at CNN, said that a victory for her has been being able to watch women become some of the leading voices on sports issues.

“I go on CNN and they ask me to analyze what is going on in the world of sports, and I just don’t think there were women in that position even ten years ago,” Nichols said.

Hubbarth, an anchor for ESPN SportsCenter and host of ESPN2’s NBA Tonight, agreed.

“Instead of it being accepted to hear a woman tell sports stories, it’s now expected,” Hubbarth said. “Part of who I am now is a journalist and an entertainer, a host and an anchor…and that’s a positive because there’s not a specific role for women.”

Oliver acknowledged, however, that for anyone in a media position, journalism should always come first—not looks and appearance.

“I want to see passion and heart and young people who are in it for the right reason, and that’s not to be on television necessarily,” said Oliver, who has been with FOX since 1995. “Journalism is what matters. It’s what floats my boat still…I truly just love the craft.”

The panelists also recognized that there is still a lot of progress to be made, and a lot of room for improvement in regard to the industry’s current hiring system.

“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this with Fox, it’s a celebrated occasion if there’s another woman somewhere in the broadcasting of that game,” Oliver said. “Where is everybody else? It should not be so unique to work with another woman.”

As for social media, it’s a topic that both Nichols and Hubbarth fully embrace.

“We owe it to our audience to make sure that we are on top of what’s being discussed,” said Hubbarth, who also said that she relies on social media to build her personal brand and online presence.  

For Nichols, social media is an essential part of sports, which has become a “national tent” to talk about race, domestic violence, crime and other, “issues that just don’t get talked about with that many people anymore.”

The panel ended with a 30 minute Q&A session with audience members, during which the journalists discussed the biggest misconceptions they encounter in the field.

“I would say the greatest misconception for me is that I can cook, because every now and then I’ll still get an email or a tweet that says, ‘go back to the kitchen where you belong,’ and it’s like, ‘oh no, you do not want me in the kitchen,’” Brennan said.

Brennan, however, has not let these stereotypes get in the way of her career, and left the audience with a piece of advice.

“Stay focused on what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” she said.

For more on the social conversation surrounding the event, see our Storify feed.

From ESPN, ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth participates in sports media panel at Northwestern

From Poynter, Pam Oliver: Sideline reporters should be journalists, not celebrities

Each panelist had her own story, but there are countless others that need to be told. That is why, to coincide with the event, Medill students profiled a collection of women in sports media, many of whom are Northwestern alumni. The stories, hosted in an online collection on Medium, launched in January and will continue to be published leading up to and following the event.