For Women In Sports TV, A Seat At The Table The number of women who report on the NFL is relatively small, especially on TV— but their voices have gotten louder since the Ray Rice story broke.

For Women In Sports TV, A Seat At The Table

For Women In Sports TV, A Seat At The Table

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The number of women who report on the NFL is relatively small, especially on TV— but their voices have gotten louder since the Ray Rice story broke.


The domestic abuse scandal in pro football heightened scrutiny of ESPN. The channel is a major outlet for sports news, but its entire business model is also dependent on pro sports.


Which means its reporting on touchy subjects is closely watched. This week, ESPN suspended its popular columnist Bill Simmons, who called the NFL commissioner a liar.

INSKEEP: ESPN has also raised the visibility of some of its female reporters, maybe none more so than Jane McManus. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: If you turned on ESPN's live coverage of Commissioner Roger Goodell's press conference last Friday, you would've seen the network's usual male analysts sitting around a table and a new face.


UNIDENTIFIED ANALYST: Jane, is what Roger Goodell is about to say as important as how he says it?

JANE MCMANUS: I think whatever he says...

ROSE: Jane McManus has been covering the story since Ray Rice was arrested for punching his then-fiancee Janay Palmer back in February. Still, McManus was surprised when she was invited to join in the analysis of Goodell's press conference.


MCMANUS: There was a seat at the table for me. And I was aware that that was a big deal, to have a seat at the table and to be involved in that conversation that's happening.


MCMANUS: In 2014, he should not need to be told he needs a woman in the room or a diverse voice in the room in order to make a judgment on domestic violence.

ROSE: McManus has written extensively about domestic violence in her column for espnW, the network's website that's focused on female fans. She was quick to criticize the NFL when it initially suspended Ray Rice for just two games. Since then, McManus has found herself talking about the issue on ESPN's flagship shows more often.


MCMANUS: I've certainly been paying attention to this issue for years and years, perhaps in a way that my male colleagues weren't. I can say that with certainty, but I certainly made it a point, before the suspension came out, to educate myself on domestic violence because I thought that this would be a big issue. And this is the central story in sports right now.

ROSE: McManus isn't the only female voice on television that's been amplified by the NFL domestic violence story. Her ESPN colleague Hannah Storm aired her disappointment with the league in a much-discussed commentary earlier this month. Rachel Nichols of CNN had tough questions for Commissioner Goodell last week. So did Jericka Duncan of CBS.


JERICKA DUNCAN: Can you justify not having an African-American as part of that group of women that you've hired to look into sexual assault and domestic violence?

ROSE: That's a long way from the roles female journalists have traditionally played in sports broadcasting. Here's Katie Nolan, a commentator for


KATIE NOLAN: Women in sports television are allowed to read headlines, patrol sidelines and generally facilitate conversation for their male colleagues.

ROSE: That's from a self-produced YouTube video that went viral. Nolan complains that women are still relegated to a handful of supporting roles in sports journalism.

NOLAN: Because the truth is, the NFL will never respect women and their opinions as long as the media it answers to doesn't.

ROSE: That video has been viewed more than 300,000 times. Sally Jenkins is a longtime sports columnist at The Washington Post. She hopes that TV executives are finally getting the message that women can be more than just eye candy on the sidelines.


SALLY JENKINS: It's not an admission of inequality to say that women see things differently sometimes. We have different sensibilities. We have different experiences. This lame sort of sameness is boring. It doesn't serve your audience. It doesn't lead to provocative questions. It leads to, as we've seen, blind spots.

ROSE: Jenkins says the female sports audience is huge and underserved. That's the audience ESPN was hoping to tap when it launched espnW five years ago. Columnist Jane McManus says there have been ongoing questions about the site's value. But she hopes her reporting on domestic violence has answered some of them.


MCMANUS: I think a lot of people look at espnW and they say, why do we need a website devoted to women? And this is why - because, you know, we're able to look for these stories, anticipate some of these stories and write about it when otherwise, there may not be a lot of interest in it right away.

ROSE: There's plenty of interest in the NFL domestic violence story now. And Jane McManus and other female journalists have a seat at table. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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