AWSM has championed advancement of women in a male dominated profession since 1988. It also has been a strong voice about locker room access as recently as earlier this spring. More importantly, the association has a scholarship/internship program that has affected the lives of 127 young women through the years.
I did a column on AWSM for the National Sports Journalism Site. I believe it is a must-read if you are a woman in this business and for anyone who cares about the profession for that matter.
When the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) held its first convention in 1988, the joke was that they hoped to put themselves out of business as soon as possible.
“We thought if we could resolve all the issues with women in sports media, our work would be done,” said Christine Brennan, AWSM’s first president.
Ah, to be young and naive. Obviously, there still are many miles to go. However, thanks in part to AWSM, women have come a considerable way in breaking the barriers and establishing high-profile voices in sports media.
AWSM, known as “awesome” by its members and others in the industry, will celebrate its 25th anniversary this week. Nearly 200 women, some veterans in the business and many just breaking in, will travel to Scottsdale for the annual convention. Note: Bring sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
Hitting the big 2-5 is a landmark achievement considering AWSM officials couldn’t be confident that there would be a second anniversary. The association was co-founded by Kristin Huckshorn, Michele Himmelberg, Nancy Cooney, and Susan Fornoff.
Back then the notion of women working in sports media still was somewhat of a novelty. A sports staff would have a token woman, maybe two. While leagues finally consented to open the locker rooms during the mid-80s, they still weren’t a friendly place for female reporters.
“I thought about how women in sports media were so scattered — few and far between in less enlightened parts of the country — and did not have anywhere to turn for support,” said Fornoff, a long-time Bay Area reporter in an interview on the AWSM site. “I guess my motivation was to pay it forward, and to help create a network for all women in sports media.”
The first major test came in 1990. Lisa Olson, working for the Boston Herald, found herself being harassed in the locker room by members of the New England Patriots. The controversy became a national story, putting AWSM in the middle of the storm.
“It was a low point in terms of what happened,” said Brennan, now a columnist for USA Today. “It also validated the existence of AWSM. Because we had a network in place, it allowed us to rally around Lisa immediately. (AWSM) members went on every TV and radio show we could to speak out about what happened. We were prepared. We knew exactly what to do.”
Olson will be on hand this week to receive AWSM’s Mary Garber Pioneer Award. Thankfully, because of the intense reaction, the incident helped reform players’ and coaches’ attitudes toward female sports reporters. Yet the issue hasn’t completely gone away. This spring, AWSM was forced to speak out again, denouncing NHL analyst Don Cherry’s ridiculous statements about women in the locker room.
Brennan also wrote a post about the anniversary. She writes about the scholarship/internship program:
We awarded our first scholarship/internship in 1990. From those humble beginnings, AWSM has given out 127 scholarship/internships and will honor another six students this year. It’s the best thing AWSM does, and it’s a tremendous credit to the generosity and leadership of this organization that this program not only continues, but thrives.
During those early years of the program, I had the pleasure of calling our recipients to let them know that they had won. The second year, I ended up talking for quite a while to our winner, a Princeton electrical engineering student, after she expressed some concern about heading into sports journalism. I did my best to convince her that a terrific adventure awaited. I was so pleased when I heard she had decided to become a sports writer.
Five years later, as I was leaving The Washington Post, that young woman, Amy Shipley, replaced me as The Post’s Olympics writer. She and I still smile about that.
If you are a woman in sports media, especially someone just entering the profession, membership should be a no-brainer. However, AWSM isn’t just limited to women.
I now am a proud member. Hopefully, my small contribution will impact a young woman who wants to break into the business through the AWSM scholarship/internship program.
Here is the link to join.
Again, congratulations to AWSM. Here’s to another 25 years and more.