In her Words
One of the Guys
One woman’s survival in the wide world of sports
I spent almost 10 years of my career in sports. First as a student working for my university’s athletic department, and then six years with a professional football team. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that pro sports is still a good ol’ boys’ club. If you don’t have a penis, you’re limited in what you can achieve. My first year in the NFL, as a doe-eyed recent college graduate and woman of strength, I wasn’t going to let this continue without a fight. I can do my job just as well as a guy, I thought. I have the same knowledge, the same training, it shouldn’t matter that I have a vagina!
After my first NFL season, I realized it wasn’t going to be so easy. Simply being capable and kicking ass did not propel you forward. You were a woman first and a kick-ass employee second. This was mainly due to the fact that the women who went before me had primarily sought jobs in sports not because they wanted to work with men but for men. They were glorified groupies. Until I could prove to the coaches and players that I was there to work, not date the players, I would always be walking with a scarlet G on my chest. Since I wanted my work to be the only thing they noticed about me, I had to become One of the Guys.
For me, it wasn’t much of a change of personality. I’ve been a tomboy my entire life. I know a lot about sports, I’m a quick learner, and I can drink many guys under the table. I swear like a sailor and am partial to inappropriate jokes. So I fit in right in.
But it still wasn’t easy. I was sexually harassed on a near-daily basis and had to just roll with it. My boss often witnessed this. But he knew that if I wanted to get ahead, I couldn’t be the Pollyanna Priss running to HR every time a defensive lineman said “dick” in front of me or someone told a dirty joke.
In time, I indeed became a card-carrying member of the boys’ club and was respected for my ability as a public relations professional, as well as my knowledge of the game. I was promoted to editor of the team’s publications and rewarded with a great deal of responsibility. Today, I still have a great rapport with many of the players and coaches.
Although I no longer work in professional sports, my experience as One of the Guys – working and bonding closely with male colleagues – has helped me in other male-dominated fields. Yet I’m also jaded. Nothing offends me anymore, nothing inappropriate makes me cringe. I sometimes wonder if I’ve become so accustomed to the good ol’ boys’ club that I wouldn’t even notice something truly inappropriate, dangerous or harassing. Let’s hope not. Because I’ve earned my club membership – and I’d like to keep the card.