I have been an athlete all my life and it was an identity that I held as I transitioned from high school to college.
In high school, I played softball and volleyball and when I came to Harvard, I joined the women’s club volleyball team and have found community there for the past four years. However, this year has not been easy on female athletes at Harvard. It has not been easy on women in general, but this is a sports column so I won’t get into that.
When the scouting report by the men’s soccer team came out earlier this year, it was a blow not only to the members of the women’s soccer team; I think all women at Harvard connected to the world of sports were impacted by it.
I could relate to what the women on the soccer and later cross country teams were probably feeling. A mixture of anger and astonishment boiled up, yet it was not completely surprising because we have all been objectified while playing our sport. The thing that was shocking was that it was coming from other Harvard students, many times from close friends. That was the thing that was hard to wrap my mind around. The people who were supposedly sharing your sport and training with you to get better on the field were turning around and documenting blatantly sexist things.
Being a woman in sports journalism has also had its ups and downs. Walking into media rooms and press boxes, I was often the only woman there, which is not surprising but still makes me wonder why it is so uncommon for women to write for the sports sections of newspapers. When I started becoming more comfortable in the male-dominated spaces and began striking up conversations with fellow writers, I realized that there was always an assumption that I did not know as much as the other guys or that I could not possibly have as much sports knowledge as they did. I could make up for it in my writing but I can understand why other women could be turned off to a career in which you are constantly being tested on your knowledge.
In the industry at large, there also seems to be limited space for women to break into the spotlight. Jessica Mendoza, one of the greatest softball players ever, recently joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball coverage and was met with an inordinate amount of criticism because she is a woman. More recently, LaVar Ball demanded that sports talk show host Kristine Leahy ‘stay in her lane’, implying the sports world is not one in which women belong. These sentiments can weather anyone down, even when they have made it to the top of their professional careers.
Luckily, when I joined The Crimson, I was met with an environment that was open to anyone wanting to comp. I thought that at a school like Harvard I would have a hard time finding people who were interested in sports as much as I was, but showing up to the first couple board meetings made me quickly feel like I had found a great place to anchor myself. One of my comp directors was even female! Would ya look at that?
It was also through The Crimson that I met some of my best guy friends that I could count on to be at every basketball and hockey game that I was attending. I’m thankful for them and the lack of judgment surrounding the fact that I was the only girl often coming to the games with them.
My sophomore year the sports board was run by two women, which was pretty dang cool. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Juliet and Cordelia (wo)manning the ship allowed me to visualize myself in a leadership position on the board as well. Though I was reluctant at first to be in charge of the sports board of the 143, the position became something I was proud of. I often got confused for males during e-mail exchanges, and on more than one occasion a person I was interviewing thought that I was a guy. Surprising them with my voice on the phone always gave me a small amount of joy.Being a female sports journalist has taught me a lot about having my voice heard and learning to belong in spaces historically been dominated by men. There is still a lot to be done to make the industry more appealing and inclusive for women, but my four years of reporting leave me hopeful for the future
—Staff writer Ariel Smolik-Valles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.