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O’Neil: Why it’s a mistake to argue against encouragement for women in sports media

The number of men in the field have long outnumbered women in sports media. (AP)

The metro editor came over to introduce himself on my first day of work at The Seattle Times.

More by 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil

This was noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, I was hired to work in the sports department, not the news department where he was a manager. Second, he was a top manager in the most prominent department and I was low-man in the whole operation as a part-time clerk hired to answer the phones at night and make a record of the high-school results being called in from around the area.

The editor’s name was John Saul, and he’s a great newsman as well as an awesome guy, but that’s not significant for this story. It’s the fact he came to welcome me that night because he’d been told I would start working at the paper by a friend of his, a classmate of my father’s.

It is one of countless times that people have helped encourage and reward my interest first in sports and later in journalism, and I thought of it this week while reading through Monday’s Twitter kerfuffle over a job opening at Sports Illustrated, and an offer of encouragement and/or assistance made by one writer at the publication:

Now a couple of things worth noting before we continue. Charlotte Wilder – whom I don’t know – is not hiring for the position, and while her offer was aimed toward female potential applicants, it was not exclusive, either. It didn’t say that men should not apply or need not contact her.

What happened next is not surprising to anyone who has watched pretty much any Twitter discussion that involves gender:

Now, I do know Ed Werder, and have a great deal of respect not just for his work, but for how he treats others in this business. The guy isn’t just a pro, but he’s a friend for other reporters, male and female. He is not a hateful person. Quite the opposite in my experience, but he is making a mistake that is both very common and incredibly problematic in the discussion of diversity in general and in sports media in particular.

That mistake is to view any encouragement or professional development of women and people of color as a threat to the employment of white men.

There is a fundamental error in this line of thinking because it sees everything as a zero-sum game, assuming that any encouragement or advancement of someone who is not a white male will unfairly come at the expense of a white men. The reason that’s an error is because it presumes that things are fair to begin with, which is why we’ll now go back to the beginning of this story when I mentioned the metro editor coming over greet me at The Seattle Times.

Remember how he was friends with the guy who went to high school with my father? Well, my father’s high-school friend had previously flown me up to Seattle in 1987 when I was 12 years old so I could watch UNLV play Iowa in the NCAA Tournament. And he had hosted me when I came to look at the University of Washington in 1993, timing my visit to coincide with the NCAA Tournament. That was after some of my father’s college friends brought me to Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, which is why I was at Candlestick Park when the Loma Prieta Earthquake occurred, delaying the game. And I probably shouldn’t forget Larry Dobie, my dad’s former co-worker who would give me his old issues of Sports Illustrated. At least he did until I was given my own subscription in the fifth grade.

These are just a handful of the times throughout my life in which I have been given special treatment, my interest in sports and journalism not just encouraged but helped along by a network of people I did absolutely nothing to earn. It was just there, and while I am incredibly grateful for that, I’m also aware that those networks don’t always – or even often – exist for women and people of color in this industry. They’re certainly not as readily apparent, which is why a journalist like Charlotte Wilder feels compelled to openly offer encouragement to other women in the business.

This is not a bad thing. It’s not unfair, either. It’s an attempt to provide the same type of encouragement and development that people like me have received for decades without even thinking about it.

And while I don’t pretend to know what women or people of color go through while working in journalism, let alone how to make the industry fair, I can state with absolute certainty that when white men view any discussion of diversity or inclusion from the perspective of what it’s going to cost people like them, they’re essentially arguing for the status quo in an industry that’s 90-percent male, and that is what is actually unfair.

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