starting from behind

By Nicole Fernandes

Hailey Salvian, the only full-time female reporter covering the Ottawa Senators beat, is ready to see more women in sports locker rooms.

When Hailey Salvian takes her first steps onto the scarlet carpet in the Ottawa Senators locker room last year, she’s greeted by a familiar sight: a group of men in suits, holding smartphones, microphones and recorders. Away from the pack, one reporter makes no effort to engage with his peers. He carefully studies the locker room in silence. He sees the empty golden oak stalls with black leather seats, the pair of logos on the arched ceiling, “Ottawa Senators” sprawled on the wall in a varsity-style font. After a few moments, he walks across the carpet and says to Salvian:

“You’re the only girl here.”

This isn’t something new to Salvian, who’s been a reporter at The Athletic, a subscription-based sports news outlet, since 2018. During her stints covering the Toronto Marlies and being an in-arena host for the Oshawa Generals, Salvian was often the only female-identifying journalist at the rink. Mirroring her experience as the only woman in the locker room that day, she’s also the only woman reporting on the Senators full time. “It’s just me and a bunch of men,” she says.

Sport media has always been male-dominated and women have to work harder to get a foot in the door. Salvian, who was on the cross-country team at Ryerson University, compares it to a race. “You’re starting from behind,” she says. “[Women] have so much more work to do just to get to the point that a man starts at.” When women do get to that point, they’re met with a whole new set of challenges. While men are halfway through the 100 metres sprint, women are just starting the 400 metres hurdles.

When examining NHL coverage, many analyst and insider jobs are occupied by men, while women usually host highlight shows— they are accessories to more important people. A 2019 study of U.S. media reported that only 21 per cent of online sports news is credited to women. This number is slashed in half in newspapers, with women credited for just 10 per cent of print sports articles. It’s described as “marginal movement” by Laurel Walzak, an assistant professor at the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University. “They have long, far, leaps and bounds to go,” says Walzak, who has taught in the sport media program since 2016. “I don’t think overall, as a whole industry, that we’ve done a good job.”

Due to this underrepresentation in the industry, women usually have to “earn their stripes” when they’re new to gain trust from fans, something that men seem to get automatically. “The biggest thing that I’ve struggled with is the feeling that I have to be 10 times better than my male counterparts to get the same kind of legitimacy,” says Salvian.

This past March, Darren Dreger, a hockey insider at TSN, tweeted that Russian defenceman Artyom Zub was interested in signing with the Senators. Upon hearing this news, Salvian did what any good journalist would do—she picked up her phone and dug deeper. She got a scoop that there was verbal commitment by Zub to sign with the Senators once his contract in the KHL was up. When Salvian reported this exclusive scoop and gave credit to Dreger for breaking the initial news, she endured an army of faceless keyboard warriors accusing her of copying Dreger’s news. “Darren Dreger, all the other media members are allowed to have sources, but when I have sources, I’m just copying people,” she says. “Why is that?”

Women in the sport media industry do not have the luxury of just doing their job. They have the near-impossible and exhausting task of bringing fans well-reported and insightful content, while dealing with blatant sexism from those exact same fans. When women do respond to the negative and sometimes derogatory comments, they risk being labelled as angry feminists or, ironically, being told to stick to sports. “I feel like when you’re a woman in sport [media] you have to pick your battles,” says Salvian. “Because you don't want to be tagged as the crazy girl who's mad at everyone…Unless it crosses a line, I’m just going to ignore it. I wish it was different, but we have work to do.”

While women are slowly becoming more visible in the industry, the process is just that—slow. People in powerful positions can make impactful, inclusive changes in the media right now. “It needs to be sped up,” says Walzak.

For Salvian and Walzak alike, the first step to ridding sport media of sexism is simple: there needs to be more women in the industry. From panels to press boxes to locker rooms, sport media needs more women to ensure that the industry is inclusive, leaving those outdated beliefs that women can’t report on sports where they belong — in the past. “It shouldn’t be ‘Oh, you’re the only woman here. There should be more women there. It should be normal,” Salvian says.

More diversity of genders in sport media will allow the industry to grow and produce role models. Hockey Night in Canada and Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson has been a role model for many generations of women wanting to cover the NHL, including a young Salvian. Just two years after graduating from the Ryerson School of Journalism, Salvian became a full-time reporter on the Senators beat. It’s safe to assume that many women seeing her excel so quickly in the industry could have a major impact on them pursuing a career in sport media, the same way women like Simpson had an impact on her. She remains rather bashful about it. “I think that’s so weird,” Salvian says with a laugh. “The thought of somebody looking at me the way that I would look at Christine Simpson is super strange for me. But if somebody sees me covering the Sens and says ‘Oh, I could actually cover the NHL and write and be an analyst?’ That’s just so special and meaningful.”

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