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Sports media trailblazers discuss the industry, the next generation and what it really means to ‘Play Like A Girl'

Four prominent women in the sports media arena spoke about their accomplishments, struggles and the future of the industry in “Play Like A Girl: A Discussion of Women in Sports and Media,” the keynote event in West Virginia University’s 2019 Diversity Week.

Hosted by the West Virginia University Reed College of Media , Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, panelists included Paola Boivin, a professor at Arizona State University, sports journalist and first female member of the College Football Playoff Committee; Meghan Duggan, captain of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team and three-time Olympic medal winner; Tomika Ferguson, Virginia Commonwealth University assistant professor who examines the college experiences of women of color student-athletes; and Kelli Zinn, deputy athletics director at WVU. The panel was moderated by Emily Corio, a teaching associate professor in the College of Media.

“It's an exciting time,” Duggan said of living and working in the sports world during movements like #MeToo and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s fight for pay equality. “I think it's on all of us – men, women, collegiate students and staff in all industries – to take moments like these, learn from them and then go out into your communities and make them better.”

“The fact that we're talking about it means that it has meaning and that a lot of people feel an attachment to it and that it is changing lives,” Ferguson added. And the more we talk about it, the more we cast out stereotypes and these negative things about women's participation and equality. It is really awesome to see that happening from different generations.”

Corio asked the panelists to share specific moments when they had either positive or negative experiences that changed the trajectory of their careers. The responses were primarily related to mentors who provided guidance and encouragement.

Boivin reflected on covering major league baseball early in her career. She was often the only female sports journalist and remembers feeling unwelcome and wanting to blend into the background. Until Orel Hershiser, pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers at that time, said to her, “You stand up straight, shoulders back, look straight ahead and act like you own the place because you are as deserving as anyone else.”

Zinn shared how she felt fortunate to be surrounded by supportive mentors and colleagues throughout her career that afforded her several opportunities to advance. “It's really important that, one, we embrace it. And two, that those of us who are given the opportunity do a great job with it – that we seize that opportunity and that we're effective,” Zinn continued.  

Then Corio prompted, “So, what does it mean to ‘play like a girl,’ and how do we change the insult that goes along with it?”

“We can take power in the language and not really make it so broad and try to single out different individuals and make it open. It allows us to have agency about how we define what we want to be,” Ferguson said.

“I think I might just add, ‘play like a girl-- and you'll be successful,’” Boivin said. “Then we flash a picture of Meghan or Diana Taurasi or somebody, you know? Everybody can jump in and celebrate that being a female athlete and being accomplished is a good thing.”