I’ve never wanted to be one of those wrinkled relics who gently rocks on the porch or in the parlor and reminds anyone who cares to listen that everything was “so much better back in the day.”
Back in the day, after all, covers a whole lot of ground and, for me, that’s a retreat to the 1950s, shortly after one war ended, another kicked in and a third, which none of us fully understood, droned on until the 1970s.
We also had the very real threat of nuclear annihilation, the assassinations of three good men, the Ohio National Guard gunning down college kids at Kent State, segregated washrooms/schools/watering taps/lunch counters, and thousands on the streets in protests that began peacefully but often turned violent (“Four dead in Ohio,” sang Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). The young people weren’t in outrage because of something silly, like wearing a mask to the corner store. Their talking points were racism, equal rights and bombs bursting half a world away in Vietnam.
We also had vaccines. Oh, yes, we were required to stand in line at school while a non-smiling nurse jabbed a needle into an arm.
There was nothing kind and gentle and “so much better” about any of that, and even as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Woodstock et al served as delightful diversions and girls wore flowers in their hair, they couldn’t make the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., bulletproof, nor could they convince the American war machine to lay down arms. They were playing music, not sprinkling stardust.
But there was noise of another kind, too. Good noise.
Women began to raise their voices, first with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, published in February 1963. Unfulfilled housewives took to the notion that there was something for them other than the June Cleaver wife/mother model, something more substantial and rewarding than spending their days vacuuming in pearls and heels, wiping the Beaver’s runny nose and, of course, dutifully putting a hot meal on the dinner table for hubby the moment he arrived home from a demanding day in the real world.
Moreover, women took to the streets, protesting outside the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City in 1968 and figuratively burning their bras by tossing high heels, makeup, mops, pearls and undergarments into the Freedom Trash Can.
Girl power hit the streets in another way in December 1971, when Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine arrived at newsstands, and Time magazine, duly noting this wave of fresh female awareness, named American Women its Person of the Year in 1975.
“Enough U.S. women have so deliberately taken possession of their lives that the event is spiritually equivalent to the discovery of a new continent,” Lance Morrow wrote in Time.
Cinderella no longer was waiting to be asked to the ball, she asked the man, and some were so bold as to pick up the tab on a dinner date in full view of other patrons, hitherto a social taboo. The female workforce in the United States had doubled from the 1950s, and women on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border began going where few had ventured—to police forces, fire departments, courtrooms, construction sites, boardrooms, the political arena, West Point, etc.
Many took to journalism, at daily newspapers, which were not yet an endangered species, and they didn’t wander solely into the arts, entertainment or society sections. They invaded news and—egads!—the toy department, where gnarly, booze-swilling, stubble-chinned, good-time Charlies held sway.
There had, of course, been female sports scribes on our Frozen Tundra pre-1970s, Bobbie Rosenfeld of the Globe and Mail and Myrtle Cook McGowan of the Montreal Star to name two, but they were rarities, like snowfall in June.
Then it happened. A proliferation. Christie Blatchford joined the Globe and Mail and soon was penning the coveted main sports column. Mary Trueman and Nora McCabe were also on board, the latter described by Sports Illustrated as “an obscure journalist” after she had rattled John McEnroe’s cage to the point whereby the tennis brat expressed an unsolicited interest in her sex life, suggesting she needed to get laid more often.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Sun hired tennis pro Jane O’Hara to write sports, and Alison Gordon signed on at the Toronto Star to tell all about baseball’s Blue Jays.
On the home front, Winnipeg Tribune sports editor Jack Matheson had the good sense to hire Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo, while SE Maurice Smith countered with Barb Huck at the Winnipeg Free Press. Pioneers all. (Oh, we also had a female managing editor at the Trib, the youthful Dona Harvey, who was full of upside.)
And I think of them—and others like Judy Owen, Ashley Prest and Melissa Martin, who came along post-’70s to write sports at the Winnipeg Sun and Freep—every International Women’s Day.
When gazing across the jock journo landscape today (newspaper division), I don’t see a lot of female staff bylines in our major dailies. There’s Rosie DiManno, who flits between hard-core news and the toy department, and Laura Armstrong at the Star; Rachel Brady writes for what passes as a sports section at the Globe; Kristen Anderson covers hockey for Postmedia Calgary.
Neither of my hometown papers includes a female in its stable of sports scribes.
I wrote about this lack of female sports writing exactly 10 years ago this month (and a few times since), and nothing’s really changed. The boys are still dug in like ticks in a hound dog’s ear. Why is that?
Maybe it’s because newspapers are dying and women don’t see jock journalism as a career path that warrants their attention. Perhaps it’s the “women don’t know sports” stigma/narrative that still has oxygen to this day. Could be they shy away rather than expose themselves to the cesspool of gender-based commentary on Twitter and other social media platforms. But, hey, that doesn’t prevent them from picking up a microphone and talking to a TV camera.
I don’t have the answer. But I do know this: It was “so much better back in the day.”