While male sports reporters are typically judged by their commentary and analysis, women in the same industry face far more superficial and sexist scrutiny. In fact, the sexism that women in sports broadcasting face is so acute, even changing their hair can attract more fan flack than misquoting a stat or key play — just ask Fox Sports reporter Charissa Thompson. In an interview for HBO's Real Sports, Thompson recounted her 2008 run-in with this ugly side of sports media when she dared to dye her hair dark brown and don glasses. "I was just sick of being blonde and I wanted to rid myself of the Barbie thing," Thompson said, describing how she hoped the new look would pivot attention away from her beauty and toward her brains and experience. No such luck. As Thompson still clearly recalls eight years later, Deadspin reported on her hair color substitution with the headline, "Charissa Thompson Continues Down Suicidal Path to Frumpyville." That frustrated Thompson, to say the least. "Now, I'm doing this for credibility and I'm not getting the credibility. I'm just getting attention for being ugly," she told Real Sports. Realizing hair dye isn't powerful enough to cover up sexism, Thompson soon returned to her natural blonde. Deadspin's follow-up headline? "Charissa Thompson Returns to Bonerville."
Thompson's experience resonates with the recent Just Not Sports video documenting the #MoreThanMean tweets Sports Illustrated contributor Julie DiCaro and ESPN reporter Sarah Spain regularly receive on Twitter, which range from sexist complaints to rape threats. In March, sportscaster Erin Andrews was awarded $55 million in a lawsuit against her stalker and a Nashville, TN, Marriott hotel where he secretly filmed her naked. Sexism in sportscasting also is a two-way street, with male commentators paying disproportionate attention to female athletes' appearances. A study published in early August by Cambridge University Press examined more than 160 million words used in sports reporting to compare how men and women are covered. "It’s perhaps unsurprising to see that women get far less airtime than men and that their physical appearance and personal lives are frequently mentioned," Sarah Grieves, language researcher at Cambridge University Press, said in the study's press release. Chances are, those mentions also apply to women's hair choices. On Thursday, Univision bought the bankrupt Gawker Media Group, which includes Deadspin. The Wall Street Journal reports Deadspin and other former Gawker properties will become part of the Fusion Media Group.