Megan Reyes has been working in sports media since her first internship in 2009, with a diverse range of entities including the University of Oregon, Golden State Warriors, the Athletic, and most recently, sports podcasting network Blue Wire Podcasts before setting out as a freelance sports branding and social marketing consultant. But while the range of places she’s worked has been diverse, her co-workers haven’t always been.
“I didn’t see anyone that looked like me, let alone many women in the field,” said Reyes, who identifies as Filipino, cis-het, and uses she/her pronouns, of the sports landscape. “Then just as I’ve grown in my career and gone to different places, seeing the ins and outs of different organizations and cultures and talking to other friends and seeing how things operate where they may work, I just realized there’s a major lack of diversity.”
That led Reyes, in February, to design and market a T-shirt making a simple declaration for more diverse voices in sports. The shirt lists identity markers she feels are underrepresented in the sports world, including women, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and LGBTQ+. She also partnered with a trio of advocacy organizations—Athlete Ally, the Black Women’s Player Collective, and Move United—that could benefit from proceeds raised via shirt sales.
Though Reyes had plenty of anecdotal evidence about white male dominance in the sports world to draw from in making the shirts, there’s also data backing what she’s seeing.
ESPN reported recently on the 2021 Sports Media Racial and Gender Report Card: Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) Racial and Gender Report Card, noting that it “evaluates the racial and gender hiring practices of more than 100 newspapers and websites across all circulation sizes.”
The article noted, “APSE earned a racial grade of a B-plus, an improvement from the B in 2018, while its gender grade remained an F. The overall grade of a C was an improvement from the D-plus in the 2018 study.” It found, for instance, that 79.2% of the sports editors were white and 83.3% were men, while the percentage of women reporters rose from 11.5% in 2018 to 14.4% in 2021, and the percentage of BIPOC reporters increased from 17.9% in 2018 to 22.9% in 2021.
The entity responsible for that study, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida, also did a study of FBS universities in 2018, looking at those schools’ hiring practices for leadership positions. According to the USA Today article on the study, TIDES gave the schools a D overall, combining a C grade for racial hiring and an F in gender hiring.
Since launching the campaign, Reyes has engaged at least one professional sports franchise, the Los Angeles Chargers of the NFL, which according to her was looking to engage its Spanish-speaking audience and hire Latino professionals who could help the team connect with that part of its audience.
She’s also attracted the attention of athletes who have repped the shirt on their social media platforms, including WNBA star A’Ja Wilson and NBA veteran Enes Kanter, and is coordinating with the New York-based NWSL team, NY/NJ Gotham FC, on a special version of the shirt using their color scheme.
The shirts also found advocates in the sports media world, including those who have built social media and traditional media platforms allowing them to amplify the message Reyes has committed to shirt form.
Christian Polanco created the Cooligans podcast in 2015, taking a comedic perspective on myriad soccer topics, along with fellow Latino comedian Alexis Guerreros, and they’ve extended its reach to TV via the Fubo Sports Network. Polanco attributes its growth to both the hard work they’ve done promoting the podcast and what he sees as the comparative open-mindedness of soccer fans. Even though, as he explains, some out there consider them the “wrong” kind of Latinos to cover the sport.
“The fact that we get to do the show that we do is, to me, like this miracle,” Polanco explains. “Alexis is of Cuban heritage, I’m of Dominican heritage—two particular countries that are not big soccer countries. So the fact that two guys like us who are just fans of the game, and also get to do a television show about it, is nuts. If we had just pitched the show and hadn’t been doing a podcast for five years beforehand, nobody would have bought into it.”
Joy Taylor, who has her own Fox Sports Radio show and is a co-host for The Herd with Colin Cowherd, was drawn to the shirt and its message, learning of it just by virtue of following Reyes on Twitter.
“I think it’s important to use your platform to encourage diversity, no matter where you are in the business, and also to encourage diversity not just on camera, but also behind the scenes and at the varying levels of decision making that lives within the media business,” Taylor said, “Behind the scenes, executives, PR, whatever the division may be, it’s important to have diversity at all those levels as well, because that influences what you see on-air as much as the talent that’s hired.”
Taylor, who is Black, started her sports media career in 2007, has found that wearing the shirt has led to important conversations she’s been able to have around diversity in sports.
“It often sparks the conversation of ‘The best person should be hired for the job,’ which is the usual rebuttal to the idea of diversity in any space… But, of course, if you come from a minority space, you will very much understand that it’s not that straightforward. People often scientifically hire people that look like them, that are the same gender as them, sometimes the same age as them, and feel comfortable with people of their backgrounds.”
“It’s not as simple as ‘The best person should get the opportunity’ because it’s sometimes impossible to even get in the room,” she explained. “And that’s the conversation that is usually the response from when that shirt is posted. And I think that’s an important conversation to explain to people.”
“Your workspace should reflect the world, and what the world looks like and sounds like and talks like, and the world is an extremely diverse place,” she added. “So if you look around the space that you’re in, and you’re surrounded by all of the same kinds of people, all the same gender, all the same identifying group, then not only are you missing the opportunity for different perspectives, and ideas and growth, but you’re also not speaking to whole massive groups of people around the world. And that’s why diversity is so important.”
Reyes feels that social media can be an incredibly powerful tool for those looking to break into sports media to put themselves out there, seeing Twitter in particular as a way for creatives to put their work out where it can be seen.
“Twitter is more of a recruiting tool than you realize,” she asserted. “Now that I’ve been on the other side, when I’ve been in hiring positions, I’ll look to see, if we’re looking for someone that fits XYZ, let me scroll on the timeline, let me see if anyone comes to mind, let me check out people’s work.”
She also saw first-hand, in the process, how much momentum something started on social media can generate should it resonate with people. “My initial thought was let me do this for International Women’s Day [on March 8], maybe I’ll do it for the month of March for Women’s History Month and then I’ll close up orders.”
She even thought about shutting down orders in April, but noted, “Multiple people in my circle told me, ‘You can’t close it. You can’t shut it down now.”
Then, reflecting on the opportunities to connect with people and raise awareness over the issue, added, “And I’m glad I didn’t.”
Rhoden’s Road Trip
Award-winning columnist William C. “Bill” Rhoden is the product of a grand HBCU tradition. Rhoden’s collegiate journey began at Morgan State University, where he was a member of the 1968 team that beat Grambling in Yankee Stadium in the Whitney Young Classic. One of the most respected journalists of his generation —spanning nearly four decades— he has witnessed the changing face of HBCUs from their rise to their desire to thrive. Fifty years after that memorable moment at Yankee Stadium, Rhoden, along with the help of the Rhoden Fellows, a team of aspiring HBCU journalists, explore the rich history and culture of HBCU football.