As the UK’s first black female sports editor, I take seriously my responsibility to set the tone when it comes to the representation of women - not just in sport, but in society in general. My experience in this profession goes back 17 years and it comes with ups and downs but the lasting impact I have had on this journey is the fact that my race has played a major part in shaping the person I have become.
The UK, like the US and other parts of the world, has a complicated history with racist symbolic representation and this is something I have experienced. For the past two centuries, degrading visual images of black women in sports and beyond — particularly women of African descent like myself — have played a powerful role in shaping debates about race. Such images and tropes are not even-handed, rather they tap into long-standing racist and sexist stereotypes that remain embedded in the fabric of our Western culture, used time and time again when a black woman is perceived as crossing a line or being “out of place” in a public space.
Whether this is on TV, radio or across social media channels like Twitter, we are frequently reminded of our place in the sports ecosystem. As a girl, I wanted to be an athlete like Denise Lewis because, to me, she was the first black woman I saw on TV that represented what most black girls in sport knew - that diverse women in sport are strong, beautiful, positive and hardworking. When I grew up, I still wanted to be like Denise because again she was the first black sports broadcaster I experienced and I wanted to do the same. I want to change the narrative of how diverse women in sports are represented and misrepresented.
I am excited about the recent rise in conversations around and about women's sports and women in sport but I want people to understand why it is important for me. For many of us, we have been on this journey for what feels like a lifetime without respect, equal treatment, and fairness.
For 17 years of my journey in sport, it has taken me to some amazing places, I have met some legendary supportive men and women and I have been part of some of the most understanding organizations globally. But also the same industry has - and has continued to - reject me for “being too black,” (whatever that is) and in some cases, I have been overlooked for jobs and replaced by someone who they thought society would be more “accepting of”. Don’t get me wrong, at times I laughed because some media institutions have normalised this culture. The reality is that the psychological impact on women like myself can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially when the same media institutions are promoting inclusion like it is a new fashion statement. Let’s not kid ourselves. We (diverse people) know it and feel it daily.
Throughout this journey I have had to limit or pretend to be less intelligent than the people in the room, to make others feel comfortable while making myself uncomfortable just to get my foot through the door to learn. It wasn't fair and it's still not fair for many in the same situation now, but it is a reality many face today. Being a black woman of African descent in the UK can be and has been a double disadvantage for me and many others
I am the embodiment of the struggles some women go through just to be accepted in sports, let alone respected. I am not a follower, I don't have a group of white girlfriends at the top in sports that clap for me when I win my battles, I have never been part of a clique in the sports industry. My journey has been solo with great mentors and male allies, who have helped shape my route to success. I am not sharing this so people can feel sorry for me, I am sharing it so you get a greater understanding of why GiveMesport Women is so personal to me, why I appreciate GiveMeSport for giving me the opportunity to help change the culture and why I believe in it so much.
In 2019, the Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMs) put together some facts and figures to give us a snapshot of sports media across major international events in 2018 - focusing on BAME and female journalists. These were focused on 338 roles across broadcast and written media. This is the perfect example of why the sports media industry has failed women at all levels. Out of 338 roles, only 98 are women and of the 98, 32 are from a BAME background. There are zero BAME female writers in newspapers, seven Asian journalists in sports media roles, and only three female writers from the national UK sports media went to the FIFA World Cup. In our own research, 40% of athletes in the UK are females but they only receive seven percent of the media coverage.
Where is the fairness in this? As a society, we have a social and moral responsibility to change. A diverse newsroom has the power to create change and be a trusted voice that really reflects what is going on in society today. My struggles over the years have led me to question this on many occasions, why things are the way they are? I came from Africa as I young girl with big dreams to a place I thought I was equal, but I quickly learned that isn’t the case. I learned that lesson in South Africa in 2017 when some of our favourite NBA players refused to do an interview for a broadcasting house I was working for because they didn't appreciate the inequality I had faced during my time there. They encouraged me to take off the branding of the broadcaster and report as a freelancer. At that moment, I cried because others had recognised my silent struggle and given me the opportunity to change the narrative. Looking back at my struggles, I see similar experiences for Juventus star Eniola Aluko and Lianne Sanderson, Chelsea star Anita Asante, Arsenal’s Danielle Carter, and tennis star Serena Williams to name a few - imagine a media landscape that doesn’t notice my gender or ethnicity? Something to think about.
Now, I talk from the standpoint of a black woman in the UK but I speak for all women who have been in a position of unfairness. This is personal to me because I don't want any woman to go through what I have had to go through just to talk about sports. I want the next generation (girls or boys) to see sports as sport and not as something that only men and boys do. I want society to grow some balls and change the narrative, where men are confident to stand for those amazing women within their organization working ridiculously hard to change the culture. I am tired of the saying, “that’s how things are in this industry.” Change it.
With the excitement of the FIFA Women’s World Cup building and our Lionesses heading to France this summer, let's not forget that in order to succeed we must stand together in solidarity in the media with all women from all walks of life and protect them at all cost. This is not a competition to me, it is a call to action for all media organisations and brands to help change the media landscape because GiveMesport Women can’t do it alone.
The future is exciting, not just because of the football but because of all the other sports that will be taking place for women – let’s embrace each other. We have a responsibility to tell the story of women in a way that truly reflects them. Being the first journalist to break a story might get you the hype, but being an honest and factual journalist will get you the respect and legacy you deserve. It is a struggle, it's not a walk in a park. We still have some dinosaurs in our boardrooms, offices and are newsrooms.
Women’s sports and women in sport have a legacy we should represent and celebrate. All I can do is apologise for not getting into this post quicker to help change the narrative of women in sport. But I am here now, to help change for ALL women going forward because we all deserve it.