Woso and the Media: The Good, The Bad, and the Fixable

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmail

RJ Allen:

I am RJ Allen and I am here with Chelsey Bush to have a conversation about a topic near and dear to our hearts.

Isn’t that right, Chelsey?

Chelsey Bush:

Very much so.

RJ Allen:

Today, we’re going to talk about women’s soccer media and about being a woman in women’s soccer and sports media.

Where to start? There is just so much.

Chelsey Bush:

Let’s talk a little about the difference between media coverage of women’s soccer and the coverage of men’s sports.

RJ Allen:   

That’s a very good place to start.

And quite frankly it’s not hard to spot the difference.

Chelsey Bush:

Differences, in the plural, I would say.

RJ Allen:

Yes, differences.

Let’s start with game commentary, shall we?

Chelsey Bush:

Sounds good.

RJ Allen: 

How many times in a USWNT match do we need to hear about the men’s game, either the MLS or USMNT?

Chelsey Bush:

Do we need to? Never. Do we? Every game.

RJ Allen:

I don’t understand it either. Maybe at a Dash game or Thorns game or Orlando game because the teams are connected. But it seems like every game.

Chelsey Bush:

Every one. MLS, Euros, Leicester City, USMNT, Copa … I could go on.

But they so very rarely mention the women during a men’s broadcast.

RJ Allen:

Even the USWNT at a USMNT game.

Which you think would be easy to work in.

Chelsey Bush:

And never the NWSL.

RJ Allen: 

A lot of USWNT games don’t even mention the NWSL.

Chelsey Bush: 

Right. I think they’re getting better at it, but still.

RJ Allen:

How hard is it to say “Seattle Reign’s Hope Solo will be started in goal tonight”?

Chelsey Bush:

Or when the game lulls a bit, talk about the club season a certain player is having. That’s something you hear often in MNT games.

RJ Allen:

Another thing I think they don’t often do—and this was really highlighted when for me when I heard the France vs Canada game, because they did do it—is no one wants to really call players out when they aren’t preforming.

Chelsey Bush: 

Oh, that’s a huge issue for me.

RJ Allen:

I know it is.

Chelsey Bush:

Both in broadcast and in print. The tendency is to rarely criticize the players or the coach until something goes wrong, i.e. a big loss.

They should be praised and criticized in equal measure, as the play demands.

RJ Allen:

It’s almost like they are worried if they go too negative it will undermine the whole thing.

Like an “I can’t call Alex Morgan out for diving or people are going to think all women dive” sort of thing.

Chelsey Bush:

That’s because women’s soccer is often viewed as a cause.

RJ Allen: 

Which is bullshit.

There is no other way to say it.

Chelsey Bush:

I mean, I do understand that you have to grow the game. We’re really lucky in the U.S., because there’s so much more support here than in many other countries. But even here you still have people—not just the general public, but even in the media—who don’t care about women’s sports in general and have no problem saying so.

But treating it with kid gloves undermines its legitimacy.

RJ Allen:

Which NWSL commentators do you think do the best job?

Putting you on the spot a little, but I’m okay with that.

Chelsey Bush: 

May be a bit homer of me, but you know I’m going with Matt Pedersen and Jen Cooper of the Dash.

RJ Allen:

Am I being a homer if I add Lesle Gallimore from the Reign, even though I live on the other side of the country?

Chelsey Bush: 

Yes, because it’s still your team. But I agree she does a great job.

RJ Allen: 

Being a coach helps, I think. She knows how to read the game in that way and call out players in a fair way.

And no one dares call out Hope Solo on a mistake like she does. Most just don’t mention it.

You know that makes me chuckle.

Chelsey Bush:

Yes.

RJ Allen:

What do you think needs to change in WoSo media to make it more on par with the men’s side, in terms of standards?

Chelsey Bush:

There’s so much to say on this.

Treat them as players first, for one. They’re there to do a job, so critique them as such.

And learn how to pronounce their names.

RJ Allen: 

Do you think that we’re too invested in their personalities and stories?

We, as in media.

We want to see them do well, so we hold back to spare their feelings or so others won’t “hate on” them?

Chelsey Bush:

There’s a tendency, yes.

Many people who cover women’s soccer were fans first (you and I included).

It’s hard to ignore that attachment to certain teams or players and view them as impartially as possible.

And to speak in a broader sense…

There’s a lot more access to women’s soccer than other sports. They sign autographs after every game, they meet fans; they utilize social media. They’re celebrities of a sort, but very approachable ones. All of this contributes to a sense that you know them on a personal level. And that adds to an investment in them as a person, not as a player.

RJ Allen: 

I often hear from fans when I talk about this player or that “well you just don’t like them.”

As if me liking them or not is why I am calling them out on this or that.

I am apparently a Rapinoe hater because I had questions about her being named to the Rio roster.

Writers aren’t stupid, we know by and large how fans feel and take that into account when we write.

Chelsey Bush:

For sure.

I know I’ve held my tongue at times because I just don’t want to deal with that sort of backlash. And that is a problem.

RJ Allen:

I’ve not written pieces because I’ve not wanted to deal with the backlash. Even if I feel the issues should be spoken about.

Chelsey Bush:

Here is where being a women comes into it as well.

There’s backlash on top of backlash.

RJ Allen:

It’s why I decided to write under RJ Allen. My “real” name is Rebecca Allen.

I didn’t want the first thing someone judged for to be that I’m a woman. So I adjusted my name slightly.

I go by Becca in everyday life.

Chelsey Bush:

And now you’re exposed.

But it’s important for women to cover women’s sports. To cover all sports, really.

RJ Allen:

I agree. I have talked to both male writers and male sports fans. And some things I don’t think they “get” about women or women’s sports.

Chelsey Bush:

It’s just a different perspective.

RJ Allen: 

It is. It’s not a bad thing, but it is a thing.

Chelsey Bush:

Take, for instance, a player coming back after a pregnancy. Normally I don’t like talk about personal lives, but it’s similar in ways to coming back from an injury, so I think it’s relevant. That’s a perspective Alexi Lalas can’t have, but Aly Wagner can.

RJ Allen:

And it is a factor in women’s sports. As FCKC found out.

Chelsey Bush:

It definitely is.

This isn’t to say that male media has no role in women’s sports, or vice versa. It should be equal across the board.

RJ Allen: 

I think both voices need to be at the table, and the best of both sides need to be heard, for sure.

Chelsey Bush:

The ultimate goal is equal coverage, in pretty much every sense of the word “equal.”

And that goes all the way back to where we started, which is the manner in which women’s soccer is covered.

RJ Allen: 

Why do you do this job?

As one of your bosses I can say you don’t get paid, the hours can be rough, and the benefits aren’t all that impressive.

Though I am a peach to work with.

Chelsey Bush:

So many reasons.

I love soccer, and I love writing. Why not combine the two?

I have opinions, often strong, that I need to get out. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that.

And I think there needs to be more coverage of women’s soccer, and I think sometimes I can provide a viewpoint that others don’t or won’t.

RJ Allen:

I always say that I do the job in hopes one day I am out of it.

I want to see the day were there are enough professionals covering it, ones who are paid, that I don’t feel the fear that if I don’t do it, it might not be done. Though, at this point, even if that happened, I’m not sure I could walk away.

The pay would be nice though.

Chelsey Bush:  

Yeah, I agree, but I’ll be selfish enough to admit that, by that time, I hope I’m good enough that I’m one of the professionals.

A dream.

RJ Allen: 

It’s that double-edged sword of wanting to do it but also wanted pros to handle it.

But the pros weren’t pros until they decided to become pros.

Chelsey Bush:

Yes, we all want it to become more professional.

RJ Allen:

One thing I think we should touch on is the professional bit.

We are both fans of clubs in the NWSL and of the USWNT, and we cover both of those things as media members.

What do you think of the fan/professional divide?

Chelsey Bush:

It’s hard because we are fans. And to be media, you have to suppress that fangirl side.

At my first game, as press, Becky Sauerbrunn brushed past me, and inwardly I was flipping, but I couldn’t do anything besides give her a smile.

You can be friendly with the players, but you can’t go asking for autographs or pictures. It’s not professional, and you’re there to do a job, just like they are.

RJ Allen:

I think you can support a team though. As long as you make that bias clear and you treat the teams fairly in your writing.

Chelsey Bush:

Yes, I agree.

RJ Allen:

Everyone knows at this point, I think, that you’re a Dash fan and I’m a combo Seattle and Sky Blue fan.

Chelsey Bush:

If you don’t know I’m Dash to the core, you don’t pay attention.

RJ Allen:

But that doesn’t mean I don’t call those clubs out when they need it.

Chelsey Bush:

Right.

In fact, sometimes I think I’m even harder on the Dash than other teams.

Because I’m more invested in them doing well.

And also because I know them better than other teams.

RJ Allen:

Some of the best writers in WoSo have a clear team they support. I think pretending you don’t when you do can just come off as theater.

Chelsey Bush:

Right, and there’s nothing wrong with having your team, so long as you treat them fairly. As we said earlier, praise and criticize as needed, based on the play.

RJ Allen:

Are you hopeful for the future of WoSo media?

Chelsey Bush: 

Very.

These women work just as hard as anyone else, and they’ve earned as much media coverage as anyone else. They’ve earned places on Sportscenter Top 10. They’ve earned headlines.

I want women’s soccer to continue to grow, and media is a big part of that.

RJ Allen:

Any final thoughts on the WoSo media or women in WoSo media?

I know you love to give a good sermon.

Chelsey Bush:

I just want to issue a challenge, ourselves included.

Tell the story the way it is. Accept the backlash, ignore the comments section, and say what you have to say. The legitimacy of WoSo is connected to the legitimacy of WoSo media, and we have a responsibility to do the best and the most that we can. Because right now, it’s still at the point where there’s not enough coverage.

RJ Allen:

I think that is a challenge worth taking. More than worth it.

You can catch Chelsey (and me) talking about women’s soccer every Monday at 8 p.m. eastern on The Midfield Report on YouTube and iTunes.