About TOMBOY

About TOMBOY

Equal opportunities and mutual respect for women and girls stand among the most hotly contested social issues in America. The divisions that exist affect the development of confidence, disturb corporate boardrooms and even disrupt presidential politics. In the testosterone-heavy sports world, the journey of the female athlete is often discouraging, and despite progress achieved during the Title IX era, gender equity in athletics has a long way to go.

In TOMBOY, CSN explores female participation in organized sports and the challenges faced at every level. From the obstacles that young girls encounter at the recreational stage, to the stereotypes, language issues and cultural disparities that follow, and ultimately the insufficient media coverage and compensation that afflicts elite professional athletes seeking full recognition for their talents.

TOMBOY presents an unadulterated account heard through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives:

  • Ann Meyers Drysdale - basketball Hall of Famer/NBC Olympics commentator
  • Hilary Knight - hockey four-time World Champion/two-time Olympic silver medalist Tobin Heath - soccer World Cup champion/two-time Olympic gold medalist
  • Nadine Angerer - soccer World Cup champion/2013 FIFA World Player of the Year
  • Angela Hucles - soccer two-time Olympic gold medalist
  • Monica Abbott - softball “Million Dollar Arm” pitcher/Olympic silver medalist
  • Miesha Tate - UFC bantamweight champion
  • Kim Ng - MLB Senior VP of Operations

TOMBOY is a multiplatform documentary project encompassing a one-hour television special premiering nationally on January 20, 2017. Weekly content released through CSN’s websites and social media platforms accompany a series of related podcasts and forums designed to foster public engagement and dialogue.

Quotes from TOMBOY:

“We want to have the best of both worlds. I want to be able to play with Barbies, I want to be able to play dress up, and I also want to be able to go outside and pitch a 77 mile-per-hour softball.”
- Monica Abbott, National Pro Fastpitch “Million Dollar Arm”

“When I was five years old, my grandma asked me what do you want to be when you grow up? And I told her I want to be a hockey player. She said, oh, girls don’t play hockey.”
- Hilary Knight, USA Hockey four-time World Champion

“I just seem to identify more with the male characteristics… of not limiting yourself, and doing whatever it is that makes you happy, following your heart and not segregating yourself based on your sex.”
- UFC Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate

“There’s nothing weak about being strong. Whether it’s strong arms, or strong body or strong mind – and that strong can be really sexy too. But we need to continue to change that message, because that’s not the message that I hear.”
- Former USA Soccer player and current NBC commentator Danielle Slaton

“I see hope, and I see opportunity, and it is within arm’s reach. I’m tired, but I will never rest. Women will never rest.”
- National Pro Fastpitch champion Emily Allard

We're not unicorns -- we do exist

kelli-johnson.jpg

We're not unicorns -- we do exist

When people, and by people I mean both men and women, find out what I do for a living, it’s always the same response and question, “That’s cool! So you’re on TV?! Why sports broadcasting… do you like sports?”  Now, the inner smartass in me wants to say, “No, I hate sports.  I just think pro athletes are hot and rich and famous, and I just want to sleep with them and hang out in locker rooms!” 

Because unfortunately, that is exactly what many men (and even some women) think. 

But instead, I give the standard explanation: I played college basketball.  My parents were both athletes and coaches and PE teachers so I literally grew up on the baseball field and in the gym, playing every sport I could.  But since I can’t play competitively anymore, I decided covering sports was the next best thing… so here I am.

It’s a conversation that seems harmless, and I really don’t mind sharing my story.  In fact, I’m very proud of my athletic career and upbringing, because I truly love sports and it’s a big part of who I am. But does anyone ever ask a man in sports broadcasting, “Why did you pick that profession… do you like sports?” 

I would guess that has possibly never been asked of a man, at least the latter part. Because for some reason if you were born with a penis, you automatically know how to play sports and can understand sports.  And when a man gets on TV and talks about the Warriors win over the Cavaliers and Stephen Curry’s big night, he is automatically considered qualified and knowledgable.  I mean, does anyone ever think to ask a man who covers the NBA, did you actually play basketball?  We women get that question all the time. I love it when guys say, “what do you know about football, you never played it!”  Which is true - but do you know how many men cover the NFL who never played the game either? 

If we’re comparing resumes, I would venture to say that most of my male counterparts don’t have athletic careers that rival mine.  Did they play Division I sports on a full-ride scholarship?  Were they four-year starters and all-conference selections? Did they set scoring records and get inducted into their University’s Sports Halls of Fame?  I did.  But I don’t hand out my resume when I go to work just so that I can have the same respect as the men around me.

Once I actually had an MLB team executive tell me that he Googled my name when I started covering the team and was impressed to read about my basketball career!  It was like he looked at me in a totally different way.  I suddenly had his respect.  And yet strangely, I kinda liked the fact that he looked me up, so at least he knew I had the credentials to be there.  But unfortunately, that is most often the case when you first start covering a team. The front office, coaches and athletes are quick to judge you based on the very first question you ask… you can almost hear them thinking, “oh boy, let’s see if this woman knows what she’s talking about.”  

When I talk to young women who want to get into this business today, my first piece of advice is to always know what you’re talking about and be prepared to back it up. I tell them to do their homework and be more prepared then the men around them, because every time you open your mouth, you will be judged. And the one time you mess up, mispronounce a name, get a stat wrong, it will be because you are a woman and just a cute skirt who doesn’t know sports. 

That’s our reality in this so called man’s world

And I gladly accept the challenge… because unlike many of my male counterparts, I am a retired athlete, who still needs to fuel my competitive fire.  So bring it on.  I love proving people wrong and showing I can “hang with the boys.”  I don’t even mind when I get that response from a guy at the bar who looks at me and says shockingly, “Wow, you really know your sports.  You’re like every guy’s dream girl!”  Yet another comment I’m sure my male counterparts don’t hear on a daily basis.  But I laugh.  It’s funny and sort of a back-handed compliment.  I get it, it’s not every day you hear a woman talking about a cover two defense over sushi!  But we are not unicorns, we do exist. 

Of course, when I’m not behind the mic, I still really enjoy playing pickup ball and embarrassing dudes on the court, because they immediately assume that I can’t play.  Or playing in a golf charity event and having guys stare in amazement at my long drive right down the fairway, because you know girls aren’t supposed to be able to hit a golf ball… or throw a baseball… or make it rain like the Splash Brothers… or talk a good game!  After all, we’re missing that important piece of anatomy. 

Oh and for the record, when we do have to go into the locker room to DO OUR JOBS, we aren’t trying to check anyone out! Only a man would do that.  

One TV reporter's path to the Sixers sideline

tomboy-molly-sullivan.jpg

One TV reporter's path to the Sixers sideline

“I’d like to invite you to take part in a project called TOMBOY… CSN will present a unique look at the challenges girls and women face in sports.... “

Five minutes before I received the email message above, Adam on Twitter apologized for calling my then 7-month-old daughter, Isabella, a boy after viewing a photo of Joel Embiid holding her. I replied: “No harm, no foul…Isabella is a tomboy just like her mom.”

Timing: it’s a beautiful thing.

“A multiplatform project… our talent will write blogs about their experiences as women in sports.”

That was the direction I received for this, my very first blog post. Here’s the thing. My entire life has revolved around sports, so I called an audible. I decided to roll with the path that led me to Philly, reflecting on the power of hard work, staying true to oneself, surrounding yourself with good people, continuously learning, playing nice and dreaming big. My mom is the strongest, smartest and most beautiful woman I know, and now as a new mom myself, I hope my own daughter will grow up knowing the value of a life that includes participating in sports and learning its lifelong lessons.

“We’ll produce podcasts with each of our female talent and a guest who’s had a prominent impact on her life.”

Onward to introspection and the next part of the TOMBOY project. I caught up with fellow swimmer Summer Sanders. Beginning in seventh grade, I became a fan of the TV show “NBA Inside Stuff” and could hardly wait for Saturday mornings after swim team practice in Las Vegas so that I would be ‘in the know’ about everything basketball. Summer hosted the show for eight years with Ahmad Rashad. I remember thinking that she had the best job ever -- always smiling, having fun, talking hoops.

In my world, Summer was the epitome of class and cool. She connected with people in a way that helped me fall in love with the art of storytelling. Summer was often the only girl on the show, and it was evident that all of the coaches, players, front office and people within the association clearly respected her. Looking back, I now realize why that was normal to me. I, too, am an athlete, training with the boys throughout my career as a distance swimmer was a key to my success and prepared me for my current life’s work.

The NBA is my first love. But it took me a few years to find my niche.

For 14 years, I swam competitively. I chose the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over UCLA because, well, for starters, the Dean Dome is connected to the pool and on my recruiting trip they took me to a Carolina basketball game (OK, there was a little more to my decision, but that certainly helped show I was born to be a Tar Heel).

With wet hair and wide eyes, I would watch the TV broadcasters prepare for every UNC home game, and and to help with the transition after graduation, my coach introduced me to UNC alumni that were leaders in the field of sports broadcasting. I can recall one such conversation with my coach where I shared with him that I felt in one of the alumni meetings this particular alum was bothered by my approach, to which he responded, “She thinks you want her job.” Truth was, I did, but there’s enough room for both of us, right? In my mind, we were still on the same team, not only because of our Carolina connection but also as women in sports.

That’s when my mom told me, “Remember this moment and how she made you feel. You”ll be in her position one day with the ability to pay it forward.” Every time someone (male or female) asks for help or feedback, I always think back to how disappointed I was with that interaction and, to this day, I never let competition get in the way of doing what’s right.

Because I was on a full ride athletic scholarship, my focus was on time spent in the pool, leaving very few discretionary hours for a broadcasting internship until my four years of eligibility were met. Following that internship at the CBS affiliate in Las Vegas, my first paying job out of college was actually a double. From 9 to 5, I was a publicist for a public relations company specializing in the hotel-casino industry where I learned the other side of reporting with a focus on writing and effective communication from a media perspective.

At 5 o’clock, I would book it to my second job as a news production assistant, where I edited packages, ran audio, wrote scripts and field produced for nightly newscasts. Those 15-hour days launched me into a producer gig until my reporter missed an assignment and the “suits” told me to step in. Yes, my first on-air gig happened because I was the only one at the shoot. Lesson: always be prepared. I was moved from reporting on a weekly segment to hosting and producing my own weekly show, which eventually led to hosting my own daily half-hour show. In my spare time, I even wrote and published a book.

My hometown of Las Vegas is one of the few cities where sports and entertainment are intertwined, so while my first year in front of the camera was as an entertainment reporter, I often found myself covering the sporting events that were in town -- such as the NBA Summer League. I can hear you: This was my shot! Not exactly.

While I have tape of me interviewing LeBron James in 2008, I wasn’t being true to myself with long platinum blonde hair and questionable wardrobe choices while trying to emulate the professionalism of Doris Burke. I found that it was important to return to the kid that grew up watching the NBA with her parents, was obsessed with Jordan and Bird and would practice sideline reports during commercials while craving feedback from my father. Many times it would be a walk-and-talk interview at the half as I followed him as he went to the kitchen to get food. It was during this time when I watched my father mute several (unnamed) sideline reporters. To this day, I work hard so viewers don’t hit the mute button. Seriously.

Thankfully, in the fall of 2007, I found a way to return to my athletic roots as a sideline and field reporter for college football and college basketball for a regional sports network that was owned by Comcast.

There weren't a lot of eyes on our game broadcasts, which allowed me to really cut my teeth and hone my craft. In fact, there wasn't a budget for a basketball sideline reporter, so I worked games for gratis and for the experience with an eye on my goal of reporting for the NBA. It was a natural transition, from entertainment to sports, as it felt like I was home.

April 18, 2012: Philly called. And just like my first on-air gig, I wasn't CSN’s first choice. Opportunity knocked when their first choice was in a mountain bike accident and unable to accept the assignment. (She ultimately recovered from her accident.) I had three days notice to prepare and to show up ready for the Sixers-Pacers game. I started to panic, thinking about how I had fumbled at various job interviews. It had been my dream job since the beginning of dreaming, reporting in the NBA, and I didn’t want to squander my opportunity. I remember trying to make excuses to my agent as I was in full-blown “Irish exit” mode. This was my big shot. My father pulled me aside and he started digging through a box filled with newspaper and magazine clippings from my days as a swimmer -- photos, videos, everything but the water from the pools where I had competed. My father said, “You’re ready.” He was right. Everything that I had experienced led me to that moment.

Currently, I’m writing this on the Sixers flight to Milwaukee as the only girl traveling with the team. From day one, it was important to me that I earn respect from the organization. I felt I could best do that by working hard. They trust me. And that means everything. Whether it’s the Sixers or their opponent, it’s important in my role to establish who you are from the jump. For me, it’s the fact that I know the game and they know I’m here to help tell their story. I have cultivated an unspoken understanding that whether I’m tracking a player down on the court after a shootaround or reporting from the locker room after a game, both the players and I have a job to do on behalf of the fans.

Shortly after HBO Real Sports ran a women in sports television piece, I had a mini debate on Twitter with a self-described feminist. She questioned why I was “sticking up” for a colleague that was featured in the special. Why? Because she is really good at her job. It’s the same reason I didn’t focus on the very few negative experiences along my 10-year journey as a sports reporter. Because, then, they win. I would rather share my story and hope that it might inspire someone out there in the same way that Summer Sanders and Doris Burke helped to inspire me. 

Perhaps it would be helpful to readers for me to address my thoughts about social media. During the 2014 NBA playoffs, I worked for TNT and NBA TV. That was my “welcome to social media” moment, even though I had been in the league for three years. All eyes were on the Hawks-Pacers series. I generally don’t take myself too seriously but I take my job extremely seriously. If a viewer doesn’t like the clothes I have chosen, that’s on them and I’m moving on to my next assignment. Other times, there can be a little more substance in the message. To be honest, I do internalize and embrace most feedback. I enjoy that side of the job. It brings me back to my years as a competitive swimmer always looking to tweak my performance to show improvement. Like everyone who engages social media, I’ve come across some beauts on Twitter. The birth of my daughter has opened my eyes to what matters most in life.

Being a mom is 1 and my job is 1A. Reporting on my first love and for the city I love. I have also learned that you're only as good as your teammates, and I have found the best teammates in the NBA. My goal is to show my daughter and all little girls what it takes to be a strong woman in a man’s game.