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Every so often a book comes along that shakes your worldview, that opens your eyes, and deserves the capitals on Important Sports Book. Julie DiCaro’s Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America is most definitely one. It’s a book for the times.
DiCaro has done a remarkable job walking the line between a personal story and detailing historical issues that have thwarted women in sports. I found myself deeply drawn into it, at once recoiling in disgust at the way she has been treated by some in fandom and the industry, and turning the page, inspired by her resilience.
Hockey comes up throughout the narrative, from the 1975 NHL All-Star Game where women reporters first entered a locker room, to the Olympic and World champion American women’s hockey teams, and a bit on the attempts to have women’s hockey leagues.
DiCaro doesn’t dodge the tough issues, and the various sports leagues are taken to task over #MeToo, tone deaf promotions playing to male fanbases, and so much more.
Based in Chicago, DiCaro had been a criminal defense attorney before getting into sports writing, and had worked with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Therefore, her coverage of the Patrick Kane sexual assault accusation in August 2015 will stick with you. The case fell apart, and that opened the floodgates for the trolls, even though she had never weighed in on Kane’s guilt or innocence—just reported the facts. An excerpt:
“In the midst of all the notifications I was getting about all the ways Blackhawks fans wanted to maim and kill me, someone sent me a picture of the entrance to the building where I worked. It wasn’t the main building entrance; it was a small entrance around the back: the way I got into the building every day.
“That was the first time I understood what it meant to have your blood run cold.”
When we spoke on the phone in late April, the whole Kane issue came up again. “The Blackhawks could have ended it in one second. It wasn’t just me—it was anyone who was not saying this woman is a liar, was getting just absolutely destroyed by Blackhawks fans,” explained DiCaro. “The Blackhawks and Patrick Kane himself could have ended it in two seconds by saying please don’t harass media trying to cover the story, they’re just doing their jobs. But they never said that.”
Hockey is just not as “woke” and aware as it should be. At Deadspin.com, where DiCaro has a podcast called The Ladies’ Room with Jane McManus (Director, Marist’s Center for Sports Communication), another colleague just called out the Hawks on the ridiculousness of putting their logo over top of a Pride flag. DiCaro had a story a few days earlier about the Texas-based Allen Americans, an ECHL team in a Dallas suburb, wearing uniforms for the local police, featuring the controversial “thin blue line” flag—only a month after police had killed an unarmed black man, Marvin Scott III, going through a mental health crisis.
“At least in my city, in this country, I don’t think of hockey as being all that progressive,” she said.
Sports coverage is a male-dominated industry. When she worked in radio, DiCaro sometimes went the whole day without seeing another female face. “There aren’t a lot of industries like that left,” she said. “The appeal to my publisher was that, this is a space that not a lot has been written about. I tried to, sort of weave in and out of that facts that that are larger than just the numbers that we have in the sports media industry. But, as I say in the book, that so much of what we work through in society is based on sports, whether we’re talking about Jackie Robinson integrating baseball before America was integrated, whether we’re talking about Muhammad Ali bringing the Vietnam War into people’s living rooms, or Billie Jean King fighting for LGBTQ rights and fighting for gender rights, all those kinds of things, the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. Sports is where we work through a lot of this stuff, and for that reason, I think it’s a really interesting case study on what it’s like to be a woman in America.”
Apparently, I wasn’t the only male to apologize for all that she, and too many others, have gone through. The response to Sidelined has been “pretty much” what she expected.
“I’ve had a lot of women who don’t necessarily want to say so publicly, but who reached out privately and said, ‘Thank you for writing this, I feel so seen by this book.’ And not just women who work in sports. I wrote the book thinking that this is a microcosm of issues that women face at large in society. So I’ve had women who are in completely other fields say, ‘This is exactly how I feel at my job every day,’” she began.
“I’m glad that people feel that way, obviously, but at the same time, it’s a little depressing that so many people feel that way. I hope that the book can at least start a conversation about the changes that we need to have.”
The publicity aspect has been a surprise. The publisher, the Dutton imprint in the Penguin Random House empire, got copies to sports talk radio stations but the silence has been deafening. “Almost all my media tour has been on non-sports stations,” said DiCaro—although today she is talking to me at a hockey historian book blog. “Because I think the powers that be, and the guys who are in that space don’t necessarily want to acknowledge a lot of those things—and I think that that’s a big part of the problem.”
My own knowledge was woeful when it comes to all the facts covered in the book. Like the first woman to call an NFL game was Gayle Sierens in 1987, but there wasn’t another until Beth Mowins recently. “I think it’s really easy to look at Doris Burke calling NBA games and, look at Kate Scott calling hockey games, and be like, ‘Oh, everything’s changing.’ And it is changing—a bit,” said DiCaro. “But we haven’t gotten nearly as far as we should have in the 40 years that women had to file lawsuits to get into MLB locker room, we should be much further along than that.”
DiCaro wasn’t completely up on the recent push at Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada to get more women and persons of colour involved, but supports it all the way. “We’re not going to be where we need to be until every employer, every media outlet is making efforts not only to have women in front of the camera, but to have them in the positions of people that are doing the hiring and firing, deciding what content can go on the air, deciding what people can say on social media, that’s when I think things will start to change.”
As fans, DiCaro said we need to make our voices heard with the networks and radio stations. She also cautioned against a limited perspective. Follow people on Twitter that have a different viewpoint, for example. Try Black Girl Hockey or Holly Rowe.
“Twitter these days is sort of like, choose your own news feed, right? It depends on who you follow,” said DiCaro. “I always recommend to people to go out of their way—if you’re white, go out of your way to follow people of color; if you’re a man, go out of your way to follow women; if you’re a straight person, go out of your way to follow people who are members of the LGBTQ community.”
It’s not all doom and gloom. We both have teenagers at home, and see hope.
“The generation coming in behind is much more accepting of seeing women in the space, seeing women, not just on TV and hearing them on the radio, but seeing them coaching and seeing them on the sidelines, and I think that makes a big difference,” she concluded.
Julie DiCaro's podcast The Ladies’ Room with Jane McManus
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