The Age’s former chief football writer, Caroline Wilson, shed light on sexism in sports at the 2018 Andrew Olle Lecture last night, recalling the times throughout her three and a half decade-long career that she’s experienced harassment and belittling at work. She acknowledged that a lot has changed since she started out in 1978 as a 17-year-old copy girl at Melbourne’s afternoon newspaper The Herald—a time before click bait or the 24-hour news cycle. Now, the AFL boasts two women commissioners and hopefully there’ll be a third by the end of the year, but when it comes to gender equality in sports Wilson believes we have a long way to go. We’ve pulled sections of her rousing speech so you can hear about her experiences in her own words.
1. “Coming to the end of my Cadetship I was told by my first sports editor Ron Reed that I was coming in as an experiment, a woman in an all-male department who would be given the opportunity to cover everything but boxing.”
2. “Turning up to work one Monday after covering my first practice game the all-male sports subs desk regarded me with a new-found respect. They couldn’t believe a woman could write a reasonable accurate match report on deadline…”
3. “I was accused of giving votes to good looking players, threatened by one premiership coach with being fully exposed to the wounded anatomy of an injured fullback by way of explaining the bruised and swollen and black-eyed face of another player we had featured on the front page against the protocol of the day.”
4. “I was marched out of the changing rooms by two club presidents – one who later apologised saying he thought I was a groupie – and the other who made we wait outside where he personally delivered the players I requested. At one point there was a queue of blokes instructed to quickly get dressed lining up for me to question them. The Richmond football club president of the time – my father banned me from the rooms completely.”
5. “No kidding I was led to the kitchen and handed an apron when I arrived at my first football writer’s dinner and covering an early Australian Rules football tour of Ireland constantly threatened with being thrown off the bus because I kept writing about what was really going on.”
6. “1982 was the legal challenge put by the Victorian Premier John Cain to both the MCG and the Victoria Racing Club at Flemington. Quite simply both those venues sat on Crown Land and could no longer get away with banning women from being members.”
7. “My appointment as chief football writer on the eve of the 1999 season prompted two days of divisive talk back radio on Melbourne’s 3AW and that title – chief football writer – was almost omitted from my first big story because some male colleagues in the department were not comfortable with it.”
8. “I still remember a football player panelist asking thoughtfully on [The Footy Show] – do you think that it’s because she’s a woman she feels she needs to have stronger opinions.”
9. “[Eddie McGuire] and a group of commentators – including another club president – joked about holding my head under water for $50,000. My initial reaction was here we go again. At first you feel a bit sick about it and the natural reaction is to go back over recent columns and wonder whether you’ve gone too hard before hoping the whole issue will go away. Although I mentioned it on a regular radio segment the following day the issue was glossed over until a group of women podcasters called the Outer Sanctum addressed the drowning comments.”
10. “The television show I work on Footy Classified did not want initially to address the issue at all – that was the call of some key senior men on and off screen. But the twenty something males who worked on the show were horrified at the comments and did push it.”
11. “Significantly, back in 2008 when Sam Newman staple gunned my headshot to a mannequin wearing underwear on the Footy Show the then AFL chief Andrew Demetriou called me the next morning to express his disgust and later slammed the stunt at a media conference but not one footy journo reported his comments. My own newspaper said nothing to me about it for a week. A group of senior women board members complained in writing and were subsequently smashed by the same show. I was criticised for taking that episode so personally and speaking up about to colleagues and bosses at Channel 9 and equally criticised for not resigning from that network.”
Image Credit: Getty Images
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