Mac Engel

DFW is the nation’s fifth-largest TV market. So why so few women talking sports?

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Rangers pitcher Tim Dillard talks about his social media videos, his pitching career, and his family on this week's episode of Big Mac Chat.

Whether it’s the crew on The Ticket, the guys on The Fan, Hansen or Doocy, Coop’ or Razor, DFW is loaded with on air sports personalities that make up this market. You will notice a decreasing number of them are women.

Sports and TV are now forever inextricably linked, the line between those calling the games and playing them fades. The presence of women in sports media has never been greater, but we are almost out here in town.

You may not have even noticed, but the fifth-largest TV market in the U.S. is down to three full-time women on sports TV. If you want to split hairs, only two of them are full-time employees of a network. The third is employed by the team.

Dana Larson and Erin Hartigan are both employed by Fox Sports Southwest, and Emily Jones has become a face of Texas Rangers’ broadcasts and is a member of that organization.

Recently, Fox 4 KDFW added Sam Gannon as an on-air reporter/producer.

In an era of Doris Burke, Holly Rowe, Erin Andrews and others who have become as synonymous with sports TV as their male counterparts, DFW is simply running low when it comes to women in sports television.

Where are they?

“The number of jobs is just dwindling. The number of layoffs in TV, radio and newspapers are what this is,” Hartigan said. “I don’t know if more females are being scared in other directions. I don’t see it as more difficult today than for a male counterpart, but I do know when I talk to college students about this profession, I tell them all the time, ‘Learn coding.’”

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Fox Sports Southwest’s Erin Hartigan (left) and Dana Larson (right) are two of the few full-time women that talk sports in DFW, the nation’s fifth-largest TV market. Erin Hartigan

PROGRESS TO NOWHERE

Sports media has evolved from the days when Gayle Gardner, Phyllis George, or Lesley Visser were the exceptions and one of the few women on sports television. Audiences are conditioned enough to where a woman talking on TV about sports is no longer an anamoly.

“Maybe more so than before but there is still a ways to go,” Jones said.

Which is why this is a story at all. Women in sports media remains a story because they are still an exception.

In terms of numbers, the eyeball test says it’s not even close. In terms of what women are allowed to do on air, it remains mostly as a host or a sideline reporter. Few are analysts or color commentators, and yet men routinely are hired to call or commentate on women’s games.

ESPN continues to push it, with the likes of Doris Burke on its NBA telecasts and Jessica Mendoza during MLB games.

In DFW, we are running low. Locally, the likes of Gina Miller, Erin Hawksworth, Nita Wiggins and a few others have all since left, either by choice or ... not.

“I do think women made some strides in certain areas while other areas there definitely remains a disparity,” said Miller, who is now the vice president of communications for FC Dallas. “There is definitely a shelf life for women on TV. Whereas men can maybe have thinning or graying hair, maybe be a little heavier, you typically don’t see that with women.”

One thing women have certainly not achieved in TV is being allowed to age on camera as frequently as a man. The aging woman is still more likely to be dumped than her male counterpart who is the same age.

“I don’t necessarily feel more pressure but there is more of an emphasis in the industry on women,” Jones said. “But, whether I was on TV or not, I’ll still be trying to be young and hot when I’m 60.”

Miller said, “And typically in a sports department you see a woman. One. It’s a role that is filled, and once it’s filled it’s done.”

This sort of HR-oriented hiring is not new, or specific to women. A former sports writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a Hispanic last name, and he was contacted by The New York Times about an open sports reporter position. When they saw he was actually white, they never called again.

The female on sports TV remains in the same lane; say what they know, not what they think.

My spouse, Jennifer, was one of the few women to ever have her own radio show when she hosted a sports talk show on ESPN 103.3. She eventually left after a run that lasted a little more than two years when a station general manager told her, “You’re not the gold standard.”

That went over well.

ESPN spent a lot of money to hire Michael Irvin to fill her slot, and the ratings for that show remained the same when she was the host, as they have to this day.

After a successful run as a sports columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, she left for FoxSports.com where she was named the National Sports Columnist of the Year by the Associated Press. Fox essentially junked its sports website, and moved her into a sideline role on FoxSports 1 TV.

After one year, as she likes to put it, they both decided “TV-hot was not her skill set.” Her words. Not mine.

Other than a brief run at The Sporting News, no one from TV, radio or print, has called since. Now, Fort Worth is stuck with me. Bad trade.

To be fair, there are other women in DFW working in sports media.

Charean Williams covers the NFL for Pro Football Talk, which is owned by NBC; Jane Slater, who previously worked as a morning host on 105.3 The Fan, now covers the NFL for The NFL Network; Kristi Scales remains a fixture as a reporter on the Dallas Cowboys’ radio broadcasts; Kate Hairopoulos and Callie Caplan both work for The Dallas Morning News.

But mostly this town consists of a collection of dudes to talk about sports. None of the three radio sports talk stations feature women in prominent roles.

“I feel like it’s women everywhere now so this doesn’t even stand out to me at all,” Larson said. “I don’t know if it’s because I look at it microscopically in our neck of the woods, but I had not thought as if we are behind the times.”

This is not a deliberate, covert attempt on the part of local stations to eliminate women in sports media. On the contrary, more stations and outlets typically try to hire females to provide balance, both for the viewer and for an HR report.

We’re just in a dead spot.

‘That makes me cringe; it’s ridiculously flattering’

Because Fox Sports Southwest owns the broadcast rights for the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks, all of their broadcasters become an extension of the team. Players come and go, making the broadcaster more of a constant for the viewer.

“It’s either people have been watching us for so long, which is good,” Larson said, “and then I feel bad that they must be so sick of me.”

Hartigan and Larson are both fixtures on Fox Sports Southwest; Jones is on the field, Larson behind the desk, Hartigan does both.

In the last several years, Rangers fans would be more familiar with Emily Jones than some of the players. Baseball is comfort food TV, and her presence is comfortable. When a team isn’t winning, both the network and club need something to sell; Jones is a point of sale on a broadcast, and she becomes a face of the franchise.

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Fox Sports Southwest reporter Emily Jones attacks Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) with silly string after being doused with sports drink after the Rangers beat the Red Sox 6-2 at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Sunday, June 26, 2016. Richard W. Rodriguez rrodriguez@star-telegram.com

“That makes me cringe; it’s ridiculously flattering,” said Jones, who is married and raises her two young children in Fort Worth. “I don’t know if you’re wrong, but it’s weird for me to think about. The Rangers have been so great and they have allowed me to carve out a niche and they trust me to develop relationships and to be authentic.

“I don’t know if I could do what I do for, say, the Yankees. Or another team. It works because this sort of grew organically.”

Jones, Larson and Hartigan have all been in DFW long enough they are each a part of the fabric of our media scene. No different than the crew on The Ticket, or anyone else.

They do represent how far women have come in sports television, and the visible gaps that still exist in the profession.

“I don’t feel like we are an endangered species,” Hartigan said. “I think there are more of us.”

Just not in town.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.

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