Business As Usual

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


Good morning sports media fans. Jonah and I are both busy so posting will be pretty irregular here over the summer. As we have done in the past, we will open up the site to guest posts and submissions from writers who want to reach our niche audience. If you have pitches, email or DM me and I’ll let you know if it’s a good fit for TSM.




There is no single topic about which I have written more than the terrible state of Toronto sports media when it comes to diversity in hiring. Toronto sports media is so completely out of step with modern hiring equity standards. If this were the banking industry, or academia, or a government office there would be inquiries and firings. But, because it’s sports, people shrug their shoulders and business continues as usual.


There were three incidents this past week that brought this issue back into the foreground. I’ll let the good writing of others tell the story.


Kelly Gruber v Ashley Docking


Ian over at Blue Jay Hunter has the recap for you. Kelly Gruber appeared at a PitchTalks event (more on that brand another time … I have many thoughts) and behaved like a sexist jerk. The most visible target was Sportsnet’s Ashley Docking who has been doing some fill-in work on FAN590 as well as various other multi-platform gigs. Her Twitter bio (not verified, 4k followers) lists her title as “host”.


After joining her on stage Gruber asked the audience why they needed a chick on stage. Things devolved from there.


Rather than give you a blow by blow of everything he did wrong I’d like to place this incident into a context. The context is that overwhelmingly women are passed over for sports media jobs where their opinions matter, as opposed to their looks. Think of the hiring over the last decade for jobs as radio hosts, columnists, and analysts.


There are currently no female sports columnists in Toronto. During that time lots of men have moved from one paper to another, or been promoted into columnist positions. Zero women. That is inexcusable for a city of this size, and this has been the case for years now.


The FAN has made about a dozen hires (and fires) for sports radio hosts during that same time period. Greg Brady (twice), Dean Blundell, Jeff Blair, Andrew Walker, Ben Ennis, George Rusic … notice a trend? The FAN also started fresh with their Blue Jays broadcast crew: Wagner, Wilner, Barker, Shulman have all appeared so far and there is a promise that we will see a rotating cast the rest of the way. But no women are being given time behind the mic right now.


By contrast, TSN deserves credit for hiring Andi Petrillo for Leafs Lunch and Kristen Shilton as Leafs beat reporter for TV and radio.


So if you’re growing up in Toronto then what you are learning is: women don’t really belong in jobs where they have to speak without scripts, women don’t have anything meaningful to say about real sports topics, and women must appear in dresses and bare shoulders whenever they are going to be seen. Those are the messages that are communicated when your radio station looks like this.



That’s also what leads to a website that looks like this:



And like this:



If you want to know what effect that kind of systemic approach to women in sports media has on the audience, look no further than K-Gruber. The reason he can flip so easily to misogyny is that it’s part of the culture of sports media. This is not to excuse his behaviour, but rather to say that it is a symptom of a problem that goes much deeper than some ignorant ex-player.


One of the main data points to come from the Zaun firing was that multiple women had made multiple complaints. That means that several incidents were treated as “isolated” incidents and nothing was done until there was the possibility that this might go public. Zaun himself claims that no one ever said anything to him about his behaviour, which also tells you about the culture at Sportsnet. It’s not that long ago that Scott Moore was proudly welcoming Mr. Misogyny Dean Blundell to the #1 sports radio show in Canada. And not long before that Andrew Krystal and Bob McCown spent time on PTS talking about Gabriela Sabatini’s sweaty nipples. I’m told things are getting better though.


What Gruber did to Docking was awful and she handled herself well. But this is part of a larger problem.


Ed Werder v Gender Diversity


This one barely deserves attention on this site, but it speaks to some of the issues just mentioned so I’ll flag it. Ex-ESPN personality Ed Werder (verified, 200k+ followers) inserted himself into a conversation on twitter about a job opening and declared that anyone encouraging women to apply was guilty of reverse discrimination against men.



Awful Announcing has the gory details. His closing salvo was this:



The only reason I am mentioning this is that this kind of thinking is pervasive. It goes something like this


  1. I have a great job that confers lots of power
  2. I have this job 100% due to my undeniable talent
  3. Any attempts to encourage diversity devalues the work that talented people like me put into getting my job


Premise 1 is undeniable. Premise 2 is ridiculous. Sports media is a highly nepotistic industry where connections matter a great deal. Sports media is also an industry where looking and sounding like the person doing the hiring matters a great deal (see evidence cited above). For anyone in sports media to think their connections have not affected their job prospects is naive and disingenuous. People tend to hire people they feel comfortable around (see evidence cited above and below). This does not mean you are not good at your job or that you don’t work hard. It just means that you have benefitted from things in the background and that others who are just as good as you have not had this benefit.


Another version of this argument is: just hire the best person for the job! Here is why that one is a canard. Have a look at the PTS co-hosts over the last decade and tell me that those were the best people for the job.




James Mirtle/The Athletic v Women’s Hockey


After the Marlies won the Calder Cup AthleticTO’s James Mirtle tweeted the following



This led to an online debate about whether the CWHL counts as pro hockey. PPP has covered the topic here.


There are absolutely readers who are just glad the CWHL rates any coverage in the Athletic at all, but as Donna Spencer’s piece on the Toronto Furies GM hiring shows, there’s a better way to cover women’s hockey. Approach it as a sport and not a spectacle, or an obligation to get your feminist cred points.

James Mirtle can say the Athletic covers women’s hockey, but they don’t cover Toronto women’s hockey. I say it isn’t fucking good enough. — PPP


I’m not here to tell you who to root for in this one. Either you agree with the premise that the big Toronto media outlets don’t do enough to cover women’s sports or you don’t. If you don’t then this will likely seem like much ado about nothing. If you think that attitudes towards women in sports and attitudes towards women’s sports are linked, then this will seem like much ado about something worth talking about.


One of the criticisms of The Athletic’s hiring for their most visible positions is that they have tended to follow the industry trend of rewarding white guys with jobs. If you look at their core writer group and compare it to the line-ups at The Star, Globe, and Sun/Post then they are not doing much better than Toronto sports media industry standard.


In summary, this has been a publicly bad week for women in sports but this has also been very much a normal week for women in sports. This issue — if you agree that it is an issue — is not going to solve itself without leadership by people in positions of power. Sportsnet has told you who they are on that front. So has the Sun. So has The Star. I would say so has the Globe but they don’t really have a sports department anymore.


The Athletic is new and trying to survive long enough to have a track record. I am not going to lump them in with the former group just yet. TSN has differentiated itself somewhat and needs to do more to solidify the perception that they are using their stature to influence the industry.



thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

About the Author