Business As Usual Another bad week for women in sports

<span class="entry-title-primary">Business As Usual</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">Another bad week for women in sports</span>

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)


  • comment-avatar

    Thanks for a good read again. As stated many times on the site thinking and attitude have to change and
    must start at the top of media corporations by hiring a qualified person female or male to do the responsible thing.

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 3 years ago

    Great article, Mike. Though I don’t know that it was a bad week for Ashley Docking. It was a bad week for Kelly Gruber.

    I also happen to think Ed Werder is on to something important. Yes, Mike, a lot of white dudes have jobs from nepotism. Yes, there needs to be more diversity. But the language used in hiring the women has to be just as neutral as it was when they were favoring the white dudes. The old job postings never said “especially if you’re a white guy…” So don’t say “especially if you’re a woman”. It’s very inflammatory language and it’s not necessary. And I think it’s one of the reasons we’re seeing people like Donald Trump win elections.

  • comment-avatar
    Simon 3 years ago

    How many women write for this site?

  • comment-avatar
    Simon 3 years ago

    This article sums up the state of the world perfectly. The author feels something is wrong and had two options

    1) Whine about it.

    2) Do something about it.

    Journalism in a nutshell. Do as I say, not as I do.

  • comment-avatar

    Gary – the problem with Werder in this case is that it wasn’t a job ad he was initially being critical of, it was one woman’s tweet about the job. Put it this way: If this woman was a grad of, say, Syracuse University, and she tweeted out that, “if any Syracuse grads want me to put in a good word for them…” would that be ok?

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    James 3 years ago

    So what exactly is your solution, should these companies just hire women for positions regardless of their ability and or experience? What % of the audience in sports radio is female, my guess would be under 30%, definitely the lowest of any relevant radio genre. Could that be why more men are hired because they represent the stations market and who they want to hear.

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    Anyone else having problems with their Rogers Radio iphone app? I press play, it goes thru the commercial, then the app closes. I deleted and reinstalled the app: same problem. Now I have to listen online using Safari. Pain in the ass. And the Fan is the slowest at uploading it’s pods. 

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    James – I think one issue with your point is that a female-heavy, or even female-representative all sports radio station has never been tried. So, we don’t know what kind of market there is for such a station, do we?

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    James 3 years ago

    Josh- I don’t think you really have a point. No one has tried an all female sports station because they are smart enough to know it wouldn’t work and make them money not because of any misogyny. How many women do you actually know that enjoy sports radio? Does it concern you about the lack of straight male hosts on lgtb radio stations?

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    On a somewhat side issues then on this issue which I agree on is where TSN needs to go for a permanent co host for the morning drive show on 1050. TSN has been ahead on the game with suits talent of the non male white version for more than reading TelePrompTer so why do they not pair Michael Lansberg with a female co host full time, there are a few around.

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    Steve 3 years ago

    I thought to myself as I started reading this article, “I wonder if The Athletic is still just Mirtle’s white mates” and sure enough as I scrolled down, my question was answered — all white dudes and two females, one who isn’t even a writer and the other who isn’t actually an employee.

    If I ever decide to subscribe to their site, it’ll be through their US page so as not to show support for their Toronto branch.

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    mark coale 3 years ago

    This was also quite the week for British media at the world cup. Patrice Evra clapped his female co-host Eni Aloku after her punditry and Phil Neville basically repeated what Alex Scott had just said.

    On the other hand, the bbc used their first female pxp commentator ar a world cup.

    I noticed that The Blair Show has had a number of female co-hosts while Blair is hosting PTS.

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    Gary M 3 years ago

    Josh, I don’t know if “Syracuse Grads” is ok or not, but it’s not in any way the same as race and gender discrimination and as a result not even in the same ballpark in terms of being inflammatory.

    To be clear, I am a privileged white male who can roll with any of this. But what I learned in 2016: progressives need to get way less cavalier about language and tone because there are plenty of whites and males and white males who are not doing so well and they are unnecessarily driven into the Trump tent. And then progress gets rolled back by executive order.

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    BingoBangoBongo 3 years ago

    Is there a problem? Yes, no question. The Gruber situation was isolated, and there’s no defending his behaviour, but I would stop short of saying it’s indicative of anything but that he’s an idiot. And most likely a well refreshed one. There are always going to be idiots and we all have to learn to ignore them. Do we need more diversity? Of course, but it’s not an easy problem to fix. People in positions of power will almost always be more comfortable hiring people they know or who are referred by people they know. That’s true in most businesses. But sports media isn’t like a lot of other businesses in that results/ratings matter. A lot. You have to know and serve you’re audience. It takes guts to make a decision that is outside the box. It better work. I applaud TSN for hiring Andi Petrillo for Leafs Lunch and Kristen Shilton to cover the Leafs. And Sportsnet has been using Caroline Cameron in other capacities and they too should be applauded. Things are changing, but as the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.Same goes for misogyny. Sadly, it’s a societal problem not restricted to sports media. 

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    What needs to happen is more opportunities need to be provided for women to hone their craft and build their skill sets – don’t just occasionally plug a female host/analyst in and hope they succeed. How this can be done is obviously for those at the various stations/educational institutions. I have no issue listening to female broadcasters/analysts/hosts but more often than not, they either don’t keep my interest or aren’t ready and I fail to recognize value in their product.

    Like BingoBango mentioned – it is a results/ratings driven marketplace. Male/female, it doesn’t matter, you put forth a subpar product and listeners will tune out. But if you put out a product that connects with me – I’ll listen.

    Take Kristen Shilton for example – very educated and well spoken. Her delivered product though is not very good in my opinion and I often find myself changing the station.

    Caroline Cameron/Tessa Bonhomme/Lindsay Hamilton I find have more of an ability to blend right into a conversation or round table and thus keep my interest.

    Don’t force things for the sake of diversity or equality – identify the correct talent and when ready – maximize its effectiveness.

  • comment-avatar

    Mike Richards tells his story about Tsn1050 radio. Interesting listen:

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    Daniel 3 years ago


    Wait that’s it? that’s the big reveal that Richards was teasing a year ago? That companies fire people in advance and that a mega corporation only donates to charity to help their image? and that secretly they only want to make money?

    Oh man… I hate to tell you this but… There’s no Santa Claus… it’s just a fat guy in a suit

  • comment-avatar

    Interesting re Mike Richards.

    Although that 20.2 number seems … hard to believe. Not sure what “month ending/not averaged” means.

    Even so – I do think he has a point that the people running TSN Radio doesn’t seem to be really trying anymore. I feel like this comment section could easily come up with a more compelling lineup than what they’ve got going on.

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    June 25 PTS Pod description:

    Guests include LA Kings Assistant GM, Arthur Staple, The Athletic, Paul Jones, Toronto Raptors Radio Voice, Craig Forrest, Sportsnet, Ben Wagner, Blue Jays Radio Voice, Ben Reiter, Sports Illustrated & Author Of Astroball and Dave Sheinin, Washington Post

    Not posting times of segments and without any descriptions is really annoying and equally as annoying as some shows that write a 500 word description. If PTS is going to do this then at least break them down into hourly chunks. Likely PTS has the lowest ratio of Podcast listeners to live listeners but probably more Podcast listeners than some lower rated 6 am to 7 pm Toronto radio shows. Or does it? 

    Dave Sheinin was on from the Washington Post to talk about what? The weather?

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    Chance Vance 3 years ago

    A pretty disgusting segment on PTS about Bettman today. John Shannon just completely dismissed any issues with how the league is handling CTE and even praised Bettman for how he has handled it. Would it surprise anyone if we eventually learn that John Shannon has never left the NHL payroll?

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    Shannon always sounds like a cheerleader for the NHL. Most of the Canadian sports media does, really. That was one of the things that always drew me to McCown – he was always willing to rip the league to shreds if needed (although I do think a little less so since Rogers signed the NHL deal).

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    CowboysKanuck 3 years ago

    There is not a chance in hell Richards drew a 20.2 share on that station. Perhaps 2.2

    He was right about everything else, though. Bell/TSN don’t really care about the radio station, that’s been obvious for years. The only reason they haven’t pulled the plug is because they want to say they have a presence in the market. They really don’t, but by having live people broadcast to literally nobody, they can say they do.

  • comment-avatar

    The annual summer sabbatical for O’Neill/McLennan begins next week…………Gord Miller mentioned on Twitter that he will be the co-host on OverDrive for most of the month of July……..this is definitely an upgrade over some of the fill-ins they have had in the past (Derek Taylor, Andy McNamara, etc)

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    Poker Guy 3 years ago

    Hopefully there will be fill ins for Leafs Lunch, so that we need not hear Petrillo on the air.

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    Frank Peters 3 years ago

    How come no mention of Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star as a female sports columnist? Ignoring her and her contributions in telling the Blue Jays/TFC story over the year really discredits this blog post.

    Mike: this post is about columnists not reporters.

    Additionally, I agree that the Athletic staff is white bread. However, Sunaya and Seerat are both excellent writers who cover junior hockey and basketball respectively as well as any male writer they have. Not sure why their contributions are also not recognized.

    Mike: this post is about regular writing staff not contributors or editors


  • comment-avatar
    mark coale 3 years ago

    Did PTS do anything but Tavares talk today?

    I stopped listening love when I heard Madani was hosting. But based on pod blurb, no Jays or world cup talk. Well, that will be ending with Bob’s return anyway.

  • comment-avatar
    Poker Guy 3 years ago

    Is there an anything more useless than TSN’s preamble show before going to their tennis coverage, be it Wimbledon, French Open, etc. Hosted by Mark Roe most times, it highlights Canadian tennis players. I miss the days when they didn’t have this shit, and just went live off of ESPN’s court feed.

    As well, if they did care so much about tennis, which they don’t why don’t they highlight it more on SportsCentre?

    This is a Grand slam event, such as a major in golf yet gets little play in their pack. They typically show if a Canadian plays that day, but that’s it. I understand that tennis is not that mainstream for a lot of people, however, if you have the rights to it, highlight it on your sports pack, as well as radio updates

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    monologue 3 years ago

    I think a key difference with the Athletic though is that they want subscriptions. I don’t pay money to hear no women on Sportsnet. I’m not gonna pay money to read no women at the Athletic. They’re new so hopefully they’re working on it, but they’re not getting my subscription until they do better.

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    One of the lamest segments ever on PTS just took place with them shilling some stock market app.

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    Bora – I really hope more is said about that because it really felt like that segment was a paid advertisement for the app. I hope it’s not a sign of the future for PTS that people can PAY to get airtime on the show on top of the various radio (and TV) ads they’ve already got going on.

  • comment-avatar

    The infomercial for the stock market app was an all time low for PTS…..McCown should be embarrassed.

  • comment-avatar

    The stock market app infomercial on PTS is an all time low point for the program….McCown should be embarrassed and apologize to his audience.

  • comment-avatar

    That app segment must have totally been paid for. Reminds me of the time Tom Brady was ‘interviewed’. I recall this happening a handful of times. The Saul segments come to mind.

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    I hadn’t listened to PTS for 2 or 3 weeks because of the ads and Joey Vendetta is on the first hour – Not on my radio – Bye Bye – The FAN seems to be doing their best to get out of radio – The few times I have listened it seems Bob is ‘cadillacing’ it to run out the contract – The Blue Jays PBP is unlistenable except for Wagner an I never know when he will be doing a segment – Wilner and Shulman? No thanks – The unending ads drive me crazy and if it is true that PTS will now run infomercials as someone noted Bob should be ashamed of himself –

  • comment-avatar
    mark coale 3 years ago

    Doesn’t Bob always say “if they want us to talk about them, buy time”?

    Maybe someone did. 

  • comment-avatar

    Have to agree with Mont about Vendetta. Enjoyed having Perkins on this week; but Joey seems to want to drown everyone out on the Roundtable.

  • comment-avatar
    mark coale 3 years ago

    Vendetta usually means skipping for me, whether he is hosting blairs show or on PTS. The only exception is the round table, unless someone else awful is also on.

  • comment-avatar
    sperk 3 years ago

    Vendetta was terrible on Friday’s round-table…he kept interrupting everyone’s points to interject a word or two and then the other person would correct him. It was like talking sports with my 4 year old daughter

  • comment-avatar

    Here are some scary numbers for people who aren’t fans of John Shannon or Joey (Scoleri) Vendetta………so far in 2018 there have been 27 Friday PTS roundtables……….either Shannon or Vendetta (or both) have participated in 22 of them………..I am a fan of PTS but one of my biggest criticisms would be the lack of imagination in the selection of roundtable participants

  • comment-avatar

    Scary and frustrating.

    While I found Shannon’s absence this past week a breath of fresh air; Vendetta’s presence was a downer.

    Your description if his child like behaviour of constantly interrupting is dead on. Reminds me of Reid’s antics before they stopped booking him on the Roundtable.

    SN needs to to loosen up and allow the producers book more guests who are not regular employees.

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    Jamie Buckingham 1 year ago

    I don’t disagree with you one bit, a big problem (of women being hired) is the hiring process. I have a colleague turned friend who has a love of sports as big as mine. She decided in her early 30’s to change careers and do what she had a passion in; sports. However, she couldn’t land a job w/o a “University” degree in a specialized field. Her passion and IQ about all sports will blow any man out of the water – but they needed that piece of paper – the joke being, its broadcasting. Anybody with basic skills can do the job, but they have a criteria and expectation of such demands – then end up with the wrong people (men and women). The few women in the Toronto sports media, are depthless and just pretty faces. They’re there to get ratings – and sadly that’s the truth. As a sports-nerd, its hard listening to anyone who has little knowledge in the topics they are discussing. My friend, is now working in the States and started her career by teaching herself and promoting herself on the internet. Its the way now-a-days. But yes, there are plentiful qualified women that are not getting opportunities – the question becomes, what makes them qualified? Maybe a change of perception might open some well deserved doors.