Back To The Grind? Toronto Sports Media Equality Question


Editors note: Sunday night addition!

Michelle Sturino joined me #inthepressrow to talk about her career and her story of being passed over either for being a woman OR not fitting a certain mold. Finally, she snapped when Sirius XM and the NHL Network would not give her the equipment she needed to do her job, while she alleges other, less experienced male counterparts received their equipment.

On August 10th, after over 15 years in the sports broadcast world in Toronto Michelle Sturino took to Twitter announcing she had enough.

“Whatever you think or believe about how far we have come as an industry/society in terms of equality simply isn’t true. Sexism and gender bias are still prominent.”

Tired of being treated differently and generally fed up with the lack of progress in the male-dominated world Michelle typed her goodbye. It wasn’t only gender bias that bothers Michelle. additionally, she feels that mostly only woman of a certain look get picked and advance:

“I know I have been passed over because I don’t fit a certain mold. I’m 5’9 with an athletic build that intimidates most so I don’t match a B.S. stereotype of what a woman should look like. We come in all shapes and sizes and are not represented as such.”

Who is to blame for where we are according to Michelle?:

“The sports media industry (much like most industries in N.A.) is run by insecure middle aged men who have a narrow minded idea of beauty and are scared of change. But guess what? Change is inevitable.”

This is Michelle’s story :

Happy post-Labor Day to you and yours.

I am back on the family ranch outside of Seattle, the land of the Kraken, and am happy to report that Corona, Social issues, Riots, Looting and now wildfires all is well.

Here’s hoping that you and your families continue to manage through these exceptionally trying times.

As we look at the sports world today it remains quite unusual. We sit here on September 11th and the NHL has entered the semi-finals, despite the games being played in Canada, no Canadian teams are playing. The NBA playoffs are also in full swing in Orlando and the Raptors find themselves in game 7. At the same time, MLB is 40+ games into its 60+ game season and your Toronto Blue Jays are in contention for a playoff spot, not only due to expanded playoffs but under normal playoff qualifications as of this minute too. College football is taking place in some places, the NFL kicked off this week and the US Open is being played as we speak.

If we didn’t know any better it appears that all is well…

400 responses are as scientific as I get, and I am not surprised at all by the lack of interest in the games overall. Personally, I think the number one reason is that we are primarily fans of our team and if they are not playing the priority is not there. Second, hockey this time of year is just odd. Third, despite heroic efforts, the fact that the games are being played in empty barns still feels odd. Finally, the times of the game do not necessarily lend themselves to casual tuning in.

I can tell you with the exception of the odd check-in I am not watching NHL hockey right now. With the exception of the Raptors, I am not watching NBA basketball either. I am watching more Blue Jays than usual. I think in large part because I find the national news so repugnant right now.

How are your viewing habits evolving right now?

OK.. lots of other thoughts..

Curious, did you watch the NFL game Thursday night? So strange seeing fans in seats. The weird thing for me was despite it being the right time of year for the season (it is football season) watching the NFL season right now seemed wrong. Maybe it’s because all the other sports have been going on but it seemed too early for NFL football.

Once again, can we all recognize the work that is done by those who cover the Toronto Raptors as their full-time jobs? “Print”, radio, and tv Raptors folks are awesome. I get to watch and ingest content on both sides of the border and we are very lucky compared with other markets – FOR SURE.

On the bright side to me here in the USA is Doris Burke on the ESPN NBA coverage. She is exceptionally bright, entertaining, and knows her shit. She is a pleasure to listen to.

I am fascinated by the way by those who say they aren’t watching sports because they have become too political. I don’t feel that way and am trying to appreciate the positions of those who do. The broad issue of equality is a big one and here’s hoping it will remain a focus until actual results are achieved.

The topic of equality got me thinking how far off the Toronto Sports media world is with gender equality especially when it comes to radio.

Consider if you will the following rough stats:

The Fan went all sports in September 1992.
TSN 1050 launched April 13, 2011.
The population of Canada is roughly 38 million, GTA is around 6.2m
There are roughly 2 national tv networks for sports
There are actively 2 all-sports radio stations and there have been a few failed all-sports radio stations in Toronto and then there is 640 which dabbled in sports.

Rogers, the Fan, Sportsnet radio has had 3 female hosts that I can think of since 1992. There are none right now.
TSN 1050 has one. Andi Petrillo is the ONLY one currently in a host position right now.

Mary Ormsby was co-hosted on sports radio. Barb DiGiulio left the Fan in 2013.

Ashley Docking’s addition to Roger Sportnet’s Fan 590 was a welcome surprise when she was announced. However, her tenure was short-lived.

“Ashley has been a fantastic contributor to the station’s programming for quite a while and I am thrilled that she is now stepping into this role full time,” said Dave Cadeau, National Format Director, Sports, Rogers Radio. “Ashley is energetic, passionate, and most importantly, extremely knowledgeable about a cross-section of professional sports. Her quick wit and sensibility are the perfect complement to Greg and Hugh. Together, they will give our audiences more of what they’re looking for during their morning commute – an entertaining and engaging show about the sports and teams Toronto fans are craving.”

That from the press release of her debut on February 27th 2019. Less than one year later she was gone. Why? Not sure.

Now, let’s get a couple of things out of the way that I know people are going to say…

I don’t believe for one second anyone has overtly said at either Rogers or Bell that they want to discriminate against women as it relates to hosts.

I also do not have at my hands a list of readily available women who could be hosts. So I am not coming with an easy solution. I do not believe there are no candidates either though.

I think the onus is on management, especially the new management team at Rogers to put a concerted effort into creating bench strength with women who could be on the Sportsnet The Fan 590 and on tv. Both networks need to invest in and do a better job developing talent – both genders but definitely women on the radio first and then tv. They each have multiple channels and countless hours of content slots, establish women as a priority afford them the opportunity to learn, to make mistakes, and ultimately to be successful. One thing the Fan used to do is bring talent along from behind the glass to eventually behind the mic.

TSN is not absolved here. Andi is a rockstar in my mind. I think she does really good work and she is really good at her job. I know she has her detractors but the ones who voice it here to date have been baseless in my opinion. She is party of one on the radio. They can do more. They can do better,

Kayla Grey has done amazing work over the last several months. Why doesn’t she have a regular radio spot or her own show? I have no idea if she would be interested in one, but I hope she’s been approached.

There are a ton of slots where new talent could cut their teeth. This is the same for men and women. Fill in slots, nights, weekends, etc.

I am not lobbying to hire women ahead of men, yes the best candidate should get the role. However, for every new person who takes to the air, I find it highly unlikely that not one single woman could do the job or coached to do the role.

This is not a knock on any of the younger talents on the stations but I have to believe if there was an investment in training and grooming women to get on air there would be more than just 3 in close to 30 years.

Lots of men have worked their way on to the air. Lots of men did little to no work to get on the air so I will say that I find it really hard to believe there haven’t been more potential candidates to groom and get trained to become a host. I just don’t believe it. If it were a priority it would happen.

I’ve been told that part of the problem today is that younger workers don’t want to pay their dues by working on stations in remote places. I don’t like it but I can accept it. However, if male employees are benefiting from this and being put on the air in Toronto with little to no training then why aren’t women being afforded the same opportunities?

I am also told that no one wants to work on the radio. Well, boohoo. Not everyone gets to go right to TV. Younger workers with no experience could earn their stripes on the radio. This applies to both men and women. If you want to get into sports broadcasting in Canada there are not a ton of options. A pre-requisite to getting on tv could be having to learn the radio side first.

Then there is the issue of the audience being predominantly male. This to me is a chicken and egg problem. Do I think either station will ever generate a huge female audience? No. Does a smaller female segment mean that men won’t listen to women? No, I think that’s crap. Back in the day, The Fabulous Sports Babe was every bit as popular as her male counterparts. I think today, more than ever the audience wants to be entertained and educated by smart dialogue. I don’t think in the year 2020 stations should be afraid of the listener blowback due to a female host.

There have been countless questionable on-air hires over the years at both stations. Most of them were men. Give some of the women a shot and see what happens. The ratings right now are off. Isn’t this the best time to try new things in slots where the audience isn’t really there? For every Jeff Oneil who is a media, there are tons who do not. Do you remember Tie Domi’s on-air performance? Wasn’t Todd Warner on HNIC at one point???? So we do not need to continually defer to former athletes. The modern audience has advanced beyond the “they can’t be reliable unless they played” notion. Yet we continually have former athletes jammed down our throats with little to no formal training. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be given a shot. However, if you are going to give people a shot, why aren’t they investing in women on sports radio?

One can’t even say that sports broadcasting history is a requirement. Over the years 590 handed the reigns to the prized morning show to guys who came from traditional FM radio. So why not afford the same opportunity to an experienced female broadcaster?

Disappointing to say the least.

The last part of the story of course is the bro-culture at the stations. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on it but clearly it is an issue as well. Dirk Hayhurst told me on my podcast that he went to HR at Rogers about bro-culture behavior and was warned that it was he would be fired not the offending actor. If that happens to a former player like Dirk, I can’t imagine what it’s like for women in the industry.

This isn’t just on the radio, but it’s on the tv side too. Much was made of Elliotte Friedman’s beard during the Corona. Can you imagine the public reaction if one of the female hosts on HNIC showed up on air looking like Elliotte did? No, I don’t mean with a beard but in a world where we tend to judge appearances can you imagine the commentary if Christine Simpson wasn’t “Well-groomed” No, I am not picking on her at all and I am simply making the point that there is absolutely a double standard that women in sports media (any media) continually have to endure that men do not.

I think we think we have evolved way beyond the Lisa Olsen days. I am not sure that we have. In fact, I am sure we have not.

In reading the tweets of Michelle Sturino, I don’t think I am either:

I am fortunate to talk to many in the media on both sides of the border and I hear the same types of stores all the time. Opportunities for advancement on-air are way harder for women than for men. The need to look a certain way, to dress a certain way, AND to meticulous on the content side is tremendously outbalanced as well. That mentions nothing of the treatment in the studio or at “the arena”…

I think while we are focused on racial and other types of equality, it would be prudent to get more women involved on sports radio in Toronto and in Canada. Having one woman serve as a host is simply not good enough.

Meanwhile, while I write this I see the following on Twitter:

Which of course leads to:


Thanks for reading..

As always:

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