3 Trailblazing Women Sports Journalists: Ina Louise Young, Mary Garber, and Anita Martini
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The story of women in American journalism has a common thread: From Colonial times on, women have fought for the right to report. That was (and still remains) especially true for women sports journalists, including this trio of trailblazers: Ina Louise Young, Mary Garber (at right), and Anita Martini.
Sports journalism seems like the final frontier because there have been more women reporting from the battlefield than from the playing field. Consider that during World War II, there were about 140 accredited female war correspondents. That’s not a huge number, but still eclipses the handful of female sports reporters working at the time.
Bias against women sports journalists, past and present
There are more female sports journalists today than ever, but they still face significant bias. And disturbingly but not surprisingly, they’re subject to sexual harassment, a common occurrence in the field of journalism toward women in general.
Do a search on sexism and female journalists and you’ll come across tons of articles like Female Sports Journalists Still Face Rampant Sexism on the Job.
And that’s even setting aside an implicit bias toward covering women athletes and sporting events, but that’s another matter altogether.
Rediscovering pioneering female journalists from the past isn’t particularly difficult, even though they were in a vast minority. But female sports journalists of the past haven’t merely been forgotten; hardly any even existed. That’s what makes the work and lives of determined women like the ones following especially exciting to discover.
To use a fitting cliché, it’s still not an even playing field. Sports journalism is a rough-and-tumble field that might only get easier if there’s strength in numbers — more women stepping up to the plate, so to speak, and getting the respect they deserve.
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Ina Eloise Young
Ina Eloise Young (1881 – 1947) was America’s first female sports editor. She adored playing sports as well as writing about them.
In high school and her two years at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she was on the basketball and fencing teams. Her favorite sport was baseball, though as a female, she wasn’t allowed to play, only to watch.
Returning to her home town of Trinidad, Colorado, she worked as a general reporter for the local newspaper, the Chronicle-News.
When the 1905 baseball season started, she learned that none of her male colleagues knew how to keep a baseball scorecard. They grudgingly allowed her to report on baseball games until they could find a new man for the job.
But within a few weeks, Ina proved that she was right where she belonged. The following year, the newspaper promoted her to sports editor.
It was quite a novelty for a woman to cover baseball’s national World Series, but that’s just what Ina did starting in 1908. She wrote of her life as a sports reporter and editor:
“I wouldn’t change my place with any woman I know … I’m as happy and independent as a lark, they give me a big salary, six weeks vacation, my expenses paid all over with the ball team, and courteous, considerate treatment. Instinctively they know how to treat a woman. I ask no better society than that of sporting men.”
In that way, Ina Eloise Young was luckier than the rare female sports writers and editors who came after her, like Mary Garber, and many who work in the field today.
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Photo: Digital Forsyth
Mary Garber (1916 – 2008) was a sports-crazy girl growing up in 1920s North Carolina who dreamed of becoming an athlete. But topping out at five feet tall and ninety pounds as a teen put an end to her ambition.
After graduating from college in the late 1930s, Mary returned home to Winston-Salem, where she worked as a general reporter for the local newspaper. When the sports stringer joined the Navy during World War II, Mary was given his assignments and fell in love with the job.
Mary was returned — quite unhappily — to general reporting after the war and badgered her editor for a whole year to put her back on the sports beat.
As a female, Mary was often barred from press boxes, locker rooms, and journalism associations. Seeing herself as an underdog, she developed empathy for black athletes and related to their struggle for respect. She was the first white reporter in her segregated state to report on games at black high schools and colleges — stories that no one else would cover.
Mary took courage from her hero, Jackie Robinson. His dignity and attitude gave her courage when, as she recalled, “people would step on me and hurt my feelings.”
Mary was elected president of the Atlantic Coast Conference Sportswriters Association in the late 1970s. The honor was especially sweet because she hadn’t been allowed to join that very group in the 1950s. Mary became a major inspiration to aspiring female sportswriters. A Mary Garber Pioneer Award is given each year to an outstanding woman in sports media.
Just before Mary Garber died in 2008, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
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Anita Martini (1939–1993) was Texas-based sports journalist who worked in radio and television. A native of Galveston, she began her career on radio in 1965, where she did interviews from the Astrodome stands.
That might sound pretty cool, but it wasn’t — female reporters weren’t allowed on the field. It took seven more years until she could report from the Astrodome’s press box.
Anita’s firsts: Anita achieved a number of firsts for women in sports journalism: In 1973, she became the first female journalist to cover a major league all-star game. The following year, she was the first woman reporter allowed into the locker room of a major-league team. She was also the first woman to co-host a sports talk show in a major radio market (1972 – 1979).
Anita often said that she didn’t become a sports reporter so that she could be the first woman to do this or that. She loved sports, especially baseball, and wanted to be the best at whatever she did.
Though her life was cut short by illness, she was an inspiration for female sports journalists who followed in her footsteps.
In 2007, some years after her death, Anita Martini was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. By 2011, when the Hall presented an exhibit on women in baseball, she was completely left out. This caused a huge outcry from people who had worked with her, and proves how easy it is to forget the trailblazers if their stories aren’t kept alive!
More trailblazing female sports journalists to explore:
- Phyllis George
- Jayne Kennedy
- Leslie Visser
- Gayle Gardner
- Robin Roberts
- Anne Doyle
- Christine Brennan
And see more about trailblazing women journalists here on Literary Ladies Guide.