The Rise of Women in Sports

by Kristina Bonner

This month is Women’s History Month. In the sports industry, it took centuries for women have paved a way for others to accomplish what most can’t even imagine; receiving a position alongside men. 

It’s no secret about women working in sports media. The rise of women taking on a variety of positions in big-name teams throughout different leagues and conferences brings diversity to the table of an industry build by men. With content creators, there are less than 20 percent of photographers that are women. Photography is mostly thought towards women ran but for that low of a percentage is very concerning. Compared to that, there are  very few women in the position of Creative Directors at universities. This is an industry that women are very invested in it as much as men, but are getting underpaid, belittled, and sexualized. This is just a small percentage of what you hear from women in the sports industry. 

Just recently, Chanelle Smith-Walker was named University of Tennessee’s Director of Content over football after the last 2 years with NC State Football. This makes Smith-Walker the first black female creative director in college football history. The number of black creative directors is low in college athletic departments. This past year’s situations, she took advantage of her position at North Carolina State’s football for players to speak their mind of their own. Soon after her announcement at Tennessee, there were a few Instagram comments saying things like “If we keep hiring women in the industry, are we going to put them in pads as well?” Smith-Walker response to the particular with just laughing it off and did not let it phase her. 

Chanelle Smith-Walker is just part of the handful of women you see in today’s sports industry. The new generation of women in the sports industry is making big moves. I recently spoke with several college students and recent graduates on who are achieving in the sports industry as well as their perspective on the aspect of women entering the industry. 

Shannon Browning 

Having been an athlete in college, I’ve definitely been able to see all sides of the industry. Sports can mean so much to so many people, and it’s important to keep those stories at the forefront of everything you do. 

A former college student-athlete and recent grad, Shannon Browning’s introduction to sports was a little unordinary. She ran cross country/track and field throughout high school. She continued her cross country/track and field career at the University of Missouri where she received her bachelor’s in Journalism Strategic Communications and a minor in in Business. How she was influenced in to continue running was no other than family influence. 

[She] loved track and field for as long as I can remember. My dad was a big runner and he definitelygot me started. I really fell in love with it in high school (shout-out Lake Braddock T&F), broke some records and made friends for life. 

Right after graduating this past December, Browning ended up scoring a job with the O’Fallon Hoots as their Director of Marketing. It was a surprise even with a pandemic going on and how lots of people were struggling to find a job, even in the sports industry. She got the experience of working with the Hoots during her last semester of college and when they offered her the full time position, Browning felt “shocked to have gotten a job period.” Scoring a job in a pandemic sounds life winning the jackpot. 

Imagining herself outside of the sports industry, she says “I’ve considered working in other industries, like advertising and marketing. Still, I don’t think that anything can hold a candle to how special working in sports is. There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not like “Dang, I actually get to do this for my job.” It certainly makes life more fun and makes work feel like less of a chore.”  

Being in a male-dominated industry, Browning’s biggest influences would stretch from college classmates to her current coworkers, she’s “lucky to work alongside and learn from some amazing women. [She’s] been blessed to be in female-empowering environments and have male allies that believe women belong right beside them in sports.” 

How Browning sees the sports industry or even the sports world in the near future, “There’s been a lot of history-making moments recently. From Kim Ng to Sarah Fuller and Sarah Thomas, women have been breaking through barriers left and right. Having these role models will hopefully show young women that they, too, can be anything they want.” 

A piece of advice Browning would give to young women who want to enter a male-dominated industry like sports is “You belong. Keep showing up and be your most genuine self. And as Kevin Richardson (former Marketing, Digital + Creative Strategist at Rice Athletics and now University of Texas’s Athletic’s Assistant Director of Social Strategy and Creative Development) once told me, never be too big for the smallest window of opportunity.” 

Charis Phelps 

“My plans to work in the sports industry consist of perusing the career of a managing the social media accounts. The concept of being able to take followers behind the scenes or showing them a different point of view of the team is awesome. It is something that every teams media should strive for!” 

Growing up in a small-town near Beaumont, Texas, Charis Phelps enjoyed playing sports. She began playing basketball from first grade until her junior year of high school. But, during her senior year of high school, she and her family took a trip to the 2017 NFL Super Bowl Experience Day, here in Houston. “I still remember walking into the convention hall with my jaw all the way on the floor. It was unbelievable and at that moment I knew I could be a part of the sports industry.” Going into college at Stephen F. Austin State University, changing her major and putting in the hard work, she landed to where she is now, getting her B.S. in Mass Communications emphasis in Radio and TV with a minor in Sports Business. 

There at SFA, Phelps is involved in their football program where she runs the recruit weekends, team events, manages equipment, and provides media content. Outside of SFA football, she also a content creator for other sports in the athletic department, such as Women’s and Men’s Basketball, Baseball, Softball, Track, Soccer, Beach Volleyball, Volleyball, Bowling, and Tennis and also involved in the university newspaper. 

Outside of SFA, Phelps interned last summer with Brazos City Bombers, a collegiate-level baseball team in Bryan, Texas. There she assisted in running the broadcast, podcast, and provided content for social media platforms. She was also honored to be the mascot for one of the games. With the experience from the Bombers gained skills and connections needed to become a social media assistant or manager for a team. 

Her ultimate goal for her career is becoming a director or producer of movies/TV Shows. “I’ve always loved the art of acting, directing, and piecing together productions. Also traveling is something I would love to do, if I could get paid and travel that would be awesome. I think we would all like that job!” 

Her perspective of women in the sports industry is that “Just in the last year we have seen women become NFL referees, coaches, as well as many other high potions. It is great to see women who have a passion for sports out here pursuing jobs that some would doubt they could do.”  

With the growth of women in the industry, Phelps is encouraged in a male-dominated industry by knowing “that my skills and knowledge are not something to be underestimated.” This characteristic of confidence is what my parents have instilled throughout raising me. Having the ability to know your worth and work ethic is always very encouraging. I know that may sound cliché, but it is true.” 

The Future for Women 

This year starting off with seeing women succeeding in the sports industry is just only the beginning of something bigger. Women thriving as coaches, to an owner to a MLB team, to a kicker for a Power Five conference team and the list goes on from there.  

Our gender does not define what positions we can or cannot get. If you are very passionate for sports, thrive for wanting to be at the same table as the next guy that gets the same job done. Just work as hard, if not harder than him to even get your name heard. 

As a media student wanting to enter the sport industry as a content creator for different university athletic departments or professional teams, individuals, like Chanelle Smith-Walker, are very influential for student to go out there and get the jobs that seem very impossible.  

Every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on. — Serena Williams 

Kristina Bonner is a sophomore at Houston Baptist University, majoring in Mass Media Arts. She enjoys watching sports. Outside of sports, she's a big foodie and enjoys to travel.

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