If you’re a woman whose opinions about blitzing versus pass coverage are as strong as your halftime snack game, you’re officially a football fangirl.
Tracy Sandler reclaimed the once-dismissive term when she founded Fangirl Sports Network specifically for female sports fans. The network blends traditional sports reporting with lifestyle articles.
A longtime San Francisco 49ers supporter, Sandler is an officially accredited beat writer covering the team. She travels to the games and — in non-COVID times — to the locker room. In addition to her writing, Sandler hosts the podcasts Get My Job and The Tracy Sandler Show, highlighting women in sports.
“We’ve made tremendous strides in the sports industry for women… but I didn’t feel like there was content that spoke to women, and let women be fans how they wanted to be,” Sandler says. “There was a lot of gear that was only pink. I happen to love pink… but not every woman does.”
In this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Sandler tells SUCCESS’ Madison Pieper about standing her ground when men challenge her expertise, the role of male allies in standing up to misogyny in sports, and not taking trolls personally (or trying not to.)
Know your worth.
It’s tough being a woman in a male-dominated field—or on one, as is the case in football. Although Sandler says that 90% of the men she’s met in her career have been supportive and welcoming, the other 10% think they have the right to challenge her expertise purely because she’s a woman.
“You say, ‘I’m a Bears fan,’ [and he responds,] ‘Oh, really? Then name the starting offensive line for the 1987 Chicago Bears,’” Sandler says. “No one says that to a man. And by the way, no one knows the answer.”
This hostility sometimes manifests more subtly. A man will ask Sandler a question, seemingly interested in her response, only to disagree with everything she says. “[He] asked what I think is going to happen, but [he] just want[s] to argue with me,” Sandler says.
These tactics can be intimidating when you’re first starting out. But it’s your name on the press pass, the ID card or the corner office. You don’t have to prove yourself with a pop quiz, or engage with someone who isn’t listening, just because you’re a woman and he’s a man. Keep doing your job to the best of your ability, and know that you deserve to be where you are.
Be a feminist ally, whatever your gender.
Although there’s still room for improvement, women are more represented in sports journalism now than ever before. Sandler credits groundbreaking female sportscasters like Erin Andrews, Pam Oliver and Lisa Salters for proving that a woman’s place is on the sideline, in the press box and in the locker room.
“Those women paved the way, so to know that maybe I have a small part in doing that for someone else, and for young girls who love sports… really means a lot,” Sandler says.
In addition to pushing for more representation, more female sports journalists are blowing the whistle on forms of sexual harassment and online trolling that their male colleagues don’t face. But the burden shouldn’t only be on women to call out these issues.
“Men need to be our allies too,” Sandler says. “Men in these positions need to say, ‘This is not OK: I as a man will not stand for this. I will not allow my colleagues and women in this industry to be talked to that way.’” Teamwork matters off the field, as well as on it.
Follow your gut instincts when dealing with trolls.
One thing female public figures tend to deal with more than their male colleagues is online harassment.
That’s not to say that men don’t also deal with trolls. Sports, in particular, evoke strong emotions that unfortunately often manifest as rude and aggressive comments. But women tend to be on the receiving end of more intense abuse, often sexualized and misogynist.
Different people manage trolls differently. What’s important to know is that you are well within your right to use the mute, block and report buttons to protect your mental health.
“Use your gut instincts: If someone on social media is bullying you, and saying things that are hurtful, report it, because chances are they’re not just doing it to you,” Sandler says. Choosing not to read the comments at all is also a perfectly valid choice.
Sandler’s approach to online abuse is to not take it personally. At least, she tries.
“If I do find myself reading the comments, or if someone says something that I find upsetting, I’m like, ‘You know what? This isn’t about me,’” she says. “Because it’s really not. It feels personal, but it’s not. They don’t know me.”
Just like a quarterback on third down and long, or a kicker at the 45-yard line, you have to shut out the noise and let your work speak for you.