Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Claire Smith - Honoring a pioneering reporter and inspiration

Last night, at the annual Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) dinner and awards ceremony, a new record was set as Claire Smith, longtime sports writer and coordinating editor of ESPN's news group, accepted the prestigious J. G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest award given sports reporting.

According to the ESPN news story about the event, she was given "a standing ovation when her election was announced, and she asked the other half dozen women in the room to stand alongside her as she spoke."

In her acceptance speech, she thanked "the guys that stood up to the athletes and teams and said that we are your peers and we deserve to be treated like you."

"I want to thank you as well as the women who walked the walk and fought the battles and got all of us to this point. No one does this by themselves.''

I heard this evening's PBS Newshour segment interviewing her, and I was filled with renewed inspiration to continue sharing the stories of trailblazers in every field, but especially in sports where it seems women continue to be left behind.

Her inspiration for writing comes from her love of the game and her passion for telling stories, but also her connection to the story of Jackie Robinson. "This sport taught this country how to grow up... it integrated 20-some years before [the rest of] the United States of America."

But while Major League Baseball may have been more accepting of people of color, it was much more difficult for her to work as a female reporter. "It was no contest, it was harder because of gender than race." Fortunately for Claire Smith, working with the Yankees, she was protected by their aggressive stance for diversity in the clubhouse, giving her easier access to do her job than women in other cities may have faced.

Her most dramatic instance of overt sexism came after the World Series playoff game between the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres, when she went to enter the visiting team's locker room at Wrigley Field, and was denied entry because of a sexist policy by the Padres prohibiting women access to the clubhouse. This was a watershed moment, with the players and reporters standing behind her. The very next day, the brand new Commissioner of Baseball Peter Ueberroth set down the law giving equal access to all reporters with the proper credentials regardless of gender.

As someone who grew up watching baseball and loving the game, I have long been fascinated by the ways we talk about this sport and how it has influenced our understanding of larger social issues. I'm absolutely thrilled Claire Smith is getting the recognition she so richly deserves. She truly is an amazing role model for young women, and especially young women of color, to pursue their passions despite challenges they may face. Her strength of character and her courage to continue doing her job in the face of sexism and racism serve as an excellent example of what a true self-rescuing princess is capable of.

Brava Claire Smith!

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