With my eternal gratitude to the Cowsills, I’ll get this blog started.
Many years ago, on an afternoon that was growing darker every few minutes, a winter storm was on the way. A newspaper colleague had planned to attend a women’s college basketball game that night between two highly-ranked teams. But as the forecast grew more certain that the weather could make driving unpleasant, I knew what was going to happen.
My colleague was a very fine journalist and a terrific writer who really did want to go to the game. But not if the weather was going to be a big hassle. Of course, I didn’t have to ask whether he’d even consider staying at home if it was a men’s game. I knew the answer. He’d have hired a dog sled to get there if he had to for that. But that made sense, because he was not allowed to miss a men’s game.
Football and men’s basketball were absolute requirements, and his job depended on covering them. His beat had never been defined in any way as including women’s basketball in the category of “responsibility.” There was no reason for him to think of it in those terms. Rather, it was “Great- if you get around to it.”
And I accepted that. That was standard procedure nearly everywhere as far as I knew. I was pragmatic: Not enough people were going to complain about it. For that matter, probably no one would.
There wasn’t any expectation that the women’s game was supposed to be covered. And if there are no expectations, then there’s no worry about not meeting them.
But I recall thinking then: I want to be in a job were there ARE expectations about coverage of women’s sports. Where bad weather simply means: Leave earlier and drive slower. Because it’s not even a question of whether you’re going. It’s your responsibility. You have to be there.
There was another afternoon years before that, and it was stormy, too. But this time it was rain, the kind that overnight can make a little river become huge and a big one become a monster.
Around 4 p.m., as I sloshed home from school, I found my parents trying to dry out the basement. The rain was that heavy … and, well, my father had built the basement, and his waterproofing wasn’t flawless.
I helped them for a little while before asking the question that was inevitable, the one they knew was coming.
“Um, we are still going to watch the game tonight, aren’t we?”
My school’s girls basketball team was playing at a school called Van-Far. Which stood for the combination of the towns Vandalia and Farber, but was also an accurate description of its location in relation to my house: very FAR away. Or at least, in the days before it became common for me to make four-hour (or longer) round trips to games by myself, Van-Far seemed far away.
My parents gave in almost instantly. I didn’t have to explain that missing games was akin to missing chapters in a book, an argument I’d rehearsed on the soggy walk home. I didn’t have to make a case at all. They just didn’t want to deal with me whining if we didn’t go.
Hours later as we drove home, crossing the river, with a shudder I said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think what I just saw was that water flowing RIGHT UNDER the bridge.”
In fact, it was. It rained so hard that for the first and only time in my school years, they cancelled all classes for a few days. One classmate almost died when her car was overwhelmed by the rising water. And it’s always stuck with me that she lost her letter jacket, too. It was washed away.
So it was a bad, bad rain. But it had not made me miss the game.
None of this, I assure you, is meant to encourage people to risk their lives to get to games. Rather, it’s to explain that I’ve dedicated much of my career to following women’s sports – basketball in particular – because it’s exactly what I always wanted to do. Even before I knew it could be a career.
In the journalism world, there has often been the attitude that women’s sports was something young reporters did when they were paying their dues or older reporters did when they were being put out to pasture.
If you showed creativity and flair, if you worked your sources well and knew how to develop stories, then you couldn’t stay with women’s sports. You had to – and obviously you would want to, right? _ move on to a more “important” beat.
I’ve heard of women reporters, especially, who resisted being assigned to women’s sports beats or quickly wanted to “do their time” on them and then move off. They’d say they didn’t want to be put in the “women’s sports ghetto.” They wanted every chance to advance in their careers to the “big stuff” the same as the male reporters had.
What can I say? I wanted to do “big stuff,” too. Except, to me, women’s sports WAS big stuff.
I liked the idea of being devoted to something, having a history in it, really researching it and examining it. I liked the notion that the people participating in a sport would see you now, then see a year later, then see you five years later … and know that you could put into context what they were saying and doing. Because you’d been there.
I liked the concept that you could report on women’s sports in a way that was NOT always positive but was always professional. That readers might sometimes think all kinds of not-very-flattering things, such as your opinion was totally wrong, your logic was flawed, your writing style was self-indulgent, your jokes were not funny, your predictions were off-base.
But that they would never think, “Well, she just couldn’t care less.”
I’m starting this blog because it’s another place to put down my thoughts about women’s sports (and a few other things). I’ll still be writing for ESPN.com, but this will be an auxiliary forum.
And one of the good things with blog entries is I don’t have to worry that my editor is sitting at her desk trying not to fall asleep while wondering, “Voepel, for crying out loud, when are you going to file?”
The only one I’ll be keeping awake here will be myself.