Sixteen years ago, three members of the New England Patriots actually did the sports world a favor.
Not that sexual harassment is a favor by any means, but the alleged actions of Zeke Mowatt, Michael Timpson and Robert Perryman thrust then Boston Herald beat writer Lisa Olson into the national spotlight. The locker room incident sparked discussion, created a stir, and forced male athletes and coaches to rethink their attitudes about the wave of female reporters trickling in to cover games and practices.
It was a milestone, at the expense of Olson, who was offered and accepted a job reporting sports in Sydney, Australia, by her employer -- to get away from the commotion. Now, she is back in the United States, tackling the Big Apple and the zoo that goes with it as a columnist for the New York Daily News. But, the trigger of this dustup was a resurgence and recognition that women sportswriters and broadcasters are here to stay.
Currently, Milwaukee has six women to front the face of sports. All of them are aware of the trail blazed by Olson and others, but they have all carved out their own niche to become a singular personality with a unique view of the games people play.
Introductions are in order:
Jessie Garcia is a veteran television sportscaster, who has worked at WTMJ since 1994. She began her on-air career in her hometown of Madison back in 1992, after receiving a broadcast journalism degree from Boston University. Garcia is married to Paul, a videographer at Channel 4, and they have two sons: Jake (7) and Charlie (3).
Jen Lada hails from Spring Grove, Ill., but graduated with a broadcast electronics degree from Marquette University. Lada worked at WREX-TV in Rockford before joining the sports department at WITI in January. She is a newlywed, married to husband Sean this past summer. They don't have kids, but try to keep up with two high-energy dogs, Niner and Wrigley.
Lori Nickel is a Milwaukee native who has been with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports staff since 1997. She received her journalism and sociology degrees from Indiana University, where she began working on the college newspaper in 1989. Nickel is married to Matt, and they have two sons: Evan (5) and Sean (2).
Bobbi Roquemore is a Cleveland native who got her journalism degree from Marquette. She began her career in 1999 as a reporter and copy editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but left the newspaper after three years to work for Ebony Magazine. Roquemore returned to the daily newspaper as a full-time reporter in 2002. She had the Preps Plus beat for three years, and became the UW-Milwaukee men's basketball beat writer last season.
Kyndra de St. Aubin grew up in Stillwater, Minn., and stuck close to home to receive her broadcast journalism degree from the University of Minnesota, where she played on the women's soccer team. She's been in the business three years -- all of them at Milwaukee's ESPN Radio 1510 Days / 1290 Nights, for whom she covers the Brewers, Bucks and every team in between. de St. Aubin is married to Bobby.
Stephanie Sutton has been a sports anchor and reporter at WISN (Channel 12) for the past 3 ½ years, but she's been on the air in other markets for 10 years. Sutton went to Brookfield Central High School and the University of Wisconsin, where she earned her degree in communications. She is married to Brian and they have a daughter Kate (16 months).
In talking to these journalists, it made sense to get the locker room question out of the way early. The general public seems fascinated with the barely-toweled and sometimes naked obstacle course these six women have to weave through to gather post-game comments.
"People have to remember it's not like the Playboy Mansion for guys in there," said Lada. "The men aren't frolicking around naked for others' amusement. They move from the showers to their locker and begin getting dressed. Some more quickly than others, but it is never blatant full-out nudity on parade. Plus, we are in there to do our jobs and move along. So, there isn't really time for gawking."
So sorry, general public. After awhile, it's pretty ho-hum. But some will never forget the first time.
"It was traumatic. I am never comfortable, but I must say the Packers are a dream team to cover in this regard," said Nickel. "They usually wear towels and aren't idiots to women just doing their jobs. I remember Reggie White not feeling women belonged in there, but I think the guys all know I just want a few quotes, and I'll be out of their way."
"I honestly don't remember the very first time I went into a locker room, so it must not have made that much of an impression," said Garcia. "I get asked this question all the time though and my answer is always the same. If you act like a professional and do your job, then the locker room is no big deal."
Bobbi Roquemore said she thinks the athletes have been cooperative ... but getting in to talk to them seems to be a major hurdle.
"I'm more bothered by the fact that I'm usually the only female there, so security personnel and other staff always ask for my credentials on the way in, on the way out. 'Can I help you?' 'Are you looking for something?'" said Roquemore. "Once they get to know you, of course, that initial shock goes away, but for visiting teams and their people, it's always an issue. It's not the athletes, it's their handlers. Trust me, as a reporter, I just want to get my info and get out, no time for mingling!"
So the shower baptism has come and gone for all six women. But why get into this media mix in the first place? Hesitation? Not this group. By the time Olson and others set the standard, this set of six was ready to make a charge without ever turning to look over their shoulders.
"No hesitation on my part," said de St. Aubin. "I always grew up competing with boys and being pretty good friends with guys, so I had no hesitation getting into this field."
For Bobbi Roquemore, getting in was the easy part. Staying in has been a challenge at times.
"If someone had told me that I'd be one of only 20 black females out of 2,200 sports reporters in the U.S., maybe I would have considered other options," said Roquemore. "I had no idea how much of a rarity and on some levels, a trailblazer, I would be by doing this job, the stereotypes you have to overcome and the potshots people take at you simply because they think they can and are insecure within themselves. But through your work, people, at least the general public, eventually get over who's writing the story and move on to other issues, like 'Why did you write that?'"
Stephanie Sutton had motivation to succeed because she saw a familiar face doing the same.
"The person I looked up to was Jessie Garcia over at (Channel) 4," said Sutton. "I graduated from college, didn't know what the heck I was going to do, and I didn't want to go into news. And I remember watching Jessie in Madison and thought she was awesome, and I was like, you know what, she's good at that job, I like that job."
In 1992, Garcia was the only female TV sportscaster in the state of Wisconsin. And even though Jessie knew she was about to swim in the deep end of the pool, she dove right in.
"I wasn't sure what the reaction would be," said Garcia. "For the most part I was treated like 'the rookie' and not 'the woman.' And I drew inspiration from my mom, who was a carpenter and an architect in the 1970s and early '80s when that was highly unusual for women. Plus, I was starting out in my hometown of Madison, where I knew a lot of people and had a lot of support."
"I've never been one to back down from a challenge," said Lada. "I have always chased my dreams."
Most of these journalists either played or had direct contact with a sport of some kind to help jump start their interest. Sutton captured the WIAA Girls State Doubles Championship in 1987 at Brookfield Central, teaming up with her sister, Heidi, to put the Jurczyk sisters in the state annals forever. De St. Aubin discovered it during a simpler time, growing up playing games like Hot Box, Lightning, Step-back, and PIG, with her dad, brother and his friends. .. never accepting any freebies or handouts ... wanting to play the game just like they did at the same level -- not at a "girl level," as she put it.
Some discovered their passion by exploring the nuances and intricacies of athletic competition.
"My love for sports didn't come until I was 12 or 13, and my step-father started taking me to Badger basketball games," said Garcia. "I also remember driving over to County Stadium to watch the Brewers, and I have a distinct memory of him explaining to me how the outfielders were shading to the left or right depending on their scouting reports for that particular hitter. I immediately fell in love with the emotion and passion that sports brought out in the community."
Garcia admitted she "was not and am not a natural athlete." But her appreciation of watching others do what she could not had her writing sports for the high school newspaper, and she's been hooked every since. Nickel followed that roadmap as well ... those that can't play the game write about it.
"I believe this to be true -- sports writers are failed jocks," said Nickel. "We're the ones who rode the bench, or never realized our sports dreams on the court or field. But we thought we knew more than the coach. And so I posed as a volleyball, basketball and softball player in high school and continue my second-guessing of coaches to this day."
There is also a general appreciation for this mode of recreation that many take seriously, even though it is just a game.
"I love that sports require strategy and strength and more importantly; the perfect combination of the two," said Lada. "They are unifying, engaging and conversation-starters. Even people who don't understand sports tend to appreciate them for the sacrifices they take and the demands they place on the human mind and body."
"I can't say I really love sports as much as I love people, and how sports is a great way to tell the stories of people's lives," said Roquemore. "Of course, there's the thrill of competition, seeing how people respond to adverse situations both on and off the playing field and how sports issues, from T.O.'s alleged suicide attempt to the steroids controversy, play out in real time. It's the people of sports that keep me going."
Those people of sports tend to be mostly male, and sometimes, the gender will offer to open up more to a female asking the questions. Advantage: women.
"I think it helps more than hinders because the athletes and coaches remember you," said Sutton. "There are so many guys, you all kind of blend in and at least, not necessarily by name they know me, but they can pick me out, so I think that helps, to be quite honest."
Nickel said she thinks it helps and hinders.
"I won't talk to an athlete in the locker room unless he's dressed, even as I see another male reporter get the athlete because he has no hesitation to talk to him. I lost that interview," said Nickel. "However, being a woman helps in that I am not threatening or confrontational in men's eyes, so they tend to open up."
"From what I've seen so far, the benefits and the drawbacks pretty much balance each other out," said Lada. "Sometimes there are athletes more willing to give you the time of day and give you a scoop. But then there are others less willing to be as open and forthright with a woman. So when it's all said and done, we're right back in the middle of the pack."
De St. Aubin echoes those thoughts and said she thinks a balance has been struck, but one that keeps women constantly on the proving ground.
"I think being a woman in this field has pluses and minuses," said de St. Aubin. "The positives are that the athletes, coaches and GMs are usually more willing to give a female an interview than a male. Also, they are not as rude to you if you ask a tough question. The negative is that you have to work harder to earn their respect. You have to prove to them that you know what you are talking about and you are not just another pretty face in the business."
And if it just so happens that you do have a pretty face, are there romantic thoughts brewing toward these women who enter the sacred hallowed halls of the male athlete? Let's face it -- they don't call it "locker room humor" for nothing, and sometimes, boys will be boys. But, most women in the field seem to play pretty good defense.
"People lick their lips and offer hints, but I'm good at being goofy and acting unfazed by such actions," said Roquemore.
"My first year covering the Packers a certain quarterback (not Brett Favre) asked me for my phone number," said Garcia. "Although I think he was mostly kidding, I just had to say, 'Cut it out and let me do the interview,' and he stopped. It hasn't happened often and you just move on in a professional manner. Plus, most athletes are about 10-15 years younger than me now, so I don't foresee it being an issue."
A delicate balance
And there is the "husband at home" factor. Five of the six women are married, and that sets a tone and draws a line.
"I think having a ring on your finger definitely helps," said de St. Aubin, who is married to an ex-college soccer player, Bobby. "I also think it depends on how you carry yourself around them as well. I have never had that problem with any players or coaches. They have always been very respectful and made me feel comfortable in the locker room."
Tack on kids to the equation, and beating a deadline is nothing compared to these women trying to play the mom role as often as they can.
"This is the biggest challenge I face," said Nickel. "Now, it's all about balancing family life while clinging to a career I have put 15 years of my life into. Having kids changed everything for me. Before them, being a reporter was pretty much my entire identity. Now, it's like, I'm singing 'Wheels on the Bus' at Gymboree, and no one there cares why the Packers couldn't even make it in to the red zone on Sunday."
Cutting the workload seems to be a popular option.
"I have been part-time ever since my first child was born seven years ago," said Garcia. "My husband is a photographer at Channel 4, so we understand each other's crazy hours. There are times when my husband comes home and I run out the door and we feel like passing ships. But for the most part, we make it work and still have plenty of family time."
"I went part-time in 2002 because I was losing my mind," said Nickel. "My husband had a two week trip to Japan, and in that span of time I have three Marquette basketball road games to cover and a 7-month-old baby. I just fell apart. So I quit my job, or tried to. Sports editor Garry Howard basically kicked me in the butt though, and told me I needed to keep my job, so I have been part time."
Part time or not, it is still a juggling act for these working mothers.
"Honestly, I have no idea how we do it, we just do," said Sutton. "This job is for someone who is single. Once you get married and once you have children, everything changes. Trying to go to the Super Bowl or the Rose Bowl isn't my priority right now ... it's all about my daughter."
Even the single life provides a bumpy road for the social life of someone like Roquemore.
"Boyfriends have to be quite understanding, which may be why the only ones I have live out of town," said Roquemore. "But, the man I am dating now, who lives in Texas, is a former college athlete, himself. He's very supportive of my career and understands exactly what I have to go through."
Lada and de St. Aubin don't have kids to deal with, but like Roquemore, lean on having the understanding significant other.
"He does a great job of rolling with those changes," said Lada about husband, Sean. "Plus, he's never been the type to adhere to typical household roles. So, he doesn't expect me to be in the kitchen making dinner for him when he gets home from work every night. He could ... but he knows dinner would be around midnight."
"It's pretty tough to find time just for my husband and I," said de St. Aubin. "That's part of the reason kids are out of the question right now -- we don't even have time to get a dog, let alone have kids. I keep telling myself that absence makes the heart grow fonder. He works pretty crazy hours, as well, so a complete weekend without either of us working is pretty rare."
It is this tornado pace that makes these women cling to the moments away from the touchdowns, home runs and dunks. For Nickel, serenity now is working in her flower gardens. Garcia puts on her mom cap and squishes Play-Doh with her son, Charlie. Lada sweats -- she loves to run, bike and work out, finding exercise soothing after a long, draining week. But others find escape difficult.
"I can never get away from it all; I never go out of town without my laptop," said Roquemore. "But just getting out of town is my elixir. I can be Bobbi Roquemore, the sister, friend, cousin, girlfriend -- not like my mode in Milwaukee, when I feel like 'the sports journalist.'"
"When I go home to Minnesota or my parents' cabin for the weekend, I don't watch a lot of TV or listen to the radio and my cell phone doesn't work at the lake, so that's the easiest way to get away from it all," said de St. Aubin. "But, when everyone knows you work in sports, that's all they want to ask you about."
There are narrow-minded jocks and fanatics who still prefer their sports delivered by a male, but only because they have misconceptions of females in sports. End result -- the bar gets set pretty high for a woman.
"Women are held to a much higher standard, which isn't really fair but an absolute reality," said Lada. "Many fans almost expect you to screw up or not know what you are talking about. So if I make a mistake in my job -- which every single person on the planet has been known to do on occasion -- there are plenty of people ready to call me out and write me off. Is it a double standard? Absolutely. Is it fair? Absolutely not. But it is real and I'd rather try and rise to the occasion as often as possible. And when I do screw up, I'm disappointed in myself. But, I just try to be better the next time."
"I always think back to the movie 'Jerry Maguire,'" said Garcia. "There's a female reporter character who flirts with the G.M. and the athletes, acts like a witch in the locker room and drops her microphone in front of a buck-naked guy. That has always bothered me, because those are among the misconceptions about female sportscasters."
That clip from the film ties back into the stereotype that attractive women get the easy interview, but don't have a brain to back up the beauty. It's a hot button issue with many female reporters, who work diligently to flush that rumor aside.
"Most of the women I know in sports know what they are talking about and can actually bring something to the table," said de St. Aubin. "Some companies in the national media are all about using women as eye candy for the male audience, (but) you can find a woman with brains and beauty. It sounds cheesy, but that's the truth."
"I always laugh when I hear that phrase 'don't know anything about sports' because how silly of a statement is that?" said Lada. "Even the most admitted sports novice or someone who claims to hate sports knows something. The goal of any sportscaster isn't to be a walking sports encyclopedia able to rattle off the most obscure sports details at a moment's notice. The idea is to be able to accurately and concisely get to the meat of a story without sensationalizing or misleading the audience. And be relatively entertaining in the process."
But, for every batch of skeptics, the scale will tip on the compliment side, as well. Awards and accolades are appreciated, but it seems to be the simple things that give these women joy and self fulfillment.
Lada: "It's really important to me when people enjoy a piece I've worked really hard on. In this business, so much of our work is 'hurry up and rush' to get it on the air immediately and sometimes I think I could have done better given more time. So when someone compliments me on a piece that they enjoyed or learned something from, it's the best thing they can say."
Nickel: "I can count the number of times (Packers beat writers) Bob McGinn and Tom Silverstein have told me they liked a story of mine, and that's the equivalent of winning an Oscar, a Pulitzer and an Emmy."
Garcia: "I guess I would have to say when someone says that they don't really follow sports but still enjoys my sportscasts. I try to always think of my mom when I write a story. She's not a sports fan but she appreciates good, human stories and I try to bring that to the table."
Roquemore: "Readers, even when they disagree, often compliment me on how well-written and well-researched my stories are. I don't just shoot from the hip. I support whatever I'm writing with facts, numbers, quotes, situations, scenarios."
Sutton: "I won an award from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for best sports reporting in 2005. It was on a deaf golfer, and I was floored when I got that. That's a huge compliment to me, competing against all my peers."
De St. Aubin: "I did an interview on NBA TV last season about the Bucks, and the guy interviewing me said it was a joy to hear me talk, because I knew what I was talking about. He said, 'You go, girl!' Also, after the interview I realized that Bucks coach Terry Stotts was watching the whole thing, and he complimented my performance, as well."
They are six sports storytellers who all have stories of their own to tell. Good and bad. Funny and sad. Embarrassing and eye-opening, they will let you into their world of sports and share their tales with you. Check back here on next week for more.
Bob currently does play-by-play at Time Warner Cable Sports 32, calling Wisconsin Timber Rattlers games in Appleton as well as the area high school football and basketball scene. During an earlier association with FS Wisconsin, his list of teams and duties have included the Packers, Bucks, Brewers and the WIAA State Championships.
During his life before cable, Bob spent seven seasons as a reporter and producer of "Preps Plus: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel High School Sports Show."
And the joke is, Bob has a golf shirt from all four Milwaukee television stations. Sad, but true: Bob has had sports and news anchor/reporter/producer stints at WTMJ, WISN, WDJT and WITI.
His first duty out of college (UW-Oshkosh) was radio and TV work in Eau Claire. Bob spent nearly a decade at WEAU-TV as a sports director and reporter.
You may have heard Bob's pipes around town as well. He has done play-by-play for the Milwaukee Mustangs, Milwaukee Iron, and UW-Milwaukee men's and women's basketball. Bob was the public address announcer for five seasons for both the Marquette men and women's basketball squads. This season, you can catch the starting lineups of the UW-Milwaukee Panther men's games with Bob behind the mic.
A Brookfield Central graduate, Bob's love and passion for sports began at an early age, when paper football leagues, and Wiffle Ball All Star Games were all the rage in the neighborhood.