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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

For women working in sports, much has changed, much hasn’t

Cam Newton of the Panthers watches the scoreboard

Cam Newton of the Panthers watches the scoreboard during a preseason game against the Jaguars at EverBank Field on Aug. 24, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Sam Greenwood

Like many of the young women I knew who were trying to make their way in male-dominated fields in the 1990s, I used to have an over-50/under 50 rule when it came to dealing with demeaning and sexist comments in the workplace.

Basically, it boiled down to this: If a co-worker said something like “We have a rule that all our female columnists take their shirts off for their column pictures,” I would basically let it go if the person was older than 50. (This actually did happen, and I actually did let it go.) The reasoning behind this was simple. I had a father who hired and promoted women and also supported me in what was then an extremely unconventional career, yet I could imagine him saying something almost as clueless.

In the 1990s, men older than 50 had come of age in a Mad Men world. Even some of those who were supportive of women in the workplace seemed to have a hard time understanding how singling out someone because of their gender was harassment.

The way I saw it, these men were dinosaurs and it wasn’t worth my time and effort to try to change them. They would soon be gone, and we would be surrounded by a more enlightened workforce.

Well, this past week shows just how faulty and ageist that reasoning was on a number of levels.

At 28, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who tried to humiliate a female reporter for daring to ask a question about pass routes, is clearly under 50. So, there goes that rule.

Newton, after a public outcry that included a yogurt company pulling his endorsement deal, has since issued an apology for his comments. That this even happened shows that the NFL community still has a long way to go in its treatment of women.

Also this week was the emerging story of film mogul Harvey Weinstein, 65, who allegedly paid off sexual harassment accusers for decades.

A Philadelphia sports radio personality Mike Missanelli lost a weekly television gig after saying Beth Mowins doing play-by-play on Monday Night Football “sounds unnatural.” Missanelli said he was fired from “Sports Sunday” on WPVI, Philadelphia’s ABC station.

This is not the enlightened workforce I imagined 25 years ago. Yes, in many ways, especially in sports, it is much improved. The majority of today’s journalists and professional athletes grew up with mothers who work, either part time or otherwise. They are used to seeing women in positions of authority and perhaps they have even heard about some challenges the women they love face in the outside world.

Yet, Newton touched on something important when he said “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes . . . like . . . it’s funny,” he said.

Perhaps Newton thought it was funny, because it’s still very unusual. Despite the fact the NFL says women comprise 45 percent of its fan base, they are sorely under-represented in the media that covers it. Though there are a number of women reporting from the sideline, it wasn’t until last month that Mowins broke a thick glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to call a game on Monday Night Football.

The rest of sports media isn’t much better. According to a 2014 study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in sports, women represent just 12.7 percent of newspapers’ sports staffs.

So much has changed in 30 years and so much more needs to. There are no silly over-50/under-50 rules. I take some solace in the fact that today’s young reporters are willing to call out someone — whether it be a player or a co-worker — for treating them with a lack of respect.

I wish I had been as brave.

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