Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alyssa Lang looked up to the United States women’s national soccer team, who won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999 and were the best national team in the sport at the time.
Those women were not her only role models in sports. She also looked up to Michael Vick, a former Virginia Tech quarterback and an alumnus of the same university her parents attended. She said that whenever she played on a soccer field, she wanted to run around without getting tackled just like Vick did.
But it was ultimately female soccer players like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain who inspired her to continue playing sports at a young age. Lang said she would frequently watch a documentary made about the team, “Dare to Dream,” before soccer tournament games as a source of motivation and inspiration.
Since then, Lang has worked for media outlets in Columbia, Jacksonville and Charlotte and gained experience covering a number of sports. At one point, she even considered leaving the sports media industry. She was in the third round of interviews for an entry level sales position, she said, before her dream job at ESPN came calling.
Lang is now a host, anchor and reporter at the SEC Network and a prominent female figure in the sports media world, with a following of thousands of girls who want to be like her one day — just as she looked up to female on-air personalities, such as Erin Andrews, at a young age.
She and other USC almunae are using National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which is celebrated on Feb. 7 this year, as an opportunity to reflect on their experiences and use their platforms to support and inspire the next generation of women in the sports media industry.
Tori Richman, a team photographer for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also looked up to Hamm and the United States women’s national soccer team when she was younger. Like Lang, Richman played soccer until she was in high school and grew up wanting to be a professional soccer player.
But despite being a lifelong admirer of sports, the thought of having a career in sports outside of being an athlete never crossed her mind until she joined The Daily Gamecock as a photographer.
It was there that she developed a strong love of sports because "everyone can be a part of it."
This has not always been the case for women, however, Lang said.
Lang said that she “has less room for error” not only because of her profession as an on-air sports personality but also because she is a woman in that profession.
She said that whenever one of her male counterparts makes a mistake or makes a bad take on air, viewers will react by singling him out as "someone who shouldn't talk about sports."
Whenever women make mistakes on air, however, some of those same viewers tend to make “blanket statements” about women, claiming that none of them should be talking about sports.
"In my experience, when a woman messes up, it’s not just an opportunity for that woman to explain herself," Lang said. "A lot of times, it’s a snap judgment on all women.”
Richman said she has run into situations in her work life where she was not been taken seriously because of her size and gender. She added that when she was first hired by the Buccaneers, the team was unsure about whether it should let her enter the locker room.
But when the Buccaneers staff eventually gave her locker room access, the team’s players made her feel that she belonged, even though she was initially nervous about being there in the first place.
"(A player) was like, ‘Come in, you’re fine. Come on in, you’re part of the team. Take a breath, you’re fine,’ and from then, it made me feel accepted,” Richman said. “I realized that if I keep that mentality of ‘(Even if) I’m different or I’m on the outside, I’m here to do my job just the same, and I’ll be damned if someone gets in my way.'”
Richman said she had another impactful moment about women in the sports industry when she watched a video interview of Lori Locust, who was an assistant defensive line coach with the Buccaneers at the time.
During the interview, Locust described sports as a “male-prevalent” profession, rather than a "male-dominant” one.
Richman has since adopted a similar mindset about navigating a profession that has historically been male-heavy, she said.
“Sure, there’s a lot of guys around, but I don’t ever feel or allow myself to feel that men dominate me,” Richman said. “I got here for my talent, for my skill, for my hard work, and I don’t have to prove (myself) to anyone else.”
Numerous professionals in the sports media industry have noticed that more sports workplaces are becoming increasingly populated by women and, in some cases, have become “female-prevalent.”
Shelby Beckler is the social media coordinator of Charlotte FC in Major League Soccer, where she oversees the creation and publication of the club's content across various social media platforms. She said it is exciting to see professional sports organizations such as the one she works for move towards hiring more diverse staff.
“There’s people who have broken the barriers that we need, and I think it’s really cool to see,” Beckler said. “I’m pretty sure that Charlotte FC ... (has) more females than male staff, which is just crazy to think about. And so it’s really cool to be surrounded by just a wide variety of people, male and female, but it's cool to see people (that) ‘If you see her, you can be her.’”
For Paige Davoren, a social media coordinator at the Premier Lacrosse League, working in a female-heavy sub-sector of the sports media industry has provided her with a network of support. She said that she can reach out to other women in social media for advice about both work-related and personal situations.
“It’s just that extra level of comfort that you automatically feel of knowing that they’ve probably been through some of the same experiences as you and can relate on a different level,” Davoren said.
Richman has created a similar support system through an Instagram group chat with other team photographers working for NFL teams. There were only four full-time female team photographers in the league when she was hired by the Buccaneers, and the number of women in the group chat has since reached double digits to include part-time photographers and interns.
“What’s awesome, especially with the women in that group chat with me, is we all have such different personalities, and we come from different backgrounds that the different kinds of women that we’re able to reach out to just from our own experiences, we reach that many more,” Richman said.
That level of support has not always existed in the sports media industry, Richman said, which is why National Girls and Women in Sports Day holds a special meaning to her each year.
“I think of it as like a birthday. ‘We love you every day, but on this day we’re really going to celebrate you,'” Richman said. “It doesn’t put anyone else down, but it’s really that day to recognize a group of people that haven’t always had that recognition, that haven't had that ability to be supported.”
Lang said she uses National Girls and Women in Sports Day to re-emphasize the importance of using her platform to further being accessible to women who want to follow in her footsteps.
“There’s just something about having a woman that you can go to to ask the questions without judgment or without criticism,” Lang said. “So I try to make sure that whenever I interact with girls, women in sports, any age, any period in life, any chapter in their career, that I make it clear that no question is a dumb question.”
Davoren said the holiday serves as a reminder of how much progress in terms of diversification has been made, as well as how much progress remains.
“We are getting somewhere, and we are making progress, but we aren’t there yet,” Davoren said. “Having the day is important for now until we get to a point where it is much more common.”
She added that creating a supportive culture amongst women in sports will ultimately continue its current trajectory.
“Being willing to take that extra step and — if people reach out to you — help them or give them advice, and do whatever you can,” Davoren said. “We’re only going to get to where we want to be in this industry if we are supporting each other.”