What the Manti Te'o Scandal Reveals About Women in Journalism

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o answers a question during NCAA college football media day, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 in South
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o answers a question during NCAA college football media day, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Manti Te'o has completely taken over news cycles, Twitter feeds and personal conversations for the past couple of weeks. The scandal has shed light on a number of important realities: fact-checking is a lost art that journalists will never forget to do again, and getting "catfished" is a thing in 2013. Most unsettling is the fact that our culture prioritizes Te'o's fake dead girlfriend over Lizzy Seeberg, a Notre Dame student who took her own life after being harassed by the football team for reporting a sexual assault in August 2010.

On Thursday, January 24, Manti Te'o will give his first on-camera interview since news broke about his dead girlfriend really being a hoax. The Notre Dame linebacker will sit down on Katie Couric's daytime talk show along with his parents and explain his side of the story involving alleged girlfriend Lennay Kekua.

A strong emphasis has been placed on the reporters who played key roles in this drawn out saga. Pete Thamel wrote the original feature for Sports Illustrated in which Te'o discussed Kekua, and he has since been thrust into the spotlight regarding his interview with the Notre Dame football player.

Nick Denton, founding and managing editor of Gawker Media, wants us all to pay attention to the two journalists at Deadspin who broke the story that Kekua wasn't real: Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey.

Couric was able to get Te'o to admit he lied about his girlfriend on her show, but if it weren't for Couric and Te'o sharing the same publicist, the female broadcaster may not have even landed this exclusive interview in the first place. The football player gave his real first interview on Friday, January 18 to Jeremy Schapp of ESPN.

Notice a trend yet?

The original reporting of Te'o's dead girlfriend and the unleashing of truth behind her non-existence brings attention to the tiny number of female sports reporters who are nearly non-existent themselves.

On January 16, SB Nation published a list of 21 different news sources online titled 'People who never looked up Lennay Kekua.' Of the 21 mentioned news organizations that wrote about Te'o's girlfriend, from The Associated Press to NBC, only three of the bylines belonged to women.

There are some really great women sports journalists who produce quality work in the field, but it's not a coincidence that there's so few of them. These statistics mirror a much larger trend of women's voices missing from sports pages. The Women's Media Center reported last February that 11.4 percent of editor positions, 10 percent of columnists and 7 percent of all reporters in sports journalism are women.

While these numbers are extremely low, it's not all that surprising, given the culture surrounding women in sports reporting. In a November issue of Sports Illustrated, Charles Barkley is quoted as saying, "They have hot, great-looking women on TV now. But if you are an ugly woman, you ain't got no chance of getting a TV job."

This may not be his personal opinion or preference, but he's perpetuating stereotypical attitudes. Alice Cook responded to Barkley's interview on Boston.com: "I did not enter into this field because I thought men would enjoy watching me talk about sports on their TV. I decided to become a sports journalist because I wanted to be the person delivering the news to people who look at sports as more than just a game."

Sports isn't the only field in journalism and media where women don't find themselves in equal numbers to their male counterparts, but it is one sector with the largest disparity. We should acknowledge the problematic reality of minimal female sports reporters and move toward brainstorming solutions. These major statistics are not minor details