Q&A: Megan Soisson, the Senior Sports Editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian Who Exposed Sexism on ESPN’s Website

How her tweet turned into a national news story.

It was a normal day for Megan Soisson, a junior at Penn and the senior sports editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian. She was working on a run-of-the-mill story for her section when she was reminded of the industry’s gender disparity by none other than the World Wide Leader in Sports.

She was trying to find the answer to a simple coverage question about the Penn vs. Harvard men’s basketball game when she discovered an option on ESPN’s website for users to complain about female commentators. No, you haven’t gone back in time with Doc Brown and Einstein—you’re still in 2012 and this all played out earlier this week.

How did you stumble across the dropdown menu on ESPN’s website?

I was looking for a place to ask a question about the Penn/Harvard basketball game. I wanted to know why it wasn’t being broadcast on ESPN3. So, I sent an email to a very generic ESPN address and they responded with a link to the page with the dropdown menus. It asks what sport—so I put Men’s College Basketball—and then the item was just general coverage. Then in the dropdown menu for “Topic” I saw “Commentator—dislike female commentators.”

What was your initial reaction?

I think I was shocked at first. And surprised. So, I took a screenshot of it and sent a tweet. I really didn’t think it would get past the 200-some people that follow me.

Did you do anything after the tweet to help raise awareness of the situation?

The tweet was sent to Jezebel and started spreading Tuesday night and Wednesday. In the meantime, I got a response to my question about the Penn/Harvard basketball game. So, I knew I had gotten a response from an actual person. I responded to that email and I said, “I’m the person who started the tweet about the female commentators. Will there be an apology?” They emailed me on Wednesday afternoon letting me know that a statement was coming.

Do you think their apology was an effective response to the issue?

It didn’t really help me feel any better because it was such a PR response. But, then, a couple of hours later, I received a longer email from the VP of communications. He said he wanted to explain that he was proud of ESPN for having the ability to give women a chance to work in the sports industry and said 10 years ago, when they decided to allow women to do the play-by-play of national college football games there were a lot of complaints about their decision.

So, he basically explained why it was ever created to begin with?

He said that it was an extremely regrettable decision and that it never should have happened. So, it helped me a little, because I can better understand why it happened. But, I still didn’t understand why it would still be there. My main point was that I wished that they had been a bit more transparent about it—especially once people all over the nation saw that they had that as an option on their website. I wish that they had done more than send that PR apology to a few publications that asked for it.

Do you feel a large gender gap in the sports journalism industry?

I didn’t think so before all of this. But, I guess my eyes were kind of opened to that this week.