When researching an article about the motivations and struggles of becoming a female sports journalist, no one could give a better perspective than Jessica Redfield Ghawi. Jessica, who died in the Aurora theatre shooting just over a year ago, was determined, personable and committed to the task of breaking into a still male- dominated profession. The Jessica Redfield Ghawi Scholarship Fund, established in her memory, helps aspiring female journalists looking to achieve similar career dreams. However, the road for these women still requires grappling with stereotypes and proving their worth in a male-dominated career.
Jessica, the Best Conversation Starter
All stories start with a conversation. Most conversations are not particularly important. A majority of events in life do not resonate long after they are gone. Sports are much the same way. I have been to hundreds of sporting events in my lifetime. Many are forgotten and others are only brief fragments in my mind. The ones that have survived were created by a compelling story that lives on after the final whistle.
The ability to resonate will perhaps be Jessica’s true legacy, and the reason she was ready to have a major impact in the world of sports journalism. Everything Jessica did was memorable and I count myself lucky to have been a small part in the narrative of my friend. The small moments—arguing about the merits of the Vancouver Canucks, the color red or talking about missing home—still resonate with me. The larger impacts—her writing, our conversations in person and on the phone—remain fresh in my mind.
When I found out she was gone, I had no trouble recalling my interactions with Jessica because they never truly left me. The tweet telling her I was glad she was okay after being present for a shooting in a Toronto mall, the frantic phone conversation about the injustice of emissions testing and the simple slip of a heel as she walked away. I could always smile when thinking about her because no one was quite like Jessica Redfield.
Jessica, in Search of Motivation
Jessica’s dream was to rise in the sports journalism world. It is a legacy kept alive by her scholarship foundation and the other women who strive to impact the industry. The path to a sports journalism career takes inspiration. For Chloe Scheer, her inspiration came from being in class with Jessica.
“Having Jessi in my reporting class opened my eyes to women having success in sports journalism,” said Ms. Scheer, who currently has an internship with the Colorado Avalanche. “I saw that she was getting interviews with the likes of Joe Sakic. It inspired me to combine my love of writing with my love of sports.”
A love of sports latches onto people in different ways. Whether it’s the interest of a boyfriend, as it was in Jessica’s case, or the family environment, as it was with Maggie Still, sports comes no less naturally to either gender. For Ms. Still, who is starting a job with in the PR sector of the University of Nebraska Sports Department, the mission is about proving herself. This started with her high school drum line coach, who believed that girls could not be successful participants in the drum line.
“I worked harder than anybody and proved him wrong and was on the line for four years,” said Ms. Still. She went on to talk about her love of sports, “It helps that this is what I love to do. I love being around every aspect of sports, and it keeps me happy and alive. Why not do what you love in this world?”
A drive to succeed, something that was seen in Jessica’s path to success, is a key character trait for women hoping to break into sports journalism. Rose Heaphy definitely has that drive. Currently with Triple Crown Sports, she worked all over the sports scene during her time as a student at the University of Colorado. She produced the television show CU Sports Mag, wrote for the CU Independent and worked extensively for the in game production company BuffVision. Ms. Heaphy does not believe that sports journalism is something to commit to halfway, especially considering the drive to succeed fueling the athletes.
“I’m always emotional after championship games. When you see an athlete cry tears of joy, you’re seeing that person realize their greatest dream,” said Ms. Heaphy. “I work hard because I want to reach that victory in my career, that amazing point in life where I can look back and say, Wow, I did it. My trophy may not be a gold, crystal, or even plastic one, but achieving that goal will be my greatest victory. That’s what inspires me.”
The road into a male-dominated profession is still daunting for these young professionals. Sarah Bowles, who recently had an internship with the Colorado Avalanche, was treated fairly in all of her internship environments, but definitely sees pitfalls in the road ahead.
“Among my concerns for the sports industry is whether there is enough gender diversity, and whether women are given the same management opportunities as men,” said Ms. Bowles. “You see female sideline reporters, bloggers and writers, but you see fewer women given the opportunity to advance and hold management positions.”
This gap in women moving up the professional food chain gives extra weight to the Jessica Redfield Ghawi Scholarship Fund and the need for donations to help other women achieve Jessica’s dream.
“As a woman in sports journalism, people automatically think you are the least informed person in the room,” Ms. Heaphy said, echoing a common held belief among those interviewed. “If you want to stand out, you need to research more and really be on top of your game.”
“The biggest challenge I see trying to break into the field is credibility. It is harder for women to be involved in the conversation because we are not seen as equals in the conversation,” said Ms. Scheer, who hopes to one day land a job in sports PR. “There is always a qualifier when talking about women playing because sports is a man’s world. When you are judged on your looks as much, if not more than your knowledge, that’s a problem to me.”
These women represent a small sample of the tidal wave that is about to hit the sports scene. The legacy of Jessica Redfield Ghawi lives in those ready to bear the torch.
Jessica, Continuing a Legacy
Sports, by themselves, are not particularly important. A single game is only important in the context of the narrative around the story. Sports give an avenue for passionate fans to experience the highs and lows of life, without the personal risk. Jessica thrived in this spectrum perfectly with her enthusiasm. Her story, her love of sports, is now part of the narrative. Meeting her is one of the greatest things sports have ever given me.
Help the cause by donating to the Jessica Redfield Ghawi Scholarship Fund.