THIS SPORT­ING LIFE

Four fe­male footy re­porters on sport, sexism and smash­ing glass ceil­ings.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Words JES­SICA HAL­LO­RAN Pho­tog­ra­phy DAMIAN BENNETT Styling GEMMA KEIL

At 20, Yvonne Samp­son faced a choice no young woman should have to make: to fo­cus on her sports-re­port­ing ca­reer, or to keep the fam­ily farm alive af­ter her father Robert’s sud­den death.

She did both. She worked week­days at coun­try Queens­land news sta­tions, then drove up to 14 hours to spend week­ends at home on the Sun­shine Coast, rid­ing, fenc­ing and feed­ing. “I look back now and think, ‘What sort of 20-year-old would keep the farm go­ing and work full-time?’” says Samp­son, now 35, with a laugh.

She headed to Syd­ney at 30, a geri­atric age in TV, to try her luck. Five years later, Samp­son be­came the first woman to host the NRL State of Ori­gin se­ries with au­di­ences reach­ing a mas­sive 4.4 mil­lion.

Samp­son’s Nine Net­work col­league Erin Molan was sim­i­larly driven – de­spite the 82 re­jec­tion let­ters she keeps at home. “It never came eas­ily; I was never nat­u­rally good,” says Molan, 34. “No one looked at me and said, ‘Oh, she’s a star.’”

Her first ever job in­ter­view 13 years ago at a lo­cal TV sta­tion didn’t de­ter her. “I was hor­ren­dous. They never called me back,” says Molan. “But ev­ery week for about six months I would write an email to the boss, Steve Hen­der­son: ‘I know I wasn’t great. Please give me a shot?’”

On Molan’s 21st birthday, Hen­der­son called back: “If I give you a two-minute seg­ment on the food show, can you leave me the f*ck alone?” Molan got her break and, thanks to her work ethic (in­spired by her Ma­jor Gen­eral father Jim Molan), be­came the first woman to co-host the NRL Footy Show on the Nine Net­work.

“I might not be as nat­u­rally tal­ented as any­one else, but no­body will ever work harder than me,” says Molan.

Tenac­ity, it seems, is a cru­cial qual­ity for women who make it in the world of TV sports. The ceil­ing in this industry isn’t glass so much as steel. Yet, this year, there will be more women on sports broad­casts than ever be­fore. They will be at the fore­front ahead of next week’s cov­er­age of AFL and NRL grand fi­nals, and will voice opin­ions along­side league im­mor­tals and AFL Hall of Famers.

“We are on a wave at the mo­ment,” says Fox Footy game-day host Sarah Jones. “There’s def­i­nite mo­men­tum this year. It’s fab­u­lous. Pre­vi­ously there have been women in­volved, but not in the re­ally meaty, juicy roles – I think that’s a great shift we’re see­ing at the mo­ment.”

Jones’s story is also one of sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion to be­come the first woman ever to host an AFL broad­cast. She re­calls the mo­ment her am­bi­tion fired when, as an ex­cited six-year-old, she was watch­ing Deb­bie Flintoff-king win gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics with her mother, Chris. “I think that’s what you should do,” her mother said.

Two years later, her mother and Sarah’s four younger sib­lings, Daniel, Rebecca, Thomas and Brid­get, were in a car ac­ci­dent. Her mother didn’t sur­vive.

“I look back and think there must be some­thing she recog­nised in me as a lit­tle girl; she knew [sport] was what I loved,” says Jones, 34. “Watch­ing the Olympics to­gether is a spe­cial mem­ory.”

Her dad, Tony, a live­stock buyer and lo­cal footy hero in Echuca and Moama, Victoria, would bring up the five chil­dren. “Dad has done a cham­pion ef­fort of rais­ing us,” says Jones. “We’re all happy, healthy adults. We had a re­ally happy child­hood de­spite [the tragedy].”

For Lara Pitt at Fox Sports, it is her father Andrew’s story of es­cap­ing the com­mu­nist regime in Hun­gary and ar­riv­ing in Aus­tralia with just a leather satchel “on a boat” that in­spired her in­dus­tri­ous na­ture. The sto­ries he told her of work­ing la­bo­ri­ous jobs, such as in­stalling the seat­ing at Royal Rand­wick race­course and shower screens in houses, stuck in her head.

`` sex­ist habits die hard. and the pay gap is huge ´´

“He in­stilled in me and my broth­ers, ‘This is what I had to do to pro­vide for you, but you need to work hard to pro­vide for your fam­ily,’” says Pitt. When Fox Sports star host Braith Anasta re­cently fell ill, Pitt slipped into his Su­per Satur­day chair. And those in the know say she did it with ease. “Poor Braith… I was thrown in the deep end an hour be­fore I went on air,” says Pitt. “I loved it.”

BE­HIND EV­ERY GREAT fe­male sports re­porter is a se­nior footy bloke who has qui­etly cham­pi­oned her to the top of her game. Phil Gould, Ray Hadley, Andrew Voss and Ja­son Dun­stall – all big foot­ball broad­cast­ing names – have men­tored and sup­ported their fe­male col­leagues. Gould says Samp­son, who also hosts the NRL Sun­day Footy Show and Fri­day Night Foot­ball, is like “putty”.

“She would fit in any­where, any sport, any panel,” says Gould. “She’s such a beau­ti­ful per­son, such an in­fec­tious per­son­al­ity, and un­pre­ten­tious.”

She hosts live TV, adds Gould, “So eas­ily, with great charm and knowl­edge… There’s a bet­ter feel to the broad­cast than just watch­ing some bor­ing old blokes – and it keeps the boys on their toes, too.”

Samp­son says for­mer State of Ori­gin coach Gould makes her feel “in­vin­ci­ble”. “I feel so priv­i­leged and so safe to have him around… He’s al­ways got your back.”

Molan’s men­tor, Nine Net­work and 2GB broad­caster Ray Hadley, de­scribes her as “in­de­fati­ga­ble”. He draws par­al­lels be­tween his ca­reer and hers, de­scrib­ing a week in 1980 when he drove to ev­ery ra­dio sta­tion in NSW he could think of, try­ing to get his break. “And I didn’t get one in­ter­view,” he says. “So when Erin tells me about her 82 re­jec­tion let­ters, as hor­ri­fy­ing as the thought may be, I see Erin as a replica of me. I have a ter­ri­bly soft spot for her. In the end her tal­ent wins out. I mean, the 82 dick­heads who re­jected her are just that, dick­heads.”

Hadley backs Molan so much that in 2017 she will be­come the first fe­male full-time mem­ber of 2GB’S Con­tin­u­ous Call team. “She has this un­be­liev­able abil­ity to work at a high in­ten­sity and qual­ity,” says Hadley. “For 30 years I’ve watched blokes dom­i­nate sport and now we have th­ese in­cred­i­bly tal­ented women oc­cu­py­ing spa­ces they de­serve to oc­cupy.”

Jones’s Fox Footy work­mate of nearly 15 years and Hawthorn Foot­ball Club great Ja­son Dun­stall says she has ef­fort­lessly slipped into the host’s chair on game day this sea­son. “Jonesy fit­ted in seam­lessly,” he says. “There’s never any sug­ges­tion of to­kenism with Sarah – she loves her footy. The main thing I find about Jonesy is that gen­der doesn’t en­ter into the dis­cus­sion. She is just one of those peo­ple who loves her sport and talks well.”

As for Pitt, Fox Sports com­men­ta­tor Andrew Voss says that while she can “bore you stupid about the Dragons”, her con­sci­en­tious­ness is im­pos­si­ble to fault. “I don’t think I’ve ever beaten her into the stu­dio for the NRL Sun­day Ticket,” he says. “There she is, head down, work­ing the phones. She doesn’t take any short­cuts and doesn’t rely on any­one else to do her job… Even with a great crew around you, Lara and I feel you do your own work, you get your own sto­ries. That’s ob­vi­ous with her.”

The women all do their home­work dili­gently. While some of their for­mer foot­baller col­leagues can turn up to the set with­out hav­ing done any prepa­ra­tion, it’s not the same for those who haven’t played the game at the top level.

Molan says she watches ev­ery game and in­ter­view, and reads ev­ery tweet and ar­ti­cle she can. “I’m much more nat­u­ral [on The Footy Show] when there’s not one thing some­one can ask me that I won’t be able to an­swer,” says Molan. “If Fatty [Paul Vautin] asks, ‘How many tack­les did Michael Morgan make? What was Cooper Cronk’s per­cent­age?’ If I know all that, I’ll sit there con­fi­dently, and I’ll be able to make a joke and be nat­u­ral.

“If I make a mis­take, it will be be­cause I’m a woman. If they make a mis­take, it’s funny. That’s just the re­al­ity. I’m not an ex-foot­baller. The standard is dif­fer­ent for me – but it doesn’t worry me.”

What did worry her were the cheap shots that were di­rected at her ap­pear­ance when she first joined The Footy Show. Molan de­scribes some of the on­line com­ments as “ve­he­mently nasty”. Th­ese days, the level of vit­riol has died down. “Look, en­gage me in a de­bate about what I said about a player. But 99 per cent of the time it was about what dress I was wear­ing… or whether they be­lieve I’m at­trac­tive,” says Molan. “But I am not go­ing to play the vic­tim card – it’s part and par­cel of TV.”

Fox Sports com­men­ta­tor Voss, who’s also worked at Nine, says the scru­tiny of fe­male hosts needs to change. “It’s a fact that a fe­male on cam­era is judged more crit­i­cally than a bloke,” he says. “An ugly bloke like my­self – I’ve never had any­one pick apart what I am wear­ing. But [a fe­male col­league] may be picked apart be­cause of what she is wear­ing or her hair. We’ve got to get past that.”

Un­for­tu­nately, sex­ist habits die hard. The net­work flies Samp­son and Molan econ­omy class to footy games, while their ex-foot­baller co-stars, such as Andrew Johns and Dar­ren Lock­yer, go busi­ness. And the pay gap is huge. Sources tell Stel­lar that for a good part of the last four years, Molan’s pay packet was around $100,000, while her fel­low Footy Show pan­el­list, Beau Ryan, re­ceived $800,000. Molan de­clined to com­ment.

Samp­son con­firms she wasn’t paid ex­tra for host­ing Wide World Of Sports and work­ing on the sidelines for Fri­day Night Foot­ball, as she tried to break into sports broad­cast­ing from her re­porter role in the Nine news­room. “That was just part of my duty,” says Samp­son.

`` the 82 dick­heads who re­jected her are just that ´´

“It was great to work on a live broad­cast… but peo­ple [think] you get paid mil­lions of dol­lars be­cause you’re in ev­ery­one’s lounge room. That’s not the case at all.”

And misog­yny is alive and well. While Ed­die Mcguire apol­o­gised af­ter “jok­ing” about drown­ing TV and print AFL jour­nal­ist Caro­line Wil­son on a Triple M broad­cast, Sam New­man from the AFL Footy Show later chipped in, dub­bing the (mostly fe­male) jour­nal­ists who were crit­i­cal of Mcguire as “ex­cre­ment”. But this in­ci­dent prompted na­tional de­bate and, in turn, change. Mcguire’s early “hol­i­day” the week the scan­dal erupted saw Jones pro­moted into his chair for Thursday Night Foot­ball. She shone.

Fox Sports CEO Pa­trick De­lany says Jones’s as­cen­sion was a “sil­ver lin­ing” in a dif­fi­cult time. “I think the tol­er­ance for dis­crim­i­na­tion is get­ting very small now. Most peo­ple ex­pect equal­ity,” he says, adding that the net­work has made a con­certed ef­fort to have more women in key roles on TV. “We have a num­ber of very qual­i­fied women in our ranks that dwarf other net­works,” says De­lany.

He’s also open to a fe­male call­ing AFL or NRL games, say­ing: “If we want to re­flect Aus­tralia bet­ter, we need to have a higher num­ber of women.”

To that end, this sea­son Fox Sports has added Jes­sica Yates and Me­gan Barnard to its NRL game-day cov­er­age. Tara Rush­ton has co-hosted an NRL Fi­nals Fever show, while Louise Ran­some has co-hosted NRL Tonight. Along with Jones, Neroli Mead­ows is also part of the Fox Footy team. On the Seven Net­work, Sam Lane is a pan­el­list on the Satur­day night pre-match show. She also worked as a bound­ary rider for the AFL women’s All-stars game (with more than a mil­lion view­ers, it be­came the high­est-rat­ing Satur­day night footy match of the year).

Jones points to her two-year-old daugh­ter, Mila (who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally watched the Rio Olympics by her side), and says she is pleased the land­scape is chang­ing for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. “What my daugh­ter will grow up see­ing will be com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what I’ve seen,” says Jones. “She and other girls will see that they can do any­thing, that they don’t have to be re­stricted be­cause they’re girls. I’d like her to think the world is her oys­ter, that you don’t have to feel ham­strung by be­ing a woman.”

Pitt also finds joy in in­spir­ing the next gen­er­a­tion. “I’m sure there are other girls like my­self, Yvonne, Sarah and Erin out there,” says Pitt. “They know it’s an op­tion now. They think, ‘I can vis­i­bly see what my end goal can be now, whether it be TV, print or dig­i­tal. If I want to be in­volved, I can be.’”

Molan loves that, th­ese days, it’s women rather than men who seek her out on the street. “They say things like, ‘Be­fore you were on The Footy Show, my hus­band was dis­mis­sive of my opin­ion, but since you started he lis­tens to what I say, be­cause he sees an­other woman con­tribut­ing,’” says Molan.

ON A WIN­TER’S night ear­lier this year, Samp­son did what no woman had done be­fore: she took up a prized chair in sports broad­cast­ing and hosted the most-watched rugby league game in the coun­try. But it wasn’t with­out drama.

With 30 se­conds be­fore they went live to four mil­lion Aus­tralians, Samp­son’s nerves hit hard. “Is it too late – can I run?” she thought. “Ten se­conds,” cried the pro­ducer. Samp­son’s vi­sion went black and white. “Oh my god, I’m go­ing to faint,” thought Samp­son. “I am ac­tu­ally go­ing to pass out.”

As the cov­er­age went live, she com­posed her­self. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to let womankind down,’” she says with a laugh. “‘If I ruin this, I’ll dam­age our rep­u­ta­tion for­ever.’” She nailed it.

As a lit­tle girl, when the Bron­cos played, Samp­son would spend the night yelling at the TV along­side her father. She knows he would have been proud: “You’d like to feel like your dad’s around say­ing, ‘You did a good job,’” she says.

As for her fu­ture? “I’ve never had a plan – I’m do­ing my dream job now,” she says. Af­ter a pause, she adds: “I did want to be the girl who rode Buck the Bronco [the team’s real-life horse mas­cot] around ev­ery time they scored a try. And some part of me still wants to be that girl. I haven’t given up yet.”

(from left) Sarah Jones, Erin Molan, Yvonne Samp­son and Lara Pitt.

SARAH WEARS Gior­gio Ar­mani cape; Bot­tega Veneta suit; Pas­pa­ley neck­lace ERIN WEARS Christo­pher Es­ber dress; San­dro Paris blazer (worn on shoul­der); Tiffany & Co. ear­rings; Peter Lang bracelets; Gior­gio Ar­mani boots YVONNE WEARS Carla Zam­patti dress; Tiffany & Co. ear­rings; Pas­pa­ley neck­lace; Senso shoes LARA WEARS Nice Martin shirt; Ae’lkemi skirt; Trelise Cooper skirt (worn un­der­neath); Pas­pa­ley ear­rings; Chris­tian Louboutin shoes; stylist’s own sash

JOIN THE (MEN’S) CLUB (from left) James Brayshaw, Sam New­man and Ed­die Mcguire on The Footy Show; (right) Erin Molan work­ing at an NRL match in April.

(from left) ERIN WEARS Christo­pher Es­ber top; Kate Sylvester jacket (worn around waist), and pants; Tiffany & Co. ear­rings; Peter Lang bracelets LARA WEARS MLM top; Mat­icevski skirt; Peter Lang ear­rings YVONNE WEARS Bianca Spen­der dress; Pas­pa­ley neck­lace, and bracelet; Senso shoes SARAH WEARS Alex Perry dress;

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