A place for women in soccer journalism

The 2014 FIFA World Cup marks the four year anniversary of the month that changed my life.

In 2010, I was 15 years old. While I was still riding the high of acing my 10th grade geometry final, I had no idea where my life was going. For any other teenager, that’s completely normal. But for a South Asian female, it often feels like the only two options are to either get married or become a doctor.

No matter how well I did in geometry, my C in chemistry pretty much ruled out my chances of becoming any sort of healthcare professional. But I had to start thinking about my SATs, ACTs, APs, college applications and other things that lead to nervous breakdowns.

Yet somewhere in between laughing at Chinese actors posing as North Korean fans and crying over Andres Iniesta’s 115th minute World Cup-winning goal, that summer it all clicked.

I didn’t want to be on the outside–or in my basement–watching the world’s biggest sporting event. I wanted to be there. I wanted to share the incredible and terrible stories coming out of South Africa with anyone who would listen. I wanted to be a journalist.

Two years later, I got into college with an essay about Sara Carbonero and how her experience in South Africa inspired me to pursue journalism. Reading it back now, I cringe at how poorly it was written. But it got me into journalism school, so whatever.

Around this time, I was rather ignorant of gender inequalities. Obviously, I knew it existed and I had even experienced it myself while interviewing sources for stories in high school. But I was afraid of speaking up. I was afraid of making a big deal out of nothing and sounding uninformed. What happened to Carbonero made me upset and even more afraid of what I was getting into.

And yet, during my first semester of college, I quickly realized how much free time I had and how little journalism I was actually doing. I saw on Twitter that a soccer news site was looking for writers who could translate from Spanish to English.

How convenient that I was a double major in journalism and Spanish! I could do that.

So I did for awhile. I submitted an article or two a week that were mainly translations or summaries of player interviews or press conferences that were originally published in Spanish.

I was proud of myself at the time. I was 17 years old. I saw something I wanted to do and I did it.

It took me a while to realize that what I was actually doing was rewriting other people’s work. Later, I figured out that it didn’t feel right to me to do so. It works for other people and that’s fine. But I wanted to do more.

During my spring break, one of the site’s editors asked me to take charge in launching an appendage site that would focus on mayhems and mishaps in soccer. The lighter side of the sport, if you will.

I believe his words were something along the lines of “attracting a larger female audience.”

The site had tons of contributing writers and I was flattered that he asked me to do this. I was 17 and they wanted me to run a website. That’s huge, right?

At the time, I thought it was.

But this is important to me: the editor didn’t mean what he said to be sexist. I legitimately think he thought that was material I was interested in because I tweeted about those things quite a bit. And it’s not that I wasn’t interested in those things (because who doesn’t love a good story about Gerard Pique and Shakira), it was that I didn’t want my name associated with tabloid material.

I had never communicated that. It didn’t click to me that while I make every effort to conceal which clubs I support in professional settings, doing something like this would be setting me back.

I didn’t think much about it though and I agreed immediately. I came up with the name and we looked for other people via Twitter to help out. The deeper I delved into it, the more stressed out I was. I didn’t know what I was doing and people I had never met in person were trusting me more than I wanted them to.

On top of that, I had accepted an editor position at my school paper. I was doing real journalism my second semester and taking 17 credits. On top of that and a demanding family life, I was busy.

After some conversations with one of my journalism professors, I realized I was too young to be locking myself into such a serious project.

I realized that the only thing I had was the value of my name. I so strongly believe that women can be just as informed and knowledgable and opinionated about the game as any man. When I ultimately admitted that I didn’t want my name attached to gossip stories that had offended me in the past, I had to ask myself why I signed onto a project that went against what I was working towards.

I jumped too soon. I thought any foot in the door would help me to achieve my dream of working abroad in soccer journalism. But as a woman, I have to work three times as hard for someone to take me seriously. I welcome challenges but this just felt like I was putting an obstacle in my way. In the age of the Internet where everything I do online is there forever, I didn’t want that to be my foundation. I decided I would rather future employers look at a lack of experience than look at something I did and didn’t believe in.

In April, I called it quits. I emailed the editor and told him I wouldn’t be able to handle running the new site. I stopped writing the news articles for them too.

To this day, I regret not properly explaining to him my apprehensions. At the very least, I owed it to myself to do so. Maybe I would have earned more respect if I did. Instead, I said that I would be too busy with my family over the summer to do the job. It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth.

With the exception of a little post on my personal blog about Tito Vilanova, I haven’t written anything soccer-related since then. I didn’t know where or how to begin. I was afraid of sounding dumb and that my opinions would be invalidated by how short of a time I’ve been following the sport, or worse, by the fact that I’m a woman.

I tried so hard this year to become interested in other subjects so that I could pursue them in journalism. I started reading more into business, technology (God, do I love startups) and even the sciences, oddly enough.

Still, I know I don’t care about them the same way I do about soccer.

I don’t feel them in my soul.

I’ve never written a match report and if you ask me to explain every style of play there is, I probably can’t do that either. But it’s not because I’m a woman, it’s because I never done them before. I only figured this sport out four years ago. I’m going to need some more time.

But I can almost guarantee that after I do them once or twice, I’ll probably do them better than half the guys that have done them over a hundred times.

Because that’s who I am.

This story was originally published on Medium.com on June 2, 2014.

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