How I bit into sports journalism

By Meghan Rest, Sports Editor

I bit someone while playing basketball in eighth grade.

As a 5-foot-2-inch 14-year-old, I was nowhere near the tallest player on the court. And while I eventually grew to a slightly-above-average height of 5 feet, 7 inches, there were approximately zero instances throughout my 10-plus years playing basketball where I had a height advantage.

Being vertically challenged, in terms of women’s basketball, irked me growing up. In my mind, successful female basketball players were synonymous with lengthy wingspans and superhuman height — things that were clearly not written into my genetic code.

But, what I lacked in height I made up for with stubbornness and determination. My bullheadedness kept me involved in basketball and ultimately became my secret weapon in realizing my strengths on, and eventually off, the court — sans WNBA-worthy height.

I learned how to play the game as a 5-foot-short kid, capitalizing on my strengths and eventually learning to drown out the voices that doubted my ability based on my physical appearance. Which brings us back to my biting incident.

To be fair, I had never bit anyone prior to or after this particular middle school AAU game, especially not on the basketball court. But after nearly four quarters of being elbowed in the face by a 6-foot-3-inch post player, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I thought it looked like an “accident,” but the referee thought otherwise, and I was promptly teed up and escorted to the locker room.

I’ve come a long way since eighth grade. Fortunately, my days of biting are far behind me, however, being judged based on my appearance is still a reality.

Sports journalism is a male-dominated field. Step into any Illini Athletics press conference, and you’ll see for yourself. I’m often one of only two or three women in these settings, a somewhat silent minority within a sea of men. Thankfully, this trend has begun to change as more women have stepped into roles as sports reporters and editors, but we’re nowhere near equality.

Being sports editor of The Daily Illini is a difficult and exhausting job — for anyone. But, I’d be lying if I said being a woman in this role didn’t present its own set of unique challenges.

I’ve been asked if I knew “how many innings were even in a baseball game,” which is just one example of microaggressions I’ve heard from my peers in the field over the last year, but it’s a softball compared to what other female sports journalists experience across the country on a daily basis.

It’s thrilling to witness the positive reactions I get from being a female sports editor, however, it’s grueling and defeating to feel like you’re constantly having to prove yourself.

But, just like eighth-grade basketball, I know I don’t look the part. And while there shouldn’t be a “right” or “wrong” way to look in sports journalism, there are still organizations and even people who think appearance translates directly to ability.

This is wrong, but I hope I’ve helped turn the tides by doing this job. It’s time for women to feel welcomed in the field of sports journalism. It’s time for women to be hired as directors, coaches and, yes, sports editors; not because they help fulfill a diversity quota, but because they’re simply the best person for the job.

Although there were plenty of obstacles along the way, I’m incredibly grateful to have been the sports editor of The Daily Illini. The success of a team isn’t hinged on individual players, and that couldn’t have been more true in our sports section this year.

I’d be lost without my 20-plus reporters. Throughout my last four years working at The Daily Illini, I’ve never seen a section teeming with so many talented journalists. I know you all will continue to work hard and do incredible things once my tenure is up, and I graduate in May. I can’t thank my fellow desk editors enough for their constant support over the last year and for consistently pushing me to be the best editor, and person, I could be.

Journalism is a thankless job, but The Daily Illini’s editor-in-chief, Kelly Johnson, and the soon-to-be editor-in-chief and my former assistant sports editor, JJ Kim, are deserving of praise I can’t put into words. Thank you for your unwavering encouragement and support.

I have no doubt in my mind the incoming sports editor, Gabby Hajduk, will continue to steer the sports section in the right direction. Covering 21 varsity sports and a handful of club teams is a demanding task, but Gabby is the right person for the job.

I was lucky enough to cover Illinois’ first bowl game in five years and report on a top-25 basketball team during the 2019-20 season, and I’m elated to pass on the torch.

And to all of the voices that have tried to belittle my, and so many other women’s’, ability to be a leader in the world of sports journalism — I don’t bite, or play basketball anymore, but I’m still pretty good at handling the fouls life throws at me.

@meghan_rest

[email protected]