Cream City Central Interviews: Sarah Spain
Jessy Stagliano: Obviously, the initial reason we are talking to you is an incident on social media. Thinking back to the beginning of your professional career, could you have imagined this “social media thing” being such an impact on the industry? Do you think it makes your job easier? Would you change anything about how we interact with one another on it?
Sarah Spain: No way. When I was getting started MySpace was a big thing in Los Angeles, where I was living, but people used it to date, share music, and connect with friends. There just wasn’t the nastiness of today’s social media. In some ways social media has been a big help to my career, helping me connect with colleagues and potential guests, promote my stories and work, and play along with as we all watch big games together; a la the “biggest sport bar in the world.” Early on, I think it helped me prove my mettle to those who thought my radio updates were written for me, or that my tv analysis was done via TelePrompTer, or script. Now it’s such a divisive, mean-spirited mess at times I force myself to disengage. I wish people would treat it like real life and engage with respect, humanity and kindness, instead of all the angry vitriol and over-the-top misogyny.
JS: Obviously you have had to deal with the trolls on social media, and it’s sad. You, however, take a different approach to the trolls – Do you engage with them for the fun? Or purely to shed light onto how ridiculous people can act?
SS: I mute or block about 75% or more, I’d say. The remaining bunch either catch me at a time when I’m feeling feisty or in the mood to clap back, or are presenting a point of view that I believe needs to be rebutted and proved wrong. Those folks just end up being one example used to present a larger issue. I like to share the abuse sometimes to remind people that it’s not getting any better, that merely existing in the space can make certain men angry, and that complaints about social media harassment aren’t exaggerated or because of thin skin. Also, because “not feeding the trolls” might sound great from the outside but just receiving and digesting abuse all day without ever responding is an unfair burden. To quote the great Lindy West: “I talked back because my mental health — not some troll’s personal satisfaction — is my priority.” Sometimes I need to talk back to keep some power.
JS: Broadcasting began as a dominantly male industry; thankfully we have now been able to break that barrier down a bit. Can you describe some of the hardships you have had to go through being a female in the sports industry? Do you think we are headed in the right direction? What is one hurdle you would clear for all women aspiring for a similar role as yours?
SS: I’ve experienced the stuff you’ve heard about, from discriminatory assumptions about my motives for being in the industry, to disrespectful comments from team staff, players or fellow journalists, harassment on a major job interview, inappropriate comments from producers about other women journalists, criticism of my voice, my face, my body, my brain. I do think for the most part things are getting better, but some stories of young women coming up in the industry reveal that these issues are still far too pervasive. It’s sad how much young women need to go through before earning any respect or agency, but I tell them all to just keep pushing and learning and working hard until they’re just too hard for anyone—networks, team PR, players, colleagues—to say no to them or treat them with disrespect. I just wish they were given the same benefit of the doubt that male reporters are — trust they know their stuff and can do the job unless they give you a reason to believe otherwise.
JS: Now to what kind of sparked this mess, the Cubs Brewers Rivalry. I can remember going to games as a young kid. Cub’s fans undoubtedly show up and show out – what have your experiences been with the Rivalry? Do you have a favorite memory?
SS: I don’t have a ton, to be honest. I’ve only gotten up to Miller Park twice and it was always a fun time, no major beef in my sections between opposing fans. Same goes for Wrigley, where I truly haven’t had to witness some of the garbage you hear about across all sports when it comes to warring factions. My husband is actually from Wisconsin—born in Sheboygan and grew up in New Holstein—-and grew up a big Brewers and Cubs fan (because of his grandfather). His childhood bedroom still has some great old Brewers stuff and he’s got good tales and the old rivalry days.
JS: Some of the games get heated and fans get into it. Needless to say, that has been an issue in sports forever. Has social media made this issue worse? Is it less friendly competition and more aggressive because of the ability for people to hide behind screens?
SS: I think social media has absolutely affected the civility with which people treat each other in real life. There have always been jerks and drinks and morons, but I think now we’re always steeling ourselves for a fight more than ever before. In person, thankfully, there are cues—facial expressions, body language, tone of voice—that help mitigate situations and remind people of their shared humanity, but online we lose all that and become entirely too cruel. I’ve always lived by the notion that if I was born and raised somewhere else I’d probably be a fan of another team, so why view those people as any different than me? Every teams has great fans and moron fans, it’s not about the team. So why get so bent out of shape? Sports are entertainment. Rivalries are fun but a healthy perspective about what matters is super important.
JS: Finally, the question I have to ask, do you think this Brewers team is for real? As much as you will hate to admit it, have the Brewers finally arrived?
SS: Well it’s still early and I’m admittedly just getting started focusing on baseball with more of my national work being basketball-focused until now, but they sure look like contenders. The good news is the farm system seems promising, so just getting back to the postseason can be a good goal for now, with deeper runs expected in the coming years. I enjoy it when the Cubs and Brewers are both competitive, so it should be a fun summer.
It was an incredible opportunity to be able to pick the mind of a sports figure like Sarah, and she could not have been more kind throughout the whole process. Even though she is a Cubs fan, we wish her nothing but the best in her career endeavors, and don’t forget to catch her on “Spain & Fitz” on ESPN Radio from 5-8 central.