Ro Jackson: Revolutionizing Media Coverage of Female Athletes
Balancing a day job as a freelance designer while running a creative platform dedicated to covering all aspects of women’s sports seems impossible until it’s done… by Ro Jackson. About five years ago, after finding it difficult to engage with women’s sports as it is poorly covered by the mainstream media, unlike the extensive coverage men’s sports receive, Ro had the idea to create a platform for women’s sports coverage. From this, Slowe was born.
Named after Lucy Diggs Slowe, the first black woman to win a major sports title in the U.S. in 1917 and the first black woman to serve as Dean of Women at any American University, Slowe embodies the determined female spirit. An unsung hero, Lucy Diggs Slowe represents the unlikely reality that many female athletes still encounter today: working a job while also pursuing sports professionally. Because of this, Ro decided “Slowe” was the perfect name for a site revolutionizing the coverage of women’s sports.
Slowe began as a newsletter in 2017 and later expanded into a site. In addition to the weekly newsletter to which anyone can subscribe to through email, Slowe’s site contains interviews, lifestyle, news, and more. Slowe is also an open platform that encourages submissions from creatives. In the near future, ready for publication towards the end of this year, Slowe will release a mini print publication that encapsulates the spirit of Slowe and why it exists.
I spoke with Ro over the phone to further discuss societal views of women athletes and how Slowe is working to shift the narrative.
Melanie Rodriguez: Your home page describes Slowe as “a creative platform for women’s sports coverage. Because women’s sports is just sports.” On your site, it reports “just 4% of online sports coverage is for women’s sports.” How are you looking for Slowe to revolutionize this?
Ro Jackson: I think the whole industry of women’s sports is a massive “chicken and egg” cycle basically. Everyone kind of points the finger to another part of the industry as to why people don’t engage with women’s sport more. So it’s like: “If there was more money in it then people would engage more. If more fans turned up to watch it. If broadcasters put it on TV.” I think all of those things are definitely factors, but I can only challenge one of those, and I felt that the biggest problem is that people can’t see women’s sports. So if we can’t see it, how are we supposed to support it? I really just wanted a place where people could go and engage with women’s sports. I just felt like there wasn’t a home for that coverage, and if I made it I really felt like people would come and they are coming. I think it takes a bit of time to get people to understand it because people still think of women’s sports as really niche, yet mens sports are so huge. That disparity is going to take a long time to change; it’s going to take a while for people to change their minds about that and how worthy women’s sports are. There are already a huge number of women’s sport fans that really just watch it for the pure love of it, and I’m hoping that through content that isn’t just stats and updates, but also really in depth interviews with athletes and shoots with female athletes that you haven’t really seen before because it’s not just about the quantity of the coverage but it is also about the quality of the coverage. If we are asking female athletes questions of them as mothers or them as women rather than athletes then people are going to be turned off. If we shoot them only without their clothes on people are going to be turned off, so my focus is really making sure that the coverage that goes on Slowe is really high and really creatively engaging because I think people want to have to look at it, and you have to frame it in a way where people think oh actually this is incredible I hadn’t seen women sports like this before. I think the visual aspect is a really key part of that and yeah kind of just making it a lot more accessible really.
Melanie: What are some of the greatest challenges faced by female athletes in 2018?
Ro: Social media. There’s so much good work out there. People doing some really tireless work for women's sport and female athletes are doing really well, but sometimes the feedback they can get on social media is so disheartening and really heartbreaking to read, and I am still constantly shocked. I don’t think I’ll ever not be shocked by some of the stuff I read in response to female athletes doing well. There’s some really great encouraging people, but there's just some people, a huge majority men, who sexualize them and all they’re talking about is their achievement, but I think for me that’s a massive problem in how people see female athletes and how far we have to go as a society. You don’t even have to be interested in women’s sports but you have to treat these people with respect, and I think there is a huge lack of respect out there for female athletes at the moment and I think that is really what’s challenging because you can put more money and you can make it more available, but if people just don’t respect people on a person to person level then that’s really challenging.
Melanie: There is definitely a lot of negativity to overcome. How do you think more conversation can be created to highlight the importance of women athletes and their accomplishments?
Ro: I think partly just consistency. It can be really hard work, so I think people find it’s really easy to give up when you’re doing work like this because it’s really hard: when you feel like people don’t want to hear it, but you feel like there’s a big place for it. I think just being consistent and really believing that it is worth doing, and I think also men play a huge role in male sports and often men will have a team like there’s the England men’s football team and then there’s the women’s football team in England, and I think the men supporting the women in those channels really giving as much weight to the female athletes as they do the men is a really good way for the public to see that they are on an equal footing. Just people showing up like one of the biggest things people who do feel that way can contribute is by going to games and matches and then taking that back to their communities and saying “I went to this game and it was amazing.” Just in such an organic way that things can change really positively. Anyone that feels like they do want to watch women’s sports should go ahead and do it because I think that’s such a key way. Also, you get so much more value for your money! Women’s sports is super cheap to watch. You get the best seats. It’s great for families. It’s just such a good day out. There’s really no reason for us not to go and turn up to our local women’s teams more if we feel strongly about it. So, show up I would say is a big one.
Melanie: Looking through the site, In The Kit Bag stood out to me. I appreciate how you took a concept of “what’s in my bag?” and made it relatable for female athletes. Do you think opening these kinds of conversations is an essential step towards a mainstream support of female athletes?
Ro: What is really beautiful about women’s sports is that it’s not really decided yet. There aren’t ways that you have to do things like when you watch a men’s football game there are ways that people do that. You go and get your burger and you go and get your beer and you go with your dad and you go to the pub and it’s all very fixed in the ways that we accept men’s sports, but women’s sports doesn’t really have that. What’s really interesting is we have a really great opportunity to shape it how we want and for me women’s sports is different, and that’s something to be celebrated. It’s not better or worse. It’s just women do play a different game often, and I think in the same way women are often interested in different types of media- I mean this is obviously a huge generalization- but I think in general taking those things and applying them to women’s sports is a no-brainer really because that is the kind of content that I would read. That is the kind of content that I want to see. So actually it’s just as interesting when you put a female athlete into it rather than anyone else because a lot of those things have become popular not even for celebrities just people that you respect in a certain position. It makes a lot of sense to use those tools that we have that people understand and have accepted already and kind of spin it into the women’s sports sphere.
Melanie: According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “Girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have. This, paired with social stigma, often causes for young girls to not pursue sports. Personally, lack of access, as my local Boys and Girls Club did not have basketball for girls, and being told it was “just for boys” by my peers were the reasons I did not continue with athletics. What advice do you have for girls who may get discouraged to continue in the world of sports?
Ro: Yeah, it’s hard. I think it’s a lot better than when I was at school, but it’s still really rubbish actually at school and the way that we gender-sport is pretty rubbish. I think that if those young girls are interested and keen then that’s great that they’re acknowledging that already because it’s something that you often look back on and think “Oh, I wish I had carried on with that”, so I think even acknowledging that spark is really important and then finding and seeking out those people that can help you. Nothing happens on your own, so you have to find if its your parents or a really good teacher that can help you find the right places to play, and it might mean that you have to travel a bit further, but I think really trying to find the people around you that can support you in what you want to do because people don’t make it easy for you, and you'll regret not going out of your way to make that happen.
Melanie: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Ro: If anyone feels like they're not engaged with sports: I think it's really hard as an adult female if you feel like you're not engaged with sport or you've just never had that opportunity, and I would just say it's not too late. There are so many creative things coming out at the moment for people who are either watching or playing sports, and if you want to get involved go for it! This is one of the best times to make that happen, and yes it’s just not “too late”. If you feel like you're not a sporty person I totally get why, but I think there are ways that you can engage with sports in your own way, so I just really want to see more women who think that sport isn't for them engage with it in a way that means something to them.
Author: Melanie Rodriguez
Melanie Rodriguez from Miami, Florida is a rising college freshman at Florida International University majoring in Journalism. In addition to her love for the written word, Melanie is also an avid performer and producer. She combines her passions with her dedication to political activism to approach these topics in a creative manner; she hopes to create a non-profit organization in the near future to address these issues through youth interaction. Melanie is eager to work with Make Muse to enact social change through creative means.