Sports broadcasters are having trouble escaping their gender roles, even on Twitter

You’d think Twitter would offer an outlet for female sports broadcasters to actually talk about sports.

Consider the contrast, though, that Clemson University researchers observed when they examined tweets from two major sports broadcasting figures—Erin Andrews and Kirk Herbstreit—to gauge whether or not they were using social media to broaden the traditional gender roles assigned to them as celebrities in the sports world. The study, recently published in the Journal of Sports Media, found that Andrews—who was a longtime ESPN employee before moving to Fox in 2012—used Twitter primarily to discuss her personal life, while Herbstreit—an analyst on ESPN’s College GameDay—focused almost exclusively on football.

Even though Andrews has covered college football for 10 years, her Twitter feed contained hardly any college football insight.

“The absence of such commentary suggests that Andrews’ reticence may be attributed to perceived backlash from followers,” said Jimmy Sanderson, co-author of the study.

It’s arguably a stretch to use just two feeds to draw conclusions about whether Twitter represents an extension of gender roles among high-profile sports journalists—especially considering that Andrews, as a sideline reporter, is meant to serve a different function than analysts or color commentary providers like Herbstreit. A fairer comparison to Herbstreit might be Doris Burke, an NBA color commentator for ESPN. It’s her job to analyze basketball games (and she’s good at it). And yet she can’t seem to tweet about sports without bringing out the Twitter trolls. There can be little room for doubt that the hate for Andrews would be worse if she were to regularly offer opinions on the games and teams that she covers.

There are, of course, other exceptions to the Clemson researchers’ findings. Katie Nolan, host of No Filter on FoxSports.com, regularly Tweets about sports:

Granted, she doesn’t yet have nearly the same renown that Andrews does. And her job as host of No Filter does allow for editorializing, which Andrews’ role as a sideline reporter rarely does. Until sports media begins respecting women, there will be far more Twitter accounts similar to Andrews’ than Nolan’s. Nolan recently discussed the issue in a cogent, widely-shared video:

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