Sarah Stier is a third-year photojournalism student at Ohio University pursuing minors in History and Sports Management. She currently works for the Ohio University Athletic Department, but previously held an internship with The Reading Eagle Newspaper and freelanced at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Besides photography, she loves dogs and driving her jeep.
One of the best compliments I’ve ever been given came from a woman who had previously worked for the Baltimore Ravens. While at a high-profile event, the woman leaned over to my boss and said, “Your photographer right there? She’s got something that many women struggle with, she’s got confidence. She’s gonna be able to make it in this field.”
I’ve been involved with sports my entire life. I started swimming at age six and would continue that for the rest of my life, but I also played soccer, track, basketball, T-ball, rowing, volleyball, tennis, and a little bit of street hockey (that ended after I broke my foot — oops!). My older sister and I would binge-watch the Olympics every two years, and I’d deck out in my team’s gear during the Ohio State/Michigan game each November (go Blue!). My mom would watch the Indianapolis Colts play because she had a crush on Peyton Manning, but not me — I started watching it for the game. Since I was young, sports have been a part of my life and in a way, they’ve made me who I am. In fact, they still do.
I am the poster-child for saying I’ll never do something and then, in a strange turn of events, actually proceeding to do it. I came into college as a Commercial Photography major; I’d told my parents repeatedly that I never wanted to be a photojournalist. Four weeks into my freshman year of college, I switched my major to photojournalism. I wanted to take photos that meant something to people. Then there was that time I told my parents I never wanted to shoot sports — I wasn’t interested in that at all. Second semester of freshman year, the Athletic Department put out a notice that they were hiring another photographer for varsity sports. I applied (and received the position).
I never thought that I’d be working in the field of sports journalism. I never imagined that I’d be able to combine the two things that I love the most — athletics and photography — into something that could become my career. In so many ways, I am lucky to be able to work in a field which provides me with so many opportunities that not many others will get to have, such as going to the Olympic Games and shooting professional sports.
However, lately I’ve become disenchanted with the way that I, and so many other women, have been treated in this field that we are each so passionate about. Now, don’t get me wrong — over the past few years, I’ve seen small changes. When I took the job with Athletics three years ago, I was the only female photographer surrounded by three (great) male photographers. Currently, Athletics now employs three female photographers and one male. Like I said, it’s change, but it’s small.
In one of my Sports Management courses, we recently debated the double-standard for women working in sports. In our discussion, I brought up my experience at the football bowl game that I had the opportunity to go to with the Athletic Department. Throughout the week-long experience of bowl game festivities, I had several unsettling experiences.
After shooting a press conference, I, along with several others, were given VIP access to a meet-and-greet with the following event’s keynote speaker, a very famous football coach. In front of many of my coworkers and others attending the meet-and-greet event, the keynote speaker flirted with me, noting that he had noticed me while I was working during the press conference. This speaker, whom I was truly excited to meet, reduced me from a photographer doing their job to a woman that he could objectify in a matter of seconds.
While shooting the bowl game itself, I introduced myself to a photographer that I had seen shooting various events throughout the week. I took the time to ask about his career — how he had gotten to this point and if he had any suggestions for someone like me looking to enter the field. What I received in response though, was a message that I was going to have a hard time as a female photographer in sports and that I should probably consider another area of photography, if I even stick with photography at all.
I don’t get discouraged easily. I’m a really tough cookie, shooting so many athletic events have taught me to be that way. But when members of the bowl game’s security team kept moving me farther and farther back from the field and restricting parts of the sideline that I was allowed to shoot from because they were worried that I was “going to get hurt by a barreling football player,” I nearly lost my marbles. They weren’t continually asking the male photographers to move back from the field nor were they telling them which parts of the endzone they could and could not shoot from. (To those wondering — I fought back, and won. The second half of the football game was smooth sailing.)
I left that bowl game with a great gallery of photos, but also with an unsettling feeling of whether or not I could truly take this blatant sexism for the rest of my life. I’m lucky enough to have gained a sense of confidence from my job, I mean, you have to when you’re trying to fight your way to the middle of a huddle of 80 massive football players. But especially with our current president deeming this type of sexual discrimination “okay,” I fear that it will continue and prevent future generations of women from entering the field of sports journalism.
Photo Brigade community — I’m calling on you. To the women — how do you react in situations where your ability to work as a photojournalist is questioned because of your gender? And men — when your peers contribute to sexism in the industry, what can you do to shut down those types of comments? And how, as a photo community can we work to support and lift-up young photographers who may feel discouraged by this?