Veteran sportscaster CJ Silas penned No Girls Allowed, an unflinching look into gender discrimination in sports media. Pictured is Silas during a live broadcast with CBS Sportsline in San Diego, during the 1998 Superbowl.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CJ SILAS
CJ Silas interviews sports reporter Ahmad Rashad in 2004. While the men she worked with tended to make work miserable, she writes, listeners appreciated her unique take on sports talk.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CJ SILAS
CJ Silas (left), pictured on the set at ESPN in 1992, writes of this photo, “With one of my closest friends and biggest supports, Shireen Saski, or as I like to call her, ‘me.’”
PHOTO COURTESY OF CJ SILAS
CJ Silas' book Only Girl in the Room provides an often-painful look at the treatment of women in sports broadcasting
BY ANNA WELTNER
CJ Silas is legit. In 2004, when the sports broadcaster began work at a Los Angeles radio network, she was already a seasoned expert, with a degree in broadcast journalism and experience in sports radio and television all over the country, including gigs at ESPN and CBS Sportsline. And when she took the L.A. gig, she was the only woman in America with a nationally syndicated daily sports show—and she knew she’d worked hard to get there.
Silas was enthusiastic and educated about every professional sport. But she knew hard news as well: She’d spent eight months covering the OJ Simpson trial, a difficult topic for anyone, but especially for Silas, who believed a close friend of hers had been one of the victims. The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, she’d been on air, delivering the gruesome breaking news and, doing her best to put her own emotions aside, allowing callers to voice their shock and loss.
Silas had chosen a tough career, and she’d done it well. Taking her new job ought to have made her very happy indeed. But she already knew better than that. Her gender, you see, isn’t welcome in sports media. And if this job were anything like her previous jobs, the work she loved so much would soon become miserable. She writes of an industry where daily insults and sexual harassment from male co-workers, both on and off the air, make work a joyless and degrading experience. Her input at meetings would be either ignored or ridiculed. Sometimes meetings would be called without her knowledge.
If her new job were anything like those of the past, listeners would really take to her. She would probably be asked to make more public appearances than her co-host. She would receive more fan mail. The coaches and players she interviewed would be more receptive to her. They would open up like never before, and she would use the opportunity to ask them things sports reporters never asked—about their families, for example, or their little-known talents on the violin; any way to get past those canned, polished answers. She would make great radio, and in the public’s eyes, she would excel. At work, though, her self-esteem would be in shreds. She would be paid less than others. Her complaints of discrimination would go ignored.
But Silas—who now lives in Pismo Beach—would forge on, developing the coping mechanism of documenting the events of her life in countless journals. These records became the book No Girls Allowed: The Jock and Jill Mentality of Sports Broadcasting, published this month through MaxQ Enterprises. The book provides a compelling, horrifying, angering look at gender discrimination in America’s sports media. There are many inspiring pinnacles to the trajectory, though these are hard won.
Hers is such an interesting, unbelievable story—and such an important topic—that I wish I could say it was well written. In reality, Silas often falls prey to the common traps of the amateur writer, and her prose, adapted as it was from journals, often reads in a clunky, dear-diary kind of way. Yes, the book is rich in captivating, moving content, a fact that is its ultimate salvation, and the reason I kept reading. But as Silas was beating yet another point to death, I admit I yearned for a bit of subtlety. (“Show, don’t tell!” I inwardly urged. And those caps! Caps are the shoulder pads of literature.)
There were little moments when she surprised me, as when describing her boss, on the phone, licking his finger and doing a half-assed job of rubbing away a coffee stain on his desk. That image—lazy, unselfconscious, foul—resonates somehow, and the reader intuits that whatever problem she’s come in to his office to discuss, it won’t get taken seriously.
Still, this book is not meant to be about the writing, and reading it is easier once one comes to terms with that. Silas’ prose, raw and conversational, has a certain unpretentious charm, like confiding in a close friend. One admires Silas for her bravery in entering a world where she’s had little experience. (And, just to even the score here: Would I, an arts writer, last a day in Silas’ profession? No. I would run home. Crying.)
Silas’ every moment of elation—a successful race, an interview with Barry Bonds that goes really well, for example—is one shared by the reader, as are her many painful encounters with professional heartbreak.
While a more mature writer could have produced a more aesthetically pleasing work, I have my doubts that many other human beings could have lived through what Silas did, maintaining her level of professionalism and humor through decades of misery, moving from city to city, and kicking ass all over again each time.
Arts Editor Anna Weltner is tougher than she lets on. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Joshua D. Scroggin
When C.J. Silas was 6 years old, her grandmother took her to her first Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game, where she received an introduction to her all-time favorite player, barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson.
Having smashed through some ceilings of her own throughout a 20-year broadcasting career, Silas, 44, is still attending baseball games. Only these days, she’s the one giving the introductions.
One of few women to have hosted a nationally syndicated network sports talk radio show, Silas left her last stop, San Luis Obispo station ESPN 1280, in 2008 to work on a book of memoirs and her marriage.
She’s stayed active in the community by volunteering and working for the local Red Cross and by skating for Central Coast Roller Derby.
Though off the air since she stopped appearing on 1280’s “Sports Bite,” Silas can still be heard as the public address announcer for the Cal Poly baseball team, which returns home to face Long Beach State tonight after a two-week Big West Conference road trip.
Recently divorced and happily employed full time by the Red Cross, an organization she first got involved with during a break from radio to help vounteer in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Silas said she would not be opposed to a future return to sports talk.
She was disappointed that Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, did not live to see Barack Obama become the first black president of the United States.
In her book, which she continues to shop to publishers, Silas draws parallels to Robinson and herself, a woman who worked hard to become a known commodity in the male-dominated world of sports talk.
“I want to be alive when that first woman becomes the Howard Stern, Jim Rome on radio,” Silas said. “I don’t have to be that woman. Of course, I would love to be that woman who makes it and has my own network for 10 years and I pick my producers and I get to schedule everything and people really believe in what I do.”
A Syracuse communications graduate, Silas began her broadcasting career as a production assistant and field producer for ESPN and ESPN2 in the early 1990s. She moved on to various radio hosting and sideline reporting jobs in the late 1990s before landing her biggest break — a two-year stint as the co-host of Fox Sports Radio’s “Afternoon Drive” beginning in 2004.
While many women continue to rise to fame in sports media as sideline reporters and news readers, Silas joined a select group to have hosted their own national sports opinion show, a collection that also includes Nanci Donnellan, best known by her title of “The Fabulous Sports Babe.”
To a lot of people, women sports hosts “are a breath of fresh air,” said Mike Chellsen, the general manager and owner of ESPN 1280. “It also opens it up to more female listeners. A lot more women would listen to sports radio, not that they can’t with male hosts, but I think it opens up the door and tells them, ‘Hey, it’s all right.’
“Even before Suzy Kolber and Erin Andrews, C.J. was a real pioneer in that way.”
Prior to former KSBY sports broadcaster Dave Alles joining the “Sports Bite,” Silas co-hosted with former Cal Poly basketball player Mike Wozniak.
Silas severed with Fox in 2005, then was brought on by Chellsen to co-star on the “Sports Bite.” Life in San Luis Obispo also freed her up to host “A.M. Gameday” on ESPN Radio’s national slate, where she also did vacation fill-ins in a role that also ended in 2008.
She said Wozniak remains her favorite co-host in a group that includes such names as Chris Myers, Chris Rose, Bryan Cox and others. As Fox Sports Radio paired her with a revolving door of partners during her tenure, the show began to be known as “The Drive with C.J. Silas.”
“I just didn’t want to turn into a sidekick,” Silas said. “I don’t mind being the second in a co-host host role. It’s less work, you don’t have to worry about turning things on and off and producers screaming, but I didn’t want to turn into a sidekick because I’d worked so hard in my life to be a strong, knowledgeable, entertaining, confident, emotional, opinionated woman that made people feel and think.
“Because that’s always what I wanted to do.”
Published: Friday, Apr. 30, 2010
Updated: 11:45 pm Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010
By Patrick S. Pemberton | email@example.com
Patrick S. Pemberton The Tribune
A sports nut since she was six years old, CJ Silas dreamed of a career that would allow her to talk about sports.
But sports radio — the best forum for talking sports — is a fraternal club, she said, in which women are routinely objectified, undermined and discouraged from joining.
“The only female that does national talk is Amy Lawrence — and she does it on a fill-in basis,” Silas said. “There’s not a woman with her own show. There hasn’t been, except for me, and I never did it very long.”
Not long at one station, anyway. For over 20 years, Silas talked sports in a variety of markets across the country, culminating with national gigs at ESPN Radio Network and Fox Sports Radio. Yet, her career, as she writes in her book “No Girls Allowed: The Jock and Jill Mentality of Sports Broadcasting,” (Max Q Enterprises , $28.95) was marked by struggles to be accepted — struggles she compares to Jackie Robinson’s when he broke baseball’s color barrier in the 1940’s.
“It’s a book about someone like Jackie — doing what you want to do no matter how much people don’t want you to do it,” she said.
During Silas’s career, she interviewed many larger than life sports figures, including Charles Barkley, Pete Sampras, Alonzo Mourning, Tommy Lasorda and John Wooden. And her life has featured some interesting asides — like the fact that she was on the cast of TV’s “Fame,” turned doubleplays with softball teammate Ron Goldman before covering his accused murderer’s trial, and dropped everything to volunteer to help Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans. But the book focuses — as the title suggests— on the challenges that confront any woman who wants to venture into sports radio.
Silas’s love of sports began when she was a child, growing up in Los Angeles.
“I felt most confident when I had a ball in my hand or a glove,” she said at a coffee shop near her Shell Beach home. “And when I was old enough to realize that I probably wasn’t going to play professional sports, I knew I liked to talk — so why not talk about sports?”
After graduating from Syracuse, she pursued that dream. But while there were a few women doing TV sports — mostly as sideline reporters — Silas couldn’t find female peers interested in making a living in sports broadcasting.
“I was constantly the only female in the room, at press conferences, on sidelines, in the press box, or courtside at basketball games,” she wrote of her time covering sports as a student at Syracuse.
Later, while working at radio stations, she wrote, coworkers frequently made sexual comments about women — both on air and off — often rating them. When she was on air, she added, male coworkers attempted to humiliate her, playing clips of tennis player Monica Seles’s grunting or the sound of crickets chirping in the background whenever she spoke. And she was frequently ignored at meetings, even when she was the host or co-host of a show.
“It wears on you when you have to battle every day to keep your emotions in check,” she wrote.
Silas’s decision to not name offenders or many of the stations where she worked takes some of the power out of her story — and makes it difficult to follow her career, which had many stops. But she says she wanted to avoid legal trouble — and that she didn’t want the book to be viewed as retaliation.
“If I put their names in it, then I’m resentful, and I’m whiny and I’m complaining,” she said. “If I don’t, I’m just telling my story.”
Silas also declined to delve into behind-the-scenes stories about celebrity athletes and their lifestyles.
“It’s not a tell-all,” Silas said, noting that she purposely avoided relationships with professional athletes. “It’s not going to be tabloid journalism. I think my stories are going to market themselves. And if they don’t, they don’t — but I didn’t want to lower myself.”
After working radio in places like Nebraska, Miami and Seattle and stints with Fox and CBS SportsLine, Silas wound up in San Luis Obispo, working as an on-air personality at Sunny Country, 102.5 FM, before pursuing a bigger opportunity at an all-sports network in Los Angeles.
Yet, it didn’t take long before she wasn’t welcome there, either.
“I went for this big opportunity, where I was making six figures, and my fourth day in, I already find out they don’t want me,” she said.
When that job fell through, she worked with local ESPN affiliate 1280 AM. Using her contacts, she interviewed guests like Dan Patrick, Steve Kerr and Mike Tarico. But while she enjoyed that job, she couldn’t resist pursuing an opportunity as a fill-in host at the ESPN Radio Network — another move that offered false promise.
By 2008, she was out of radio, working full-time with Red Cross — until she was laid off, with other co-workers, last spring.
Today, she’s focusing on marketing her book, sending copies to newspapers, TV shows and radio stations. In an ideal world, Silas acknowledges, she’d love for someone to hear her promote her book on a radio show and offer her another gig. But she wrote the book, she said, to teach others about the profession from a woman’s point of view.
“I would love this to bring me back,” she said. “But I didn’t do it to get back on radio.”