Step into the ring with three of H-Town’s prettiest and wittiest sportswriters as they settle the score on the role of women in sports journalism.
Wearing a Miami Heat T-shirt and a blonde ponytail for coffee, Wisconsin-born sports blogger Jayme Lamm, 31, demonstrates her effortlessly breezy look. And her sense of loyalty. “I get a lot of guff from Rockets fans here because I’m all for the Heat,” she explains.
But this is certainly a woman who can take guff. She’s not only an athlete in her own right, having learned about sports through her own bumps and bruises, sustaining a variety of sports-related injuries, including a complete shoulder replacement and multiple knee surgeries. (“You really start to appreciate what these guys go through,” she says.) She’s also a survivor of the ill-fated Carnival Triumph cruise that suffered an engine room fire in February, stranding the vessel, and all passengers onboard, at sea.
“I’ve never been so tanned in my life,” she says, making light of the famously horrible situation just a day after disembarking. With a gift for laughing off and learning from obstacles, perhaps it’s no surprise she’s among the new wave of pretty young female reporters in Houston—along with fellow blogger Stephanie Joplin and TV anchor Brooke Bentley—who have gravitated to still- male-dominated athletics as their chosen beat, taking advantage of a range of new and traditional media outlets to tell their tales in innovative ways.
Lamm worked for five years in sports public relations, including a stint with the Astros, before she realized that an office job wasn’t the best place to be artistic. “I had to get out of such a uniformed environment,” she says. A die-hard sports buff, she powered up her computer and got to blogging.
Her blog, The Blonde Side (theblondeside.com), a far-ranging project on which the petite scribe holds forth on everything from basketball stars to cheerleading, hit the web in January of 2010—and has recently seen a larger following, and opened up freelance writing gigs at major media outlets. Catching the attention of magazine editors, Lamm has landed writing opportunities for Women’s Health and ESPN online, including items on Roger Clemens and Jeremy Lin.
She says her approach sets her apart. “I want to do more than just report the latest news of sports, like injuries and trade deals,” says Lamm. “I want to tell the story.”
And sometimes telling the story means doing a lot of listening. “I sat down with Owen Daniels,” she says of an interview she conducted with the Texans’ celebrated tight end, “and he ended up talking about how much he loves house music for almost an hour. Players are humans, too, and when you make it a human-interest piece, you almost always end up with a better story.”
For her part, Stephanie Joplin, 29, also knows what it means to take a few hard knocks, and parlay them into sportswriting. “Moving to Houston really got me to dive into pro sports,” she says, “and being a part of MMA has kept me involved with it.”
That’s right, MMA, as in the jaw-knocking blood sport of mixed martial arts. It was after she put on the gloves and got into the ring at a Downtown dojo that the writer started her Dream Shake Barbie site (dreamshakebarbie.com). Training and researching the sport is what led her to blogging, which she takes on with drive equal to that which she brings to brawling. “I’ve been kicked in the stomach plenty of times, so, yeah, I can handle my own.”
With her regular essays on matters MMA, and also topics relating to Texans football, Dynamo soccer and more, Dream Shake Barbie has gained a wide following. It even came to the attention of Comcast execs, who tapped her to cover Houston Aeros hockey for their blog.
The olive-skinned Joplin is also a Twitter champ, not only tweeting for herself but also live tweeting the blow-by-blow for the Houston-based fighting group Legacy Fighting. “It’s really amazing what social media can lead to these days, what kind of doors can open up,” she says. She’s even been known to use her reach online to connect with high-profile sources, once posting an open request to interview Texans Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips. “I put it out there in the Twittersphere and asked him for an interview and shortly after heard from him and we set it up.”
While Joplin came recently to her sportswriting passion, sports anchor of TV news station KUBE—and recent newlywed—Brooke Bentley, 33, has been interested in the field since she was a teen. The tall, immaculately put-together H-Town native and self-described former tomboy recalls following the Rockets’ 1995 championship run, attending games with her younger sister, Blair, who is herself now a fashion and design blogger. Brooke was almost as intrigued by the action on the sidelines as on the court. “What really got a hold of me was the passion the reporters had,” she says, “and the way they were right there with the players, in their faces, getting up-to-the-minute news on the team.”
After graduating from Davidson College in North Carolina, where she played volleyball, Bentley moved to L.A. for graduate studies in journalism at the University of Southern California. She even headed her own sports interview show on the school’s TV station during the heyday of Trojan football, as head coach Pete Carroll led superstar players like Clay Matthews and Reggie Bush to national championships in 2003 and 2004. “It’s kind of funny seeing these guys play in the NFL now and knowing that I had interviewed them when they were college kids.”
After USC, and a two-year stint as a media coordinator for the Texans, Bentley took a job in Beaumont as the first-ever female sports journalist for a Fox affiliate in Southeast Texas. And the welcome was just about what she expected. “They were all sort of shocked that a woman was not only reporting on sports, but knew a lot about it,” she says.
Taking steps to prove herself, Bentley found her own method of reporting, in some ways echoing what her counterparts say about their approach to writing. “I found that it’s really about letting people talk and hearing their personal stories and connections to football or baseball or basketball,” says the reporter. “Women are storytellers and can get to the emotional parts of the story.”