Samantha Ponder to host 'Sunday NFL Countdown,' despite backlash from internet trolls

ESPN has announced that Ponder will become the new host of their football program. Ponder says her career progress in a field notoriously hostile to women has been the result of co-workers who saw her as an equal.

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Sports broadcasters Samantha Ponder (l.) and Kirk Herbstreit (r.) present the award for vocal duo of the year at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 2, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.

Sports reporter Samantha Ponder will host the ESPN program “Sunday NFL Countdown” and, in a message to those with whom she worked in the past, Ponder herself referenced the difficulties that female sportscasters can face in the industry. 

Ms. Ponder has previously co-hosted “College GameDay” and been a sideline reporter for “Saturday Night Football.” In a letter to her co-workers at "College Gameday," Ponder wrote that she feels they are the exception to an unfortunate rule. 

“I know many women in this industry have to deal with men who are belittling, unsupportive or even inappropriate,” she wrote. “Not a single moment or day went by when one of you made me feel anything but equal.” 

She also referenced the male-dominated nature of the industry in writing, “You are good men.” 

TV networks bringing on female sports reporters seems a natural progression considering the large numbers of women who are fans of various professional male sports leagues, with women making up 45 percent of National Football League fans, according to a recent statement by the league. In 2015, for example, 53 million women in the United States watched the Super Bowl on TV, according to Athletic Business, an online resource for sports professionals. And women like Ponder, ESPN colleagues Suzy Kolber and Sarah Spain, and Fox NFL reporter Erin Andrews are all onscreen when sports fans tune in. 

But female sportscasters report that they face a difficult path in what is still seen as a male-dominated field. Ponder herself is no stranger to cruel tweets and comments from sports fans. Some broadcasters, however, have had to deal with much more serious harassment than tweets by internet trolls.

In a 2016 article, New York Times writers Richard Sandomir and John Branch referenced an incident in which a stalker tampered with hotel rooms in which Ms. Andrews was staying in order to take video of the broadcaster without her permission. The hotel chain paid Andrews $55 million in damages for privacy invasion.

“Female sportscasters have unparalleled reach in an age of round-the-clock sports broadcasting and the widespread dissemination of their work across social media. There are more of them now than ever, across multiple channels and websites,” the authors wrote. “But the flip side is unwanted attention from a male-dominated audience that can include fans who get uncomfortably close, or even stalkers.” 

Shortly after, a clip released by the podcast "Not Just Sports" included "everyday guys" reading cruel tweets sent to Ms. Spain and sports reporter Julie DiCaro out loud and in person to the female sports reporters. In an article for ESPNW, Spain wrote of the men’s reactions, “Their hands shook, they began to sweat and they squirmed in their seats. Every single one apologized to me after reading the comments, wondering aloud how anyone could possibly think such awful things, never mind type and send them.” 

Spain wrote that she wishes her experience will lead to positive change in the future.

“I hope that continued conversation will inspire Twitter and other platforms to look into ways to regulate hate speech and threats…,” she wrote. “I hope the continued conversation will cause parents and teachers to open up a dialogue about misogyny, fear of those who challenge the status quo and acceptance of a diversity of voices.”

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