Q&A with ESPN’s Mina Kimes

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Mina Kimes has been my sports journalistic idol for the past few months (though she’s been thriving in the field for much longer). I mentioned her in a previous blog post in regards to her outstanding story on Tyreek Hill and domestic violence, a piece that really made me think about covering tough subjects as a journalist and the thought process that goes into getting the story just right. Kimes has written for Fortune and Bloomberg and now is one of ESPN’s most talented writers, making the flawless transition from covering business to sports. She has really mastered a style of writing that goes beyond the Xs and Os of sports – one that explores human relationships and social issues within the context of the game.

Kimes was kind enough to answer some questions about her career and give me her thoughts on the industry. As a woman who has found immense success in sports journalism and who has covered some really deep topics, she offers great insight that is especially relevant to this blog.

 

Your career started with business writing before you switched to sports, so you have a pretty broad view of journalism. What is your response to people who may say sports journalism is easy, or isn’t “hard-hitting” like other types of journalism?

I’ve found that sportswriting is easier in some ways and more difficult in others. Easier because, for the most part, I’m writing for a large, passionate audience; if I profile an NFL player, for example, I know that a ton of people will read the story because of the subject matter alone. But it’s hard to be original. There’s so much content around sports and so much of it is pegged to the same material. We’re all writing about the same athletes, following the same storylines, going to the same games. It takes a lot of effort to find novel angles and narratives.

Sportswriting doesn’t have the same obvious impact as business or political journalism. Our stories rarely change public policy. But they can draw attention to issues that affect everyone–issues like race, gender, business and politics. Most great sports stories aren’t just about sports.

In what ways do you think having more women in sports media helps the industry? What do female journalists bring to the table that’s maybe different or unique?

It’s fantastic because it brings more perspectives, and encourages other women (particularly younger ones) to pursue the field. Growing up, it never occurred to me that I could write about sports.

People often ask me if it’s hard being a woman in this industry. I actually see it as a tremendous advantage–especially in dealing with athletes, many of whom are accustomed to interacting with journalists with similar backgrounds. It’s good to stand out. And as an Asian American woman, I bring a singular point of view and set of experiences to reporting. I feel that allows me to engage with interview subjects in a unique way and see stories in a different light.

What would you say is the best way for female sports journalists to combat sexist remarks (whether it’s on Twitter, face-to-face, etc.)? Do you tend to respond/ignore/laugh it off?

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at times. Not the really gross, ridiculous stuff, but the subtler insults–especially from men who use their names and faces online, and who probably don’t think they’re acting out of turn. But I rarely engage with them, mainly because doing so would consume so much of my time–which, if you think about it, would be handing the trolls a victory. So for that reason, I generally think it’s better to mute and block people–unless there’s a really good burn to be had at a hater’s expense.

What made you want to do the longform piece on Tyreek Hill, and why did you choose to include your own voice in the piece?

I decided to write that essay because it had been on my mind for months. It’s something I started thinking about the moment Hill was drafted, and then continued to ponder as the season went on and I found myself talking about him as a football player on various radio shows and podcasts. The more I thought about it, the murkier I felt about the subject. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him, his story, or the appropriate response to it–so I decided to do some reporting and then write about it, which is my favorite way to work through a complicated issue.

Who are some of the female journalists or broadcasters in the field that you follow or admire?

I look up to so many of my colleagues at ESPN: Ramona Shelburne, Liz Merrill, and Kate Fagan, to name a few. On television, I admire everything Jemele Hill has done–and I love the work of Katie Nolan, who is ferociously funny and uncompromising. Outside of sports, I have huge writer crushes on Pamela Colloff, Jeanne Marie Laskas, Kathryn Schultz…I could go on. It’s a long list.

 

Thanks again to Mina for these fascinating answers. We should all look forward to reading her future work, but for now, enjoy this piece on Von Miller, one of the most interesting players in the NFL and the star of my beloved Broncos.

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Women lead the charge in domestic abuse coverage

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I firmly believe that domestic assault cases should predominantly be covered by female journalists, primarily because of women’s sensitivity to the issue. ESPN’s Mina Kimes recently wrote an excellent piece on the domestic abuse history of Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, proving that female journalists are possibly the most qualified to write about the topic.

Kimes’s story is a detailed, fair analysis of Tyreek Hill and so many other athletes involved in domestic assault cases. She wrote about the importance of covering those athletes extensively, despite how awkward and complex it may be.

“We’ll get it wrong so many times,” she wrote. “But every now and then, we’ll get it right, and when we do, it’ll matter.”

Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz goes even further in her piece on Josh Brown, offering a different solution for dealing with domestic abusers in the NFL. She starts by empathizing with the victim, Molly Brown, and explains why so many women stay with their abusers. By making the story about victim in addition to just the famous athlete, she offers an important perspective that many male journalists tend to overlook.

“[D]on’t bother with the convenient lie that kicking Josh Brown out of the NFL accomplishes anything other than making fans feel less dirty about worshipping at the altar of a sports league that never has viewed its players as anything more than meat. Running him out of football may feel good; it also directly re-victimizes Molly Brown, especially given that she made it clear she wanted no part in the NFL’s punishment of her ex-husband and told authorities she worried about their financial future.”

Instead of bemoaning the effects that a domestic violence case might have on an athlete’s career, or claiming indignation and calling for a complete ban on the athlete, Moskovitz is able to criticize the NFL’s zero tolerance policy and offer a solution that helps victims and encourages treatment for the abusers, writing, “The best thing an employer can do is refer those in need of help to those who can provide it.”

Male journalists often don’t have that same astute insight. In fact, men covering domestic violence stories involving the abuse of a woman is reminiscent of white people covering racism. They just don’t have the intuition and understanding necessary to really grasp the implications of it all. (See: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith’s infamous comments on domestic abuse, when he suggested that women “don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions” from men.)

Obviously not every male journalist makes comments like these, but I can’t imagine an instance in which a female reporter would display such ignorance on a sensitive, serious topic like this. The work of Kimes and Moskovitz displays just how perceptive women are to these issues because for them, it’s not just something that happens in sports – it’s an everyday concern.