Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“We hope we’re on a path to a more inclusive industry, but there are problems along the way” — Jon Holmes on the fight for LGBT+ equality in the sports media

Posted on 1 March 2019 by Timothy Hammersley

There is an undeniable stereotype of newsrooms and sports news in particular. This has historically been an industry for which diversity was not just low on the agenda, but often nowhere to be seen.

However, progress is being made and one of the groups at the forefront of the fight for diversity is Sports Media LGBT+.

The group was set up by Jon Holmes — who is the Homepage Editor at Sky Sports News — and has been running since November 2017 having already made a significant impact on the sports media industry.

Having been involved in LGBT+ networks throughout his time at Sky, and seeing the benefits such networks could have, Jon was keen to do more.

Jon said: “We had already seen and taken a lot of inspiration form the work that BCOMS [Black Collective of Media in Sport] had done in terms of BAME inclusion.

“They were saying to all the strands of diversity — particularly with the work they do around the D-Word conference — that although they were predominantly there as BCOMS, they were passionate about all different types of inclusion.

“They were doing a little bit of work around LGBT, and we thought that there was enough of us who know that we are in this space, and we can pick up the baton there.

On setting up the network, Jon saw that there was a particular issue with the sports media as opposed to other parts of the media. “I think we see representation and a bit more visibility in other parts of the media,” he said.

“But in sport, we know there are still some pretty big obstacles to overcome and attitudes to change and shift.”

One of Holmes’ main motivations was to reframe the discussion around the role of the media in LGBT sport, arguing that often the problem is oversimplified, with people failing to recognise the complex issues at play.

Jon said: “When people talk about this issue they say the media is part of the problem, the media only has one agenda or the media wants to out a gay player.

“But as LGBT+ people we know that the conversation is a lot more nuanced and multi-faceted than that, so we thought we needed to be a part of that conversation.

“Otherwise, people are always going to think it’s us against the media when the media are part of the solution.”

Sports Media LGBT’s #AuthenticMe event

Jon identified that one of the key contributors to this narrative is the often sensationalist and problematic headlines in the tabloids, with newspapers searching for the most eye-catching, profit-spinning story possible.

Jon said: “We know the pressures that are on in the industry, particularly in the print media, to sell copies of newspapers.

“Those problematic stories and headlines are quite often driven by a desperate need for newspapers to stay alive, particularly within the tabloids.

“So actually, I think we are seeing an improvement. It might not often seem that way because we’re reminded every so often of that tension between sports desks and news desks.

“Whereas actually, if you look more broadly at sports media, I think you would struggle to find negativity. I find it quite rare to find a piece in the sports pages that I think is irresponsible.”

At the end of last year, Sports Media LGBT conducted an industry survey to try and gain a broader picture of how LGBT+ people working within the sports media felt about the industry, and how their experiences had been shaped by it.

One of the key findings from the survey was that of LGBT+ people working in the sports media, 45% were not out at work, or were only out to a very few close friends and colleagues.

Jon felt that conversations needed to be had at every level of the industry and that while some companies were making positive strides, this was not happening across the board, and the industry still had a lot to do.

Jon said: “At Sky we are a very inclusive employer and have quite broad conversations about what it is to be comfortable and welcome at work, but I don’t know if smaller businesses have those kinds of focuses.

“With all the competing pressures that come around in the workplace, not every media employer has had those conversations amongst its senior leaders and staff.

“What we see with that survey number is that the sports media industry is on a journey towards a more inclusive environment and compared to a lot of industries we are more towards the beginning of that journey. 

“The most important thing is to make sure that we are having those conversations and that people who do come out are able to bring their whole self to work and fulfil their full potential without hiding any part of their identity.

Holmes also identified that it is not always quite as simple as having one identity and feeling free to express it, and that progress towards LGBT+ equality in the sports media was often frustrated by a lack of progress in other areas.

Jon said: “If you look at the figures BCOMS produced at their last conference, it suggested that around three in ten people in our industry are women, so there’s a gender imbalance compared to other industries.”

In terms of BAME people, figures showed that rather than the industry becoming more diverse, things had gone backwards with a 0.1% drop in the number of BAME people employed in the sports media over the last 12 months.

Jon said: “You would expect to see an upward curve, even if it’s a shallow one, but the fact that those numbers dipped is quite alarming.

“As we know the LGBT+ community is very diverse and there’s lots of issues around intersectionality.

“The experience of a black lesbian woman in the sports media is going to be very different to my experience as a white gay man. We need to mindful of everyone and create environments where everyone can be themselves.

While it is clear that the sports media still has a way to go when it comes to LGBT+ equality and representation, the work of Sports Media LGBT is going a long way to address these issues.

There is no one size fits all approach, but attitudes need to change at every level and in every part of the industry. However, the collaborative approach of Jon’s network is helping the industry move quickly and combat some of the traditional prejudices that still remain.

Featured photograph/Jon Holmes