The world of sports writing has long been a male-dominated field of journalism, though it’s significantly more common to find a woman who is a beat writer today than it was in 1979, when Lisa Saxon started covering baseball for the L.A. Daily News. Back then, she was one of only three women covering the Major Leagues on a full-time basis.
"It's all I wanted to do," Saxon told AirTalk. "I talked my way into the [Cincinnati] Reds bullpen when I was 15 years old...I just had one goal, I'm very focused, and everything I did was working toward that."
However, society was much more closed-minded when Saxon [who still went by her maiden name, Nehus] first started covering baseball, and she had to deal with degradation and sexual harassment on a daily basis from those [and there were many] who felt a woman had no business being a sports writer. She says her access to locker rooms was often revoked, she was treated like a lesser person by other members of the media, players, and team executives.
"My very first day, even, at the Daily News, long before I went into a locker room, I went to my desk and there was a sign there that said 'token female.' So, from the very beginning, the stage was set, that I was different and I was lesser than," said Saxon.
An article by Vice Sports alleges that when Saxon would go into locker rooms, players would yell, spit, throw their jock straps at her, expose themselves, or worse. She gave a similar depiction to us about what she experienced.
"You can learn to block some of that out once you're in, but sometimes things got very personal, and that's when it became hard for me," Saxon says. "My greatest struggles were when the attacks were very personal in nature, when players called in to question my character...Reggie Jackson once told me he wanted me to lie under the team bus so he could have it roll over me. That's how much he hated me."
Saxon says Reggie had a particular dislike for her and that he was ruthless to her in the locker room, making fun of her for her clothing, calling her a b**ch, and telling her she was ugly. She says she ran into him years later, after he had retired from baseball, in the locker room of the Oakland Athletics.
"I had gone in to, I think, do an interview with [then Athletics star] Mark McGwire...and I heard all of a sudden, 'Lisa! Lisa!' And it was Reggie. And I said 'Something's wrong, because he just addressed me by my first name.'"
Saxon says Reggie told her he'd always felt as if there was a problem between the two of them. Saxon says she asked Reggie to be more specific.
"I looked him right in the eye and said, 'Well, Reggie, was it when you asked me to lie under the team bus so it could roll over me? Was it when you called me the b-word? Was it when you called me ugly or made fun of my clothes? You'll have to be more specific.' And Reggie [who often referred to himself in the third person] looked at his friend and said 'Reggie doesn't say those things.' Then he looked at me and said 'Reggie doesn't say those things. But if Reggie ever did, Reggie apologizes.'"
As it turned out, Saxon says, Reggie's apology may have only been to get her to use her Hall of Fame vote to put him in, which she did not do. Saxon says while she did have to deal with plenty of discrimination and harassment like this during her career, she prefers to remember the people with whom she worked who were friendly, helpful, and wanted her to succeed. She says players like Tommy John, Don Sutton, and George Hendrick were just a few of the men who had her back when others turned theirs.
"There were many, many people who were wonderful, and to those people, I can never say thank you enough," says Saxon.
Saxon says she never wanted to be seen as a victim, and until recently she didn't think that her story was more meaningful than anyone else's. She says she's never viewed herself as a pioneer in her field, but in recent years has come to realize the meaning of some of her contributions to journalism. She recalls one such instance during a trip she took to Angel Stadium of Anaheim in 2013.
"I went up to the press box, and Joe Resnick of the Associated Press made a place for me so I could sit in my old seat in the press box," she said. "A woman that I'd never met came down during the game, introduced herself, and said that she was standing on my shoulders. Tears just ran down my cheeks because, for a long time, I thought that my career had been the collateral damage of this battle that I volunteered to wage."
Today, Saxon is seen by many to be a trailblazer for women in sports writing. She has earned several awards, including two AP Sports’ Editors awards and a lifetime achievement award nomination from the National Association of Women in Sports Media.
"I don't talk much about what happened, I've never sought fame, and I thought it was just forgotten. But to know that people remembered me and the fight that I fought mattered, I can't ask for more than that."
Saxon is now a teacher at Pacific Palisades high School, where she also advises Tideline, the school’s student-run magazine. She met her husband Reed, appropriately enough, after a baseball game. They got married in
Through the adversity, Saxon proved that she was as good a reporter, if not better, than any man doing the same job. Over her 20-year career, she covered World Series, NBA Finals, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, and NCAA Finals. But most importantly, she cleared the way for other women to get into sports journalism, thanks to her success and skill as a journalist in the face of adversity, discrimination and gender bias.
"People say, 'Would you do it all over again?' I say 'In a heartbeat.' I can't think of a better life."
Lisa Saxon, award-winning sportswriter, beats she covered include the then-California Angels, the Dodgers, and the then-L.A. Raiders for the L.A. Daily News. She also covered the NBA and NCAA football and basketball.