© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Overholt Is First Female Editor To Head Major U.S. Sports Magazine


For women in sports, reaching the same levels as men - in pay, in audience size - has been a struggle. And that imbalance has been reflected in the journalists who cover sports. That's why it was big news when a woman recently took control at a major sports magazine. That woman is Alison Overholt. She's just been named editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine, and she's with us now. Alison, welcome and congrats.

ALISON OVERHOLT: Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.

KELLY: I saw that when word broke that you were being offered the editor's job, congratulations started pouring in on Twitter, and a lot of them had the hashtag kicking glass.

OVERHOLT: Yes, I think whoever came up with that is incredibly clever. And I loved it. It was amazing. And to be honest, that was the sort of most surprising part of this because that was never part of any of the conversations when we discussed the role. I don't even think it was on anyone's radar. It actually came up, you know, a couple days later where in a meeting, someone said, I don't know if there's ever actually been a woman in this position; did you realize that? You know, and we all sort of started thinking back to all the various editors of, you know, the various publications we've subscribed to since childhood. And aside from Sports Illustrated For Women, we couldn't think of one. In retrospect, I have to say, you know, it's 2016. How is it possible that that's the case?

KELLY: Well, I was going to ask you whether being a woman gives you a different perspective in an industry that is so dominated by men.

OVERHOLT: I think it does. You know, it has to. Part of that is just when you change the people who are included in the conversation, you are by definition going to get different ideas and see things from a different point of view.

KELLY: Do you ever question yourself taking the reins of a magazine that is taking on football and boxing and all of these male-dominated sports which you have no direct experience of as a woman?

OVERHOLT: Oh, not at all. Not all. I mean, look at the vast majority of men who cover these things. Do you think they've got direct experience with that? I challenge, you know, the majority of football or boxing editors out there to say, did you ever play at an elite level?

KELLY: Yeah - have you ever been in the ring?

OVERHOLT: Exactly, of course not. One of my first gigs in sports journalism was being the action sports and the Olympics editor. I don't think very many action sports or Olympics editors are ex-elite competitors. For some reason in our culture, when it's a sport that is more hyper-masculine, such as football or boxing, that's when you start hearing those challenges come up. And that's when I always sort of poke those challengers and say, is that really what this is about or is this just about, you know, a discomfort with women in certain kinds of roles?

KELLY: You know, it's fascinating listening to you because it sounds like for you, your gender has been pretty much a nonissue in your career track. And you're of a generation where so many glass ceilings have already been kicked in. I wonder - I mean, do you feel any responsibility to pay it forward for more young women coming along?

OVERHOLT: I do. The number of notes that I got from women who I don't know at our own company who said, it's really important to us to see the mother of a young child succeeding in an executive role in our industry. That just got me in a way that I was completely not expecting because it's not something I ever think about. I work crazy hours just like everybody in our business. And I rush out the door, you know, to pick my kid up from daycare. And to be honest, it never occurred to me that that visibility of that balance in my life was that meaningful for other colleagues who are 5, 10 years back on the path. But for them to look up and see that somebody in a position like this is doing that, and it's just part of life - the idea that it's meaningful to them and makes them feel like they can reach a little higher and not have to give those things up - is a really big deal to me.

KELLY: Well, Alison, thanks for taking the time. And again, congratulations.

OVERHOLT: Thank you. I appreciate it.

KELLY: That's Alison Overholt. She is the new editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!