HBO's Real Sports To Feature Female Journalists, Paralympic Games

By JakeElman
Aug. 18, 2016

HBO's strong summer of 2016, which has seen improvements from Bill Simmons' 'Any Given Wednesday' and fantastic reception to the new season of 'Hard Knocks', adds another factor to the mix next week. Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, which had an amazingly well-received extended episode on the 2016 Rio Olympics last month, returns on August 23rd with contributions from Jon Frankel, Soledad O'Brien, and Gumbel himself. 

HBO announced the following in a press release sent out on Tuesday afternoon.

"REAL SPORTS WITH BRYANT GUMBEL, TV’s most honored sports journalism series, returns with more enterprising features and reporting when its 233rd edition debuts at a special time TUESDAY, AUG. 23 (11:00 p.m.-midnight ET/PT), following the debut of the third episode of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Los Angeles Rams.”

Topics included on the upcoming episode include:

"'Female Sports Reporters'. At first glance, it may seem like a golden age for women sports reporters, with prominent roles covering the world’s biggest leagues and events, appearances on talk shows and everything in-between. But as REAL SPORTS correspondent Jon Frankel finds, this unprecedented visibility has brought unprecedented challenges. He hears first-hand how many female reporters wage a daily battle against being pushed to exploit their femininity, while at the same time having their credibility questioned by sports fans, even as they struggle for equal acceptance in this still male-dominated industry."

"'McFadden Sisters'. Born with spina bifida, Tatyana McFadden was adopted by Deborah McFadden from a Russian orphanage when she was six years old. Her little sister, Hannah, was adopted from an Albanian orphanage by Deborah when she was three years old; her left leg was amputated above the knee when she was a child.

Tatyana has become one of the greatest wheelchair racers ever, competing in three summer Paralympic Games and winning 11 medals, while Hannah has been drawn to the sport by her competitive big sister. In the latest chapter of their awe-inspiring story, they will compete in their second Paralympic Games together next month in Rio. Correspondent Soledad O’Brien meets the McFadden sisters as they train for Rio and share their extraordinary tale of love, perseverance and uncommon drive for excellence."

Producer: Jordan Kronick.

Julie DiCaro, far right, has become one of the most controversial and hated female journalists on social media in recent years. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

"'The Son Rises'. Cherica Adams was gunned down on a desolate Charlotte, NC road 16 years ago. Eight months pregnant at the time, she eventually died from gunshot wounds, but her son, Chancellor, miraculously survived, though he was left with cerebral palsy as a result of being deprived of oxygen in utero as his mother lay dying. Shortly after the incident, investigators concluded that Adams’ boyfriend – Chancellor’s father – was the mastermind behind the shooting. That man, former Carolina Panthers wideout Rae Carruth, is currently nearing the end of his 18-to-24-year sentence at a North Carolina correctional facility.

REAL SPORTS host Bryant Gumbel first met Chancellor Lee Adams in 2012 to revisit the tragedy, providing a gripping account of how the young survivor had beaten the odds. Now, Gumbel heads back to Charlotte to discover the steps the family is taking toward forgiveness."

Producers: Katie Melone, Chapman Downes.

Immediately, the segment that should stand out is the one about female sports reporters, a topic that has gained an increased amount of attention and notoriety the past few years. As women like Sarah Spain, Julie DiCaro, Jessica Mendoza, Meredith Marakovits, and Jemele Hill all earn their own shows or higher-ranking jobs with major networks, their social media accounts are filled with death threats, references to sexual intercourse, being called every name in the book and...well, I'll let these guys take the rest.

Granted, though some of the tweets are horrific and disgusting, it's also important to realize -- and admit -- that Spain, DiCaro, and other female journalists are not exempt from criticism or disagreements because they're women. Many times, disagreeing with a female sports figure on Twitter -- even in a respectful way -- means you're sexist, misogynist, racist, or just a disgusting man with a penis. In large part due to the PC culture we live in now, saying something as simple as "many women I grew up with weren't sports fans" is seemingly equivalent to calling them a 'whore' or telling them to get back in the kitchen.

How? If women feel that they don't have the same rights as men and want it, then they also need to realize that not everyone is always going to agree with you and if you're wrong about something, then admit it. Calling a woman a 'c--t' is wrong and disgusting, but saying "I think you're wrong about ____" isn't an excuse to play the gender card or call a man a sexist pig. Hell, DiCaro openly called out anyone who supported the Cubs' acquisition of Aroldis Chapman, even if they said they didn't like Chapman and were just rooting for the team!

So that's alright, but if a man said that about women...yikes. While I have yet to watch the full HBO segment, I hope Jon Frankel touches on the fact that female reporters should be treated the same as male reporters but also should be held to the same standards; no playing of the gender cards, no playing of the race card, just go about it the way everyone else does -- back your opinions up while also not calling others names if they don't disagree -- and everyone will get along. Yay.

Trenni Kusnierek, often referred to as one of the more beautiful female figures in sports media, had this conversation with Frankel in the episode:

TRENNI KUSNIEREK: “I mean I could remember when I was hired for one of my first jobs out of college they hired me to do hockey. I had never seen an NHL game in person.”
JON FRANKEL: “Do you think they hired you because of the way you looked?”
TRENNI KUSNIEREK: “Oh, I was 25 years old, blonde. And I was like, ‘Well, you know I've never seen a hockey game?’ ‘You'll be fine. You'll learn.’ Of course they hired me because I was young and attractive.”
JON FRANKEL: “If one Googles you, you come up on The Definitive 25 Sexiest Sportscasters, 25 Hottest Sideline Reporters, TV Anchor Babes.”
TRENNI KUSNIEREK: “Yeah, I mean I'm aware of those lists. It's a fine line. Right? Because you have people telling you, ‘Well, you gotta be hot. The hottest ones get all the attention.’”

Charrisa Thompson of FOX Sports, when asked if she'd ever used her sexuality to her advantage, told Frankel the following:

“I fully admit that I flirt. Have you seen my Rob Gronkowski interview? I'm looking across from the male version of me. He's flirty. I'm flirty. I don't wanna sleep with Rob Gronkowski, but I want a good interview.”

Right, because that helps the reputation of female sports reporters...

The other intriguing story, at least to me, is the Rae Carruth story and the fact we'll see Gumbel doing the story himself. I've personally always been a fan of Gumbel's reporting so it'll definitely be good to see him in North Carolina re-introducing us to Chancellor and his family; there's no word if Carruth himself will be featured in the story with a current/recent interview, though I doubt it.

Next week's episode continues what has been a strong year for Real Sports as the series the series received its third duPont Award for broadcast excellence from Columbia University in January for reporting on Qatar and the 2022 World Cup, their 17th Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Sports Journalism on a segment that featured how domestic violence factors in for athletes in mixed martial arts, and their second George F. Peabody Award for a segment last year on Africa's billion-dollar ivory enterprise. 

Other HBO playdates include Aug. 25 (8:00 p.m.), 28 (6:50 a.m.), 29 (5:00 p.m.) and 31 (11:00 p.m.), and Sept. 3 (noon), 13 (9:30 a.m., 8:00 p.m.), 15 (3:00 p.m., 5:00 a.m.) and 23 (4:30 p.m.) while HBO2 playdates are currently scheduled for Aug. 24 (4:30 p.m.), 26 (12:30 p.m., 5:00 a.m.) and 31 (8:00 p.m.), and Sept. 6 (11:00 p.m.), 10 (1:50 p.m.), 18 (8:00 a.m.) and 26 (8:45 a.m.)

For up-to-the-minute updates about REAL SPORTS, follow on Twitter at @RealSportsHBO or join the conversation using #RealSports. To join the Mix, you can follow me on Twitter at @JakeElman