A conversation with Channel 2’s Heather Prusak sheds light on media’s portrayal of women


Courtesy of WGRZ-TV, Channel 2

Channel 2 sportscaster, Heather Prusak speaks with Rasmus Dahlin, shortly after he was drafted by the Sabres. Prusak recently spoke with The Phoenix about what it’s like to be a female sportscaster.

Samantha Kinnaird, Staff Writer

The last two years has seen a reinvigorated mass campaign for women’s rights and representation of women across the career field. In March of 2017, we saw the largest coordinated protest in United States history with the Women’s March. Since then, the rise of the #Metoo movement has rocked the stage, taking down well-known and powerful men left and right. However, even with all this zeal around women’s rights has anything really changed over the last two years? Despite the March, women’s reproductive rights are still under fire and powerful men accused of sexual assault still maintain their political places of power. If nothing is being done, then what is the point?

This is when I locked sights with my target. Perhaps trying to generalize did not work because this topic was too broad. Instead, I turned to an area where I knew women were underrepresented, sports. I was lucky enough to have a phone-call interview with Heather Prusak from Channel 2 On Your Side.

During the interview, I asked about how she felt women in the media were treated and I’m sad to say I was not surprised with the answer.

Prusak grew up in Hamburg, New York, which is only a 20-minute drive from my hometown. She said that from a young age, she felt a connection with sports, both from playing them and watching them with her father. She played soccer and lacrosse, as well as track in the off season to stay in shape.

Although it seems forever ago for me, I ran track in my freshman year at Gowanda High School. If our high school years had matched up there is a chance we could have met out on the field. After high school, Prusak attended Syracuse University, where she graduated with a degree in Broadcast and Digital Journalism. While in college she interned at Channel 2. She accounts her success in getting a job at Channel 2 from the amount of networking she did. Prusak said she made sure to put herself out there by giving and taking business cards and thank you notes. Her biggest advice to not only women but anyone looking for a job is to focus on networking.

When asked if she believed her gender helped or hinder her in the getting the job, she responded with both. Prusak said she attributes a good portion of her success to work and effort in networking, but also because more stations and news outlets are looking for women nowadays.

Starting five years ago, there has been more inclusion of women in sports. Prusak added that we are starting to get past that stigma of, “She’s just a pretty face. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

Women account for “one third of fourteen million plus people who tune into major events” according to Forbes. Perhaps we are seeing more women is because women want to see more women. Society is starting to realize that you don’t have to run on testerone to want to watch sports. This demand for diversity has led to news channels hiring more women and people of color.

Of course there are still many disadvantages for female sportscasters. There is still that stereotype that women shouldn’t be involved in sports or that they don’t understand it. I asked Prusak if she’s ever been told this phrase, one that women hear all too often, “Well, you don’t know because you’ve never played.”

Although our interview was over the phone, I could almost hear her rolling her eyes. She crushed that argument by saying, “There are plenty of men who never have played football either.”  Prusak continued to go on about how any sport can be learned without playing it professionally. Yes, a person can take their experiences from playing to help make calls but it’s not necessary. Anyone can learn the rules of a sport; it doesn’t take experience to know what an interception is. Prusak put it out there plain and simple:“It’s just not fair; it’s an excuse.”

Prusak pointed out that another disadvantage comes with getting to know the players. Men definitely have an advantage here. Prusak expressed how she has to be extra cautious when socializing and talking to male players. She said she’s always making sure that she’s wearing appropriate clothing and talking in a way as to not seem as if she’s “flirting.”

Unfortunately, we still live in a society where women are still judged more based on their looks and clothing than what’s coming out of their mouths. A man in shorts is nothing, but a woman in a knee-length skirt can be too “tempting.” This extra precaution to not come across as flirting is something male sportscasters don’t even give a thought to.

According to Prusak, there’s also the pressure of rising above the stereotype of “pretty young blonde on the sideline.” Prusak spoke passionately about her daily struggle to represent her gender in a positive light. It only takes one person to put a stereotype back in someone’s head and she said she is doing her best to never be that person. Prusak added that unfortunately, this means sometimes having to work just that much more and harder on everything, even though that feels like having to remind them she knows what she’s talking about.

Despite all of the disadvantages that come with a being a woman in sportscasting, I still believe that it is important that we keep having women go for the role. Heather Prusak is a role model for young girls to come, as well as proof that just because we see jobs like sportscasting as traditionally male dominated that doesn’t mean we can’t break that glass ceiling.

When you are passionate about what you believe in you owe it to yourself to chase that dream. We may like to think of ourselves as a forward-thinking country that treats men and women as equals, but the truth is we still have a lot to work on. The Women’s March and #MeToo movement have started a momentum that we must take up ourselves to be burdened with and carry to its realization. Fighting for women’s rights should been seen as fighting for human rights.