From top left, clockwise: Sarah Baicker, Ashley Fox, Dei Lynam with Allen Iverson, Rhea Hughes

From top left, clockwise: Sarah Baicker, Ashley Fox, Dei Lynam with Allen Iverson, Rhea Hughes

NSFW: How fans treat the women who cover Philly’s pro sports

The c-word, comments about how they dress, and multiple tweets to multiple sportscasters via Twitter about their feet: What it’s like on the front lines.

Note: This article contains offensive language.

After Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant blew up in a locker-room rant aimed at a member of the media last week, NFL reporter Ashley Fox went on ESPN to talk about when it happened to her — when, in 2007, then-Eagle Brian Westbrook stopped talking to her because he apparently didn’t like a story she wrote about him.

Like clockwork, Fox’s mentions on social media blew up. Westbrook lambasted her on Twitter, calling Fox unprofessional and reckless, and fans began tweeting at her, calling her things like “a hood rat” and a “fucking piece of dog shit.” When a Philadelphia sports blog wrote up the spat, commenters called her a “c*nt” and said things like “I knew we were doomed when they first let women reporters cover men’s sports.”

This is what it’s like for sports reporters in general; Fox handled the online rage by responding to Westbrook. And when the reporter delivering the story is a woman, the vitriol is worse. Take the ESPN reporter who was threatened for reporting on the Patrick Kane investigation, or the three others not allowed in an Indianapolis locker room just last month.

“Most people agree women are under a lot more scrutiny and take more abuse on Twitter than men in similar roles as journalists,” Fox said, “and if you ask just about any female, that would probably be true.”

What’s that look like, day to day? Fans pulling the “woman” card when they disagree with a reporter, or making sexualized comments about women who appear on TV. Some of the women we spoke to for this story have been called the aforementioned c-word on Twitter on many occasions. They’ve been castigated for their appearance. Two women we spoke to dealt with a man tweeting at them consistently about their shoes because of an apparent foot fetish.

It’s not hard to find. Sarah Baicker, who appears on The Comcast Network’s “Breakfast on Broad” morning talk show, covered the Flyers for Comcast SportsNet for five years before moving over to the new morning show earlier this year. And though she’d played hockey for years and established herself as a trusted reporter on the beat, she’s still been berated on social media for everything from her knowledge of the game to the way she dresses.

Plenty of fans have told her she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. When she tweeted this spring about how it was insulting to women to taunt NHL players by calling them female names, some said she was being overly sensitive, and one man commented “Now back to the kitchen woman.”

Others are less critical; more obscene. Last week when “Breakfast on Broad” asked fans what game they would go back in time to watch, one of the first responses was “that game where Sarah sits on my face.” It’s not uncommon to see tweets like this one: 

For reporters, it’s hard to get into the mind of an online troll to discern where this all comes from.

“Part of it has to be sexism, and that’s two-fold sexism,” Baicker said. “Which is: a woman should be judged based on her looks and criticized if they’re not your taste, and second that a lot of men still don’t like women in sports. And I see that.”

The women we spoke to pointed out that their male counterparts take plenty of abuse. But it’s different. Maybe less sexual. Maybe less focused on their appearance. Maybe fewer concerns about the ability of covering a men’s sport.

On 94WIP’s morning talk radio show, the male hosts — as you know if you’ve listened — take the heat from fans. Along with them is Rhea Hughes, who’s been on the morning show for 18 years and has learned that when you’re on air, people are genuinely pleasant when in conversation. Even on Twitter, Hughes says “95 percent” of her interactions are positive conversations she’s having with fans, and added most of the comments she gets aren’t about her gender.

“I don’t mind anybody having an opinion that’s completely different from mine,” she said. “I’m more than willing to debate it with you, but don’t start with what a horrible piece of crap I am. Tell me you think my opinions are crap, and that’s totally cool.”

Several women we spoke with both on and off the record mentioned that comments sections, while not as immediate as Twitter, can be just as vulgar toward women. They mentioned Crossing Broad, known as “Philly’s most irreverent sports blog,” as the site with some of the most antagonistic comments.

And again, it’s not hard to find. On a recent blog post about the Flyers’ new in-arena host, the comments looked like these:

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Other times, commenters have left messages on stories under pseudonyms like “Sarah Baicker’s carpet muncher” or “Jillian Mele’s bleached asshole.”

Crossing Broad editor Kyle Scott said he’s the first to admit that the comments section on his site can be “free-wheeling and aggressive” at times, but added that with two full-time employees running the blog, it’s nearly impossible to police the thousands of comments flowing through at any time.

“My personal view is that everyone’s fair game for some sort of criticism, and we’re all going to get it,” he said. “Whatever your particular game, someone will find something really nasty and hurtful to say. I agree some of the local and national women get it horribly… I’m certainly not condoning it.”

Reporters have different ways of dealing with remarks, whether they’re crude, sexual or just plain mean. Some shrug it off and refuse to engage, like Hughes, who said she simply “doesn’t have time for Twitter wars.” Dei Lynam, who has worked at Comcast SportsNet since 1997 covering mostly the Sixers, said she’s unlikely to get into it on Twitter with someone who’s throwing around swear words or condescension.

“I’m not a big confrontational person and I don’t like to get into,” she said. “If you say something mean or condescending… it’s not worth it to me.”

Fox said she blocks people on Twitter in extreme cases where people are getting personal or derogatory. Most of the women we spoke with said they’ll block people if there’s a liberal use of the c-word.

Baicker says she handles it a bit differently — a large part of her job is interacting with fans on social media, so she’s found a way that works for her: she uses humor. She’ll respond to people with a joke when they say something off-color. And she once hopped into the comments section on Crossing Broad to respond to comments about her appearance.

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“Humor is a great weapon in everything in life, and so for me,” she said, “I just sort of extend the way that I operate in life to the way that I operate in digital life.”

But she and other reporters say that even if they mute the person, block them forever, or respond with a joke, depending on the day, it still might sting. Just a little.

“I am my harshest critic. I can take it. I can take punches. I can roll with the best of ‘em,” Baicker said. “But some days you see somebody tweeting something dumb like ‘you’re ugly’ or ‘you’re stupid,’ and it doesn’t matter what it is. It could be so off-base, so wrong. It doesn’t matter. They all kind of hurt depending on the day.”

There isn’t a set path for women in sports journalism and what can be done to foster a more equal playing field for those women who go into what’s been long seen as a man’s career. It’ll take time to change perspectives, they say, as women work to roll with the daily, anonymous nastiness.

“Go back to when women started covering sports and what they went through with not being allowed in the locker room,” Fox said. “And this is just kind of a continuation of that. And it’s always going to be an uphill climb for women covering sports.”

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