Jenny Cavnar’s path may not have always been in baseball, but baseball has always been in her blood. Growing up the daughter of a high school baseball coach and a lifelong fan of the game, her path took her through college football and basketball coverage, and to Michigan and California, before she returned to her roots in Colorado and baseball.
But no matter where she has exercised her talents, Cavnar has continued to blaze her own trail in a path that often seems pre-determined for women in sports reporting. Her latest step brought her into the 850 KOA radio booth as the first woman to broadcast a game for the National League.
— Jenny Cavnar (@jennycavnar) August 10, 2015
For three games in early July, she provided color commentary sitting alongside first Jack Corrigan for two games, then Jerry Schemmel. “I knew very few women had done this before, but I didn’t really think anything of it,” Cavnar said. “I thought ‘I’m going to prepare to do my job, this is what I was born to do, I’m going to do it.’” But along the way, she marked another notch for women in broadcast and sports journalism.
Drawing upon a lifetime of intimate knowledge of the game and years of relationships built with Rockies players, Cavnar was able to bring a unique voice in the landscape. “I think something that I pride myself on is to have these relationships (with players) and to have these conversations with them and to understand their day-to-day,” Cavnar said.
It is well-documented that women in media are vastly outnumbered by men, and in sports, it is especially pronounced. A 2012 study from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that a whopping 88 percent of sports broadcasters are men, contextualizing the purveying feeling of sports as a “boys club.” When women step into the field, it is under a “glass ceiling” of sideline reporting, giving brief feature-y asides during the game as an entertainment break.
“Simply, it’s where we most often are slotted. And it’s constantly reinforced by the power structure that jobs like anchor and sideline reporter are the pinnacle (there are plenty of women who do both respective jobs with authority and who are great), and that’s unfortunate. There should be a path to more power,” multimedia journalist Amy Nelson said on a panel on the subject.
Meanwhile, search terms like “female sports broadcaster” and you will be met with a parade of “articles” highlighting the “hottest” women in the broadcasting business. Much progress has been made recently, but it is a hurdle women can only move beyond when more are given the opportunity and platform to give their insight and analysis on a game.
In becoming part of the broadcast, Cavnar became the latest woman to stand as a symbol of breaking that ceiling. Where many color analysts draw upon experience as former players, Cavnar proved that life as a student of the game can bring an equally engaging and valuable perspective to a broadcast. Through the three days, she repeatedly pulled anecdotes and sidebars from her time interviewing players and being around the clubhouse, providing glimpses into their lives and mindsets that are rarely seen.
A photo posted by Jenny Cavnar (@jennycavnar) on
“I think fans find that interesting, they want to know more about players, whether it’s what they’re working on in baseball, what they’re doing off the field, their personalities,” she said. “I thought that was a way I could find my voice in the whole broadcast,”
In her debut, she performed magnificently, earning supporters through insightful commentary and passionate denouncements of the travesty known as the “wave.”
Finding her footing in radio broadcasting may have been the biggest job she has attempted yet, but Cavnar’s career has never been about standing still, instead rising to the challenges that have paved the way to where she stands now.
She began as a baseball broadcaster in California, when she accepted a job with Channel 4 San Diego, covering the pregame and postgame shows for the San Diego Padres, while also anchoring a nightly recap show of area sports.
At the time, she didn’t have much experience outside of football coverage, and in accepting the job left behind work as a director of a lacrosse program.
“When I got the job in San Diego I had no idea what I was getting into,” Cavnar says. “But when the season started and I started doing stories, getting more involved, I realized ‘Wow, I was made for this! This is my training, my background, my growing up.’ I had no idea it was preparing me the whole time for my career.”
There is an onus of proving credibility placed on women in sports reporting that men rarely must face, and that, too, has helped shape Cavnar in the role she fills today. Even when she was a young girl.
“We’re in a quick snap society right now. You have very few seconds to form an opinion about somebody. I learned quickly…I don’t think I dressed like girls my age because I wanted to be taken seriously.” Cavnar said. “But we’re in television. There’s this fine line of how you want to look modern, feel modern and be girly…there’s really something to your appearance and how you put yourself forward. That was a lesson I learned pretty early on.”
She continued learning to walk that line during her time in San Diego, becoming more comfortable with her role, the team and her evolving career path. It’s the little things, she says. Particularly using those same strengths that would come to play such a vital role in Denver — building strong relationships and an easy rapport with the players.
“I wanted to make sure… and there’s a fine line… of making sure they know your knowledge without being too over the top with it. And that takes time; that’s relationship-building in general,” Cavnar says. “I remember hitting a point in San Diego where I really felt comfortable with the team and the team knew who I was, and it was a transition of finally getting to know all the guys in the clubhouse.” Once players became comfortable with her, she says, they could bridge the gap with new guys in the clubhouse.
“It wasn’t having to go get new guys,” she says. “It was veterans being like ‘That’s our T.V. reporter, she totally knows baseball,’ and having guys vouch for you.”
When the opportunity to join the Denver ROOT team opened, she couldn’t pass it up. Alanna Rizzo, long entrenched as the female voice of the team, was leaving to cover the Dodgers.
When Cavnar arrived, she found that it was her, now, who was able to provide some guidance to the evolving broadcaster lineup at ROOT, made up primarily of former players without much TV or camera experience.
“Every time we had those analysts on, we’re trying to groom them into our world,” Cavnar says.
It became a give-and-take process, especially with analyst and former Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, with whom Cavnar said she quickly “clicked.” They could offer insights from their own worlds and areas of expertise, such as Spilly showing Cavnar how he watches BP or Cavnar teaching him how to work in front of a live camera.
“I’m like a proud mom watching them (Spilborghs, Hirsch and Sullivan) this year,” Cavnar says. “They’ve all grown so much, individually and collectively.” It has also helped to cement the relationships both in the booth and in the clubhouse.
“This year I remember (Spilly) was talking about baseball being a fraternity and he said to me ‘you’re part of that fraternity.’ That just felt really cool, that you have respect among these guys. They’re not my peers…I’ve never played. But you have the respect that they know you know the game, they know you’re around every day,” she says.
Cavnar found much of her own support too, especially as the radio opportunity came up. Particularly from other prominent women in sports broadcasting, names that are esteemed within the world of broadcasting — names like Susan Waldman and Lesley Visser, who both reached out to Cavnar via email.
“It was really neat to hear from people that I’ve admired from afar for a long time,” Cavnar says. “I think that’s the biggest thing, I think a lot of times women in a male-dominated industry don’t support each other, but we have a really great support system.” As much as baseball is a fraternity, many of its women have carved a niche for themselves as well, their own type of sorority.
As Cavnar continues to take own steps forward, she says she is also looking to help mentor young women looking to make their own way in sports journalism. As for her? She’ll see what opportunities she finds next.
She took up the mic with 850 KOA again two weeks ago, and has been finding new and interesting ways to take on he team coverage in shows such as Rockies Real Time, where she completed her first two-part feature report.
“I’m super happy where I’m at, really lucky,” Cavnar says. “I’m trying to kind of reinvent that role, like where I fit into our pre and post-game show, our broadcasts, where it is more baseball-driven knowledge…to have time to dive into those conversations with the guys and not just be a moderator or be a sideline person. And they’ve given me the freedom to do it.”