My life has revolved around football since I was 11, or perhaps before. But it was when I was 11 that I decided I would become a Sports Journalist and the first female football commentator in my country. I wanted to be the first play-by-play radio announcer of my gender, but that was a dream I quickly discarded after giving it a try at home with an old VHS recording of a game. I simply wasn't that fast with words.
In the years to come, wherever I went, whoever I met would be impressed, surprised and even shocked at my level of knowledge whenever the subject of football came up in conversation; especially when they asked me the question of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I was just this skinny little quiet, shy girl and my looks or personality offered no clue whatsoever about my biggest passion.
Of course, as the years went by, I realized I didn't much fit with the interests of the girls around me. I was more like ‘one of the boys’. Every weekend, football was a ritual for me: stuck to the radio broadcast of the games, screaming, suffering, celebrating, and becoming angry or euphoric following my team’s result. I stopped talking to my family during the games and if my team had lost, my anger would prolong the silence.
In my teenage years, I didn't like to party or pursue romance. I only existed to support my team to death, and to talk about football with my male classmates at school and later at college.
I used to buy two newspapers on Mondays, one Sports Extra on Thursday and the weekly local football magazines. I was a subscriber of the Chilean edition of Don Balón and listened daily to the three airings of my favourite football radio show: Más Deporte (More Sports). I didn't care where I was – on the bus, the subway train, at school, walking the street or at home, I just tuned in.
Thank Goodness my parents never saw my passion negatively and much less tried to make me change my mind. They always supported me and encouraged me to keep following my dream, and never felt I was deciding to step into a sexist field where I could be discriminated against or looked down upon for being a woman, regardless of whether I knew as much as a man in the same profession. More than anything, they made me feel special, unique, different, and with a whole world to conquer. They knew I was equal in knowledge with the men they heard on radio and TV and that I'd be the first woman to do what they did. I never felt scared or hesitated about following my dreams.
I got my first – unpaid – job in mainstream media for the newspaper Las Últimas Noticias, in its old classic reputable version, not the cheap gossip paper that it’s become now. I had a bi-weekly column where I analyzed the home games of my team, Universidad Católica. The paper's sub-director met me once at a social gathering and was suitably impressed with my interest and my knowledge to allow me to lay the first brick in the building of my dream. I was 14 years-old.
At 15, my mum suggested I knock the door of a TV channel and I started commenting football on the most popular TV show for teens, "Extra Jóvenes". It was the first paid job of my young life.
At 17 I went to college to study Journalism. Again, I was fully integrated into the boys club, without ever abandoning my femininity. They even asked me to coach them at the college baby-football championship. We made it to the quarterfinals. Not bad considering we were beat by guys who were a 90s version of Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel; my most talented player almost had his shin broken. They clearly took the "knockout" stage too literally.
I wanted to officially start work as soon as I finished college, but life often gets in the way of your ambitions. So after a long, 10 year detour life handed me – during which I believe I became better prepared for that moment – I made it. I resumed my full time career in sports journalism in 2010, writing for an online football magazine and commenting on the World Cup with three awesome female Journalists on what was Chile’s very first radio show that featured four girls talking seriously about football. We quickly received the ever-desirable recognition from our peers and from the audience, too. We even made it onto the cover of Wikén, the showbiz magazine published by the Chile’s biggest newspaper, El Mercurio.
But, as I quickly discovered, it’s one thing is to be a ‘football girl’ on the radio or cable TV; it’s quite another be one working on national television. Right now, I'm the first and only woman to have ever presented the Chilean league goals on national TV and the first to do so on primetime news. That kind of exposure has been, on one hand, wonderful because it confirmed that bosses trust me and are confident that I know what I'm talking about; but on the other, it's been something of a shock. Because the sexists aren’t my colleagues, (well, not that much) – but the audience.
Every time I appear on national TV commenting on football, the fuss kicks off on Twitter, which is now the way to know first hand what people really think about you and your work. But I'd be really untrue and ungrateful if I didn't say that luckily the online audience ratings go always up when I appear and that 95% of the comments are sweet, kind, encouraging and totally supporting.
However, that 5% or so is corrosive enough to get very well noticed. It can be so harsh, I sometimes wonder whether it should be labelled as a new breed of violence. But I see it as part of my personal learning process not to get hung up on that, and not to allow those hurtful words to get at me. Because even though I can express the same opinions my male colleagues, or make the same mistakes they do – we’re all human – the resonance and resistance that my comments evoke, seems to double or triple simply because I'm a woman daring to talk football in this chauvinist, misogynous, intolerant country called Chile.
But I've realized something that's key to understanding the phenomenon of the minority who rant about my presence on prime time TV: they all think they know more than me (or anyone else discussing football on TV), but especially me because I'm a woman. I'm not supposed be knowledgeable about such things. Therefore, I wonder if perhaps it’s insulting for them that someone of a gender that's only supposed to talk about footballers’ legs or their love affairs dares to give her learned opinion on something she doesn't deserve to be paid to talk about. So they hang on to any tiny little thing they can disagree about, any unintentional mistake I possibly make in order to slag me off and say I know nothing. And that could probably be conditioned by the fact that the attempts of including a woman on football TV shows were previously restricted to hiring models as mere ornaments who didn't pose a threat to anyone’s ego.
But that's not all. Among that little but controversial enough percentage who hate, the ones who throw the most knives at me are not men, but… women. Their critiques are based little on my ability to do my job, but mostly on my looks or even my voice. You can tell they attack me because they feel insecure about their own self-image and/or resent their inability to attain an opportunity like the one I was given in order to pursue their own dreams. So, if they can't feel pretty, happy or successful, they can't stand someone else being so. It’s a kind of jealousy and envy that also comes from a couple of colleagues, both male and female, who think I shouldn't be in such privileged position because they should have be considered for the job instead; thinking they deserve it more than me. For them, I'm a mirror reflective of their own frustrations. And so they find it easier to blame it on me instead of focusing on what they can do to live the life they want.
To top it all off, in this country if you are savvy in your work field but you're labelled as "pretty", you have to work twice as hard to exhibit your knowledge. When transferred to football, you can multiply it for 10. Make it 20 if you're a woman. I don't mean to sound egotistical. Actually, I’m quite the opposite, but all these are things I confirm every time I happen to go on air during prime time.
My ultimate goal is to make it normal for audiences a woman speaking knowledgeably about football on prime time national TV. I'm the first, and I'm getting recognition for that, but I also feel the resistance of those who don't like to have that area of working life being open to women – perhaps because they fear having their own jobs or knowledge threatened.
When I stop being a novelty for the audience, when they get used to my presence on air and accept that no desperate criticism will change the fact that a woman can love football and know a lot about it, then the next wave of women to come will hopefully thank me for being an arrowhead, for piercing the thick layer of sexism built by decades of male chauvinism – a layer that is fed by men and women alike.