Being editor-in-chief at any publication is an incredible responsibility. An EIC is in charge of everything the publication puts out. They call every shot before the pages touch the stands.
Being EIC at one publication is without a doubt challenging. Taking on the title at two publications seems utterly outrageous. For Alison Overholt, being EIC at two magazines is second-nature.
It was announced in February that Overholt would be the new EIC of ESPN The Magazine to add to her current title of EIC at espnW, which was launched in 2010 for women who watch sports and to encourage all women to be involved in sports.
As a Harvard graduate, Overholt has come far from her first days at ESPN in 2005. She learned the ropes with PSUC professor of Journalism and Public Relations Luke Cyphers when she first started at the magazine.
The two worked closely together until Overholt became Olympics Editor and Cyphers began covering the Beijing Olympics for her in 2008.
“I was lucky enough to work pretty close with her when she was getting her feet wet in sports,” Cyphers said.
Other than playing basketball in high school, Overholt didn’t have a huge amount of knowledge about sports coming to ESPN.
“She is a fast learner so she picked up things really quickly,” Cyphers said.
Her previous experience is remarkable including writing at Fast Company magazine, which focuses on business and innovation. Her writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, MORE, Sports Illustrated: Women and Fitness, Fortune, Working Mother and O: The Oprah Magazine.
As a woman who knew a great deal about business and was not an avid sports viewer, Overholt did her best to transition smoothly into ESPN.
“I remember she said every morning she had SportsCenter on while she was getting ready just to try to absorb the latest stuff,” Cyphers said.
Overholt got the hang of the magazine in no time and later became a senior editor at ESPN. She left the magazine for a brief period. When she returned in 2010, after the death of her mother and birth of her daughter Madeleine, a conversation regarding the creation of espnW was floating around ESPN. Overholt was very much interested and became a founding editor at W.
With her new title of editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine, Overholt becomes the first women executive editor at a major U.S. sports magazine, besides Sports Illustrated Women magazine, which was last published in 2002.
The fact that Overholt is the first female editor didn’t cross the minds of anyone at ESPN until after the decision was made, according to Overholt in an interview with NPR.
Overholt said: “That was the most surprising part of this because that (being the first woman editor) was never part of any of the conversations we discussed. I don’t think it was on anyone’s radar until it came up a couple days later when someone said ‘I don’t think there has ever been a woman in this position. Have you realized that?’”
A big problem female journalists face when covering hyper-masculine sports is people who say women can’t properly cover a sport they have no hands-on experience with.
In the same NPR interview, Overholt said: “For some reason in our culture, when it’s a sport that’s more hyper-masculine, such as football or boxing, that’s when you hear those challenges come up. And that’s when I sort of poke those challengers and say, ‘Is that really what this is about? Or is this just about a discomfort in women in certain kinds of roles?’”
Anyone can be successful while being a minority in any industry. You might have to spend a few mornings listening to sports talk shows, but it pays off.
“Alison is a big part of the reason Kate Fagan, Sarah Spain and Jane McManus really broke through,” Cyphers said.
ESPN writers, Fagan, McManus and McManus broke through because of the attention they paid to major sports stories that happen to be about women. Particularly, stories about Ray Rice.
Overholt realizes how her position impacts women in journalism. She said when news broke, she received notes from women she never met at ESPN telling her how much it meant to them to see a mother of a young child succeeding in an executive role.
Cyphers said women rising up in sports magazines is “kind of a revolution.”
This decision affects women of all ages. Women who have, or plan to have children, now see a mother in an executive role, in a male-dominated industry, and feel inspired. Young girls now have another role model in the sports world to learn from.
Overholt is kicking in the glass ceiling. She’s revolutionizing the world of sports journalism and journalism in general. She will lead ESPN The Magazine and espnW into a new and progressive light.
Email Laura Schmidt at email@example.com