Sportswriter Jackie MacMullan shares stories and lessons learned throughout her groundbreaking career during the Women Elected Municipal Officials luncheon on Jan. 24, held as part of the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show.

Jackie MacMullan, a trailblazing woman sportswriter, inspired attendees of the Women Elected Municipal Officials luncheon on Jan. 24 with her story of strength and perseverance in a male-dominated industry.

“I’ve spent most of my life being, if not the only woman in the room, then one of the only women in the room,” she said. “There was [always] at least one person in the room who didn’t think I should be there.”

MacMullan shared a story about the first time she covered the Celtics and meeting the late Red Auerbach, then president of the Celtics, who assumed she was the cheerleading coach.

“When I tell that to a roomful of men they all laugh, and when I tell it to a roomful of women they all groan,” she said.

“One of the problems sometimes when you’re in an environment where you don’t have anyone to turn to and say, ‘Is this happening to you, too?’, is you start to take everything as, this is just part of the deal, part of the job,” MacMullan said. “I was always a girl, not a woman. Doesn’t that drive you crazy?”

At the WEMO event, held during the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show, MacMullan shared stories of being turned away from locker rooms early in her career, being underestimated in her understanding of the sport, or being mistreated by players and coaches in ways her male colleagues weren’t. But she also had stories of players, coaches and league leaders, like the late NBA Commissioner David Stern, who had her back.

She also discussed the recent #MeToo movement, noting how it caused her to reflect on her experiences over the years. While she was never sexually assaulted, there were times when men she worked with made unwanted and inappropriate comments and advances, insisting, for example, on walking her back to her hotel room.

“I had to ward off a number of unwanted advances, and I did that in silence. I did that in part because, who was going to believe me? I was just starting out. … With the #MeToo movement, you hear that everyday.

“Should I have said something? And what about the next person, maybe they didn’t get the door closed in time. … We have a right to stand up and say, ‘You know, this isn’t OK. I shouldn’t have to suffer through this. I’m just trying to do my job.’”

MacMullan talked about the value of earning credibility – especially for women – through years of dedication to one’s profession and hard work. Building that credibility helped MacMullan earn the trust of athletes.

“To me, it’s simple: You just have to be who you are, not who someone else wants you to be,” she said. “There’s no unwritten rule [defining] what a mayor or a council woman or an attorney general or a sports journalist is supposed to be.”

It’s rare that someone early in life has the intent of being a “pioneer” in their field.

“You find something you love, and you do it to the very best of your ability, and you hope that you do a good job. … [Eventually,] it gets to a point where if you say something or do something in your community, everyone says, ‘Well, I know I can trust her. She’s reliable. She’s consistent. I know she has my best interests at heart. She’s tough. She can take the heat.’ All those things, and all of a sudden you become their champion.”

MacMullan reflected on the strides women have made in sports journalism.

“I think it has been years since I’ve been the only woman in a press room,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time, which I’m really proud to tell you.”

Before taking questions, MacMullan asked the men in the room to observe their surroundings.

“It’s a little weird when you’re outnumbered, isn’t it?” she said.

Interest in the WEMO group has been growing, along with the number of women serving in elected positions across the Commonwealth. WEMO held its first conference this past summer at Wellesley College, and is looking to continue its programming.

At the annual luncheon, WEMO expanded its leadership board beyond a single chair position (see officers listing, page 19). Longtime Chair Claire Freda, a Leominster city councillor, is stepping down after 18 years. The new WEMO chair is Dottie Fulginiti, Select Board chair in Easton.

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