Kelly Cates: Fighting for acceptance and overcoming trolls in sports media

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This week’s game changers podcast featured Kelly Cates, the award-winning broadcaster who has successfully fronted sports reporting for two decades. In a fascinating interview, Cates described how she has maintained a career in football broadcasting.

Cates currently works for Sky Sports and BBC Radio 5 Live, but also had stints at Setanta, ESPN, ITV, Channel 4 and TalkSport during her career. As the eldest child of former Liverpool player and manager Sir Kenny Dalglish, Cates had always been involved in football, even from a very early age.

"My mum used to take us, when we moved down to Liverpool, my mum used to take us when I was about two and my brother was six months,” she reminisced. “So she'd sit with a toddler and a wriggling baby and everything, all that. And so I don't remember not being there.

“My memories aren't really of the football. My memories are of the other kids and the other players’ families, and the sort of halftime and post-match stuff. That's what I remember. So I think that's really helped with feeling comfortable in a football environment, because all the aspects of it feel natural to me.”

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Cates explained how she left university and went straight into a job with the newly-created Sky Sports News, who were looking for “young, enthusiastic people to come in and sort of trial it for them”. She revealed she did not encounter sexism in that role, as everyone was working on the same level.

“So I think that's one of the big issues, is that, you know, I think sexism becomes an issue when there's a power imbalance,” Cates said. “I think that's at the heart of it. And I think we never felt that because we were all starting off on the same level.”

Cates also discussed the double-edged sword of having Kenny Dalglish as a father. On one hand, she revealed she felt more respected because of the association.

“There was an assumption that I knew what I was talking about, certainly as far as football was concerned…it was just, it was easy to have a football conversation.”

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But, on the other hand, Cates sometimes had concerns that people might think she was making a living off her father’s reputation.

“I mean, that's going to be an issue moving into his world, really,” she said. “Although the media was very much not his world, but moving into football was, that was always going to be an issue.

“And it took a while, I think for me to kind of be able to say, well, yeah, that is what he does. And this is what I do. And they are related. And that's kind of, that's part of what I have to deal with. That there's no point fighting it.”

The interview moved on to a conversation about abuse and negativity on social media. The sporting world recently took part in a social media boycott in an attempt to tackle abuse and discrimination on platforms, but Cates revealed her own way of dealing with trolls.

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“I put my quality filters on,” she explained. “I block merrily. I block people who are rude to other women. I block people who, I sometimes go into topics and look for them, because I know that I'll find the trolls in there.

“What's really interesting is once you get rid of a few, it's like they fall like dominoes, because they all feed off each other. And I think there's lots of them with multiple accounts. And so I think once you get rid of a few... they're gone. And if you block them, they don't appear on your timeline. They can't reply to you. So if other women are reading my posts and the replies underneath it, they don't see the trolls because they can't access my timeline.

Cates continued: “This is not about serious abuse and threats on social media. That's, this is about kind of the low level, just nastiness and silliness. And I think that you shouldn't have to deal with it."

These are people who in real life, you would walk away from. You wouldn't mix with. You wouldn't be in their company. So don't invite them into your virtual world.

"Don't let them be in that space for you. This is your world, you know. Set your boundaries. Allow the people in who you want to allow in and get rid of everybody else.”

As the conversation came to an end, Cates offered guidance to women hoping to enter sports broadcasting roles, whether as ex-players or those at the start of their careers.

“Take every opportunity you get, nothing is wasted,” Cates said. Not a second that you spend on-air is wasted. Even the conversations that you might have, projects that don't come off the ground, it's all useful. The way you talk to people, the people that you talk to.

“I think it's different, slightly different advice for young women, maybe coming out of school or university and starting off in their career, to somebody who's coming out of the professional game and moving into punditry. But I think for somebody right at the beginning of their career, it's always really basic advice. Turn up on time. Work well with people. Don't be a doormat, but work well with people.

Cates went on: “Ask questions and be involved. And just be enthusiastic, because people will remember you. And I think that's advice for anybody starting in any job, but I would say get all the minutes you can under your belt. If it's a five minute slot, if it's, you know, there's times when you know I've done three minutes at 6:20, in the morning, and then come back home because it's all useful. It's all helpful. Then it all adds up.”

This article was produced in partnership with the game changers podcast, which is supported by Barclays. You can listen to the full episode with Kelly Cates here.

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