Pioneer of women in sports encourages next generation

Rosa Gatti, the first woman Division 1 sports information director, speaks to Temple women hoping to follow in her footsteps. (photo by Ethan Schwartz)

Several women from the Temple University School of Media and Communication who aspire to work in sports journalism and public relations got to meet one of the people who made their dreams possible March 4.

Rosa Gatti became the NCAA’s first female sports information director at a Division 1 school when she was promoted at Villanova in 1974. She later joined the fledgling ESPN in 1980 as director of communications. She retired in February as ESPN’s senior vice president of communications and corporate outreach.

At the start of an hour-long session in Pearson and McGonigle Halls, Gatti shared a story to exemplify the common mentality toward women and sports in the ’70s. She was at a party watching a football game with her boyfriend who, at one point, asked if she should be in the kitchen helping the other women.

“I was watching the game,” she said to the students, many of whose mouths were agape in shock at his comment.

That relationship didn’t last.

Gatti started in Villanova’s sports information office as a secretary and was quickly promoted to assistant director. But when the top job opened, she had to talk her way to the top. She said administrators were concerned about negative media coverage, the support of their coaches and her presence in the locker room. But she was able to counter all of their reasons not to offer her the job.

“If the media won’t write about Villanova, I’ll be the first to resign,” the 24-year old Gatti told the Villanova president.

It was an early lesson in the power of communication and talking with someone one-on-one – one that she would use throughout her career in PR.

Thinking of the next generation
As if the demands of being a sports information director weren’t enough, Gatti shouldered the pressure of being a trailblazer.

“If I failed, other women may not get this job,” she thought.

Gatti says it took time, but society has warmed up to women working in sports. “It’s amazing to me how much has changed and how much hasn’t changed.”

Among the issues that remain is the concern of the young women of balancing work and family, especially in a field that requires so much travel.

“When I started out, women felt they could not do both,” she said.

But with more gender equity in the sports world, she said men, too, are working to balance their home and family lives. She enjoys hearing her male coworkers leave work early to go to their kid’s soccer game.

Gatti told the students they should use humor and roll with the punches in order to achieve success.

“Women will get this done. You will be a part of affecting the change.”