Growing up in the Nashville area, I found myself one of the few fans of the local NHL team, the Nashville Predators. Getting coverage on mainstream local radio, television and newspapers was next to impossible, and when there was coverage, it was shoddy and half-assed. The city, except for the 10,000-13,000 people who consistently made their way to what was then called the Gaylord Entertainment Center at 501 Broadway, did not care about the team and therefore the media did not either. So, when I found myself searching for news, information and rumors about the team, I had to turn to the internet.
Penalty Box Radio (PBR) was my favorite and it was to watch it grow from being just an internet blog and podcast to a hit on the local sports radio station 102.5 The Game. As the popularity of the blog grew so did PBR’s access to the team as it now has a permanent spot in the Nashville Predators’ press box. All of this is thanks to the hard-work, tenacity and dreams of the two founders of PBR, Justin Bradford and the late great “Big” Ben Butzbach. They both had a dream of covering and growing the sport in the Middle Tennessee region. And despite Butzbach’s passing, Bradford and his team have carried the dream onward as PBR has brought women’s NCAA tournament and women’s professional hockey to the city.
But, the growth of the sport of hockey, and the success of the blog, in a non-traditional market isn’t what I want us to focus on today. I want to focus on how Bradford and PBR have leveraged their growing popularity to increase the diversity in the sports reporting market, and how they have promoted and expanded women’s hockey in Tennessee as well. PBR’s focus hasn’t just been on the game of hockey that Prednation loves. PBR has made it a point of using the growing popularity of hockey to encourage more girls to play the sport and they have used their growing fame in the media market to help women break into a male-dominated field.
To help explain how this growth occurred, and why PBR has made a point of living up to the NHL’s slogan “Hockey is for Everyone” I interviewed Bradford and one of his interns, Abigail Martin.
The Typescript: How did PBR come into existence.
Justin Bradford: Benjamin Butzbach and I started Penalty Box Radio in 2012. This was also the year where half the NHL season was lost due to lockout. This was a blessing for us as it forced us to find other levels of hockey to experience. We traveled to take in and cover junior, college and minor league hockey around the region and even up to Michigan and Canada. That right there set the path for our future in knowing that we wanted to be an outlet that covered all things hockey in the Music City.
TS: Has the diversity that I’ve seen, heard and read in PBR been a conscious effort, or did a group of female aspiring sports reporters approached you? Or maybe a little bit of both?
Bradford: Making sure female sports fans and reporters had a voice was important to us from day one. Glynne Blackwell, PBR’s first female reporter, has played such a huge role in us growing. She’s a role model for young reporters. We have covered all aspects of women’s hockey from the pros to the Olympics to college, and we certainly enjoy having female reporters on the show as well. We want it to be the norm in the hockey world and not something where it’s a focus to be surprised when a woman is involved in the sport. We want it to be the norm where we’re all equals.
TS: If making PBR more diverse was intentional, why did you think it was important to do so?
Bradford: Representation is important. It’s important for the growth of the sport. It’s important to have many voices. If we want our sport to truly grow, then we have to continue to reach out to more communities and be the ones to do the outreach to get more people involved. We can’t expect people to just come to the sport, we have to bring it to them. By adding more women to the field of sports reporting, they have a voice in the sport, and also have other aspiring journalists look up to them. It’s the same as the sport. With women’s pro leagues starting to grow, it gives young girls a chance to dream that one day they could play the sport they love as a career.
When I asked Abigail Martin, a Middle Tennessee State University student interning with PBR, about why she wanted to get into sports reporting she had this to say.
Abigail Martin: For me, sports media was just putting small parts of my life together. It just made sense. When I was little, I was called “Hollywood.” I wanted to be on camera, on the stage, whatever it took. I’ve played softball my whole life, and always loved sports. My mom took me to my first hockey game when I was little and I fell in love over the years. I remember sitting at a game when I was younger thinking, “What if I could do what Paul, the Predators PA announcer, is doing?” In school, English and writing stories were my strength. I thought I wanted to be a writer or doing sports broadcasting during my freshman year. Then, Lyndsay Rowley, Fox Sports Tennessee’s in-game reporter, joined the organization my freshman year. I was always jealous and thinking, “Wow, I want to do that.”
She approached Bradford in the press area during a game and quickly became Twitter friends, as most of us in Nashville have, which led to her internship opportunity. It has been fun but the entire experience hasn’t been a bed of roses.
Martin: At the beginning of this hockey season, I began my role with MTSU hockey while continuing with PBR. Justin received an e-mail about me claiming I was doing things that I certainly was not. I won’t get deeply into it, but it basically said that I was there for the wrong reasons and that I was “disturbing to watch.” Justin called and talked to me, and was patient while I was really panicky because this hasn’t happened before. It’s scary. Jack Woods and Danielle DiNenna, fellow PBR interns, were the only people I told, and they also helped me by showing their support and knowing the truth. This season, I’ve been called a “puck bunny” and have been told that I “don’t deserve to be in the locker room.” I’ve had people say, “You’re a girl. Do what you can do and be a distraction.” It hurts, but I know that there’s a family with Penalty Box Radio. Justin knows each of us personally and wouldn’t allow any person with questionable motives to join or stay with this team. I know that people here have my back.
Despite the adversity that Martin has faced she is still having fun doing what is she doing and her passion for the sport of hockey and sports related issues is still being broadcasted because leaders like Bradford are standing up for her and not allowing for her misogyny to keep her quiet. As Bradford said, “One of the most fun things about his job is watching his female reporters silence their critics with stats.”
While I enjoyed interviewing these two and writing about my favorite blog, the point being made in this article isn’t Martin and Bradford are fantastic reporters, which they are, it’s that a small market grass roots blog has done more to promote and protect diversity than major networks like ESPN. When Jamele Hill was speaking out against Trump, and his supporters, racism and bigotry, she was silenced. When misogynistic and racist Trumps supporters attacked her views based on her skin tone and gender, ESPN caved because they were afraid to lose money and sponsorships. When Erin Andrews was filmed nude in her hotel room, ESPN failed to support her. When PBR’s female reporters are attacked because of their gender, a small blog with a miniscule budget is willing to risk losing listeners and funding to protect the fundamental rights of their reporters. That is what I want you take away from this interview, and that is what the rest of the sporting world can learn from a small grassroots hockey blog.