Sports·Point of View

Andi Petrillo defied odds, stereotypes to become top sports host

Andi Petrillo fought stereotypes and sexism to become one of Canada's top sports hosts. On International Women's Day, she looks back on her path to success — and toward the next generation of female reporters.

‘My first job almost didn’t happen because they didn’t want two women on the desk’

Andi Petrillo, right, interviews American skier Lindsay Vonn in Lake Louise, Alta., in December 2013. (Submitted by Andi Petrillo)

I was the first female reporter to travel on the Toronto Maple Leafs' team charter. It was the 2006/07 season. Some people didn't care but some made my life hell because of my gender. If I was seen talking to a player, some reporters felt I was flirting. I was trying to get a story to tell; after all, I am a reporter! But because of my gender, I was flirting.

I also learned there was a bet going on to see if I would get caught with a player before the NHL All-Star weekend and get fired. For the first time since getting into sports, I contemplated quitting. I cried myself to sleep that night but I hate crying, I'm not a quitter and I was determined to prove everyone wrong. 

Fortunately, there were people in my corner. I worked hard and learned a lot from peers who saw past my gender and saw only my potential. I became like a bull, put my head down and charged forward, running over anyone who tried to put me down or discredit my sports knowledge by sexualizing me.

Andi Petrillo made Canadian history when she became the first woman to host a daily sports radio show. (Bell Media)

In 2011, I became the first woman to serve on a full-time basis with CBC's Hockey Night in Canada studio team. I was also trusted with hosting duties for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. That same year, I was handed the reins to host the afternoon games for FIFA World Cup Brazil. 

I was touched by all the viewers who wrote in saying how happy they were to see a woman hosting these prestigious sporting events. On the one hand, I was honoured and thrilled to be recognized for how hard I had worked to be in the host chair, but on the other I was a little sad. Sad that I stood out — because it means there are too few women commanding big roles in big sporting moments.

Me? Sports?

Back in college, studying broadcast journalism, I was asked by a teacher if I'd ever thought of getting into sports.

I hadn't. Not because I didn't love sports; I did. And not because I didn't play sports; I did. It was because sports broadcasting was never presented as an option to me.

I was voted Most Likely to Succeed and Best News Anchor. I was going to be the next Peter Mansbridge. And then that teacher asked, "Have you ever thought of getting into sports?" and I couldn't shake the question from my mind.

So I volunteered at a local television station and started covering sporting events. I worked evenings and nights but loved every second of it.

My parents never told me I couldn't do something because I was a girl. 

My first paid job as a sports host almost didn't happen because the news host was a woman and upper management didn't want two women on the anchor desk. I could tell my station manager was crushed and angered by their response. I was everything she was looking for in an employee. I was qualified for the job and had come through the ranks as a volunteer. I didn't know what to say.

I come from a family of strong women and supportive men. My parents never told me I couldn't do something because I was a girl. Why was my gender a negative factor? 

The station manager told me she would take care of it and she did. I got the job. Two years later, when I told those same higher ups that I was leaving, they didn't want me to go. They valued my work.

I was vindicated.

Making history

Recently, along with my role with CBC Sports, I became the new voice of Leafs Lunch on TSN 1050 radio. In taking this job, I became the first woman in Canada to host a daily radio sports talk show.

There have been many women before me knocking on the proverbial door when it comes to sports radio. I want to send a huge thank you to them because they loosened the hinges for me. Now that the door has been knocked down there's no time to rest. There's no time for me to look back and say 'Take that!' to all those people who never wanted to give me a chance because I was "just" a girl. 

The hardest work begins now, because even though I've been the first in many areas in the sports world, I need to make sure I'm not the last.


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