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While chasing stories and crunching numbers, Christina Kahrl has had two objectives. One was visible, the other unspoken.
Both are crucial to Kahrl, who is one of the honorees in our inaugural Outsports Power 100.
The first was to cover sports — especially her beloved baseball — with smarts, passion and facts. Such has been her career, from co-founding the Baseball Prospectus in 1996, through writing for some of nation’s frontline publications, to her 10-year stint as an analyst-writer-editor at ESPN.
The second has been a driving force since starting her transition and then coming out publicly in 2003.
“I look at the impact of integrating LGBTQ narratives into sports as my impact,” said Kahrl, a member of the Outsports Power 100. “For me, I look at what more can I do to integrate LGBTQ sports narratives into mainstream sports narratives, and to make clear that LGBTQ people are in the mainstream when it comes to sports.”
The mission found its next iteration in 2021 as Kahrl became Sports Editors for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was more breaking of ground for Kahrl, an out trans journalist in a high-level position in American sports journalism.
For a native Northern Californian who had been away from the area for a while, she came home to interesting times: a market of professional teams and major college sports in transition locally, including the situation with the Oakland Athletics and their unsteady future. Kahrl described the current team and the entire saga as “historically awful.”
She also leads a sports desk as the debate over transgender participation in sports intensifies.
Last month, her sports desk was covering the controversy surrounding two high school trans woman athletes in their region who qualified for California state championships but decided to sit them out due public protests at their qualifying events.
“It’s ludicrous, but here we are,” she groused. “We operate in a world in which a segment of the American populous prefers what happens on the field. Prefer to ignore what happens in terms of outcomes. You’ve had trans inclusion in California high schools going back to as much as 14 years in some districts, and you haven’t seen high school sports overrun by people transition to compete in girls’ sports because that doesn’t happen, period.”
Nearly two years into her high-profile gig, Kahrl noted that an experienced staff is meeting the challenges. She also notes another key that hasn’t happened often in her career — she isn’t the only trans person in the newsroom.
Having diverse voices has helped negotiate the learning curve and build better coverage.
“We’ve been able to achieve some truly remarkable coverage,” she said. “We started having a serious conversation over the last year, especially witnessing how bad the coverage of trans issues was, particularly at the New York Times. We looked at all these outlets doing a bad job and we looked at not just doing the story right about trans issues, but how do we as a newsroom embrace that possibility and that responsibility collectively. I’m extremely proud of that, and it’s an ongoing thing.
“The good news is that in 2023, I’m in a newsroom where I’m being listened to especially when it comes to LGBTQ topics, and I’m not alone in my newsroom as far as wanting to talk about these subjects. Not just embracing who we are, but allowing that understanding that we shall allow that to inform our reporting and perspective and embracing the value of that.”
At her core, Kahrl is a “I saw it, I’ll write it” sports reporter. She was once quoted as saying, “I don’t just sashay in and say ‘Hey! I’m Christina Kahrl’.”
At the same time, she’s been visible and open about being trans while also being in a craft she loves.
She feels the current tremors surrounding trans people and trans rights threatens that balance between who she is and what she does.
“The ballpark is my happy place, and it’s the place I’d want to be if I had nothing else to do,” she stated. “Will I ever be able to attend spring training in Florida or will I be arrested for being at a ball park and using the restroom? The fact that I must be afraid for my own safety in my happy place is pretty sad.
“I now have to wonder if the Warriors played the Mavericks in the NBA Playoffs in Dallas, will I be physically in danger going to Texas? I want to do my job, but I have to be afraid for my safety. The fact that you have this legislation not just passed but enthusiastically embraced and have outlets celebrating the pain and fear, and you have outlets that aren’t embracing their responsibility to contributing that atmosphere. These are the consequences of not doing journalism well.”
Her fears, hopes and history spur on the mission Kahrl claims in equal measure. In leading the Chronicle’s sports pages, her eye is on the future even in a current climate that she feels backslid to the 1970s in some respects.
Having been a “first” in some part of the profession, she feels that with the power to put the next people to come along on a path, she aims to use it.
“I believe we have an obligation to history, and to not just ourselves but to the future we hope to achieve,” she said. “Our obligation in the present is to be a possibility model for every trans journalist that comes after us. That better future, if we are to achieve it, requires us to be our best.”
You can follow Christina Kahrl on Twitter.