Romy Titus has at times been brutally honest about being a woman in the ‘man’s world’ of sports presenting and broadcasting. But not only has she carved out a stellar career in the business, she’s also found the time and energy to become an accredited doula and earn an MBA – both of which are going to be put to use as she reinvents her not-for-profit, Babies Behind Bars.
Romy Titus hails from a sports-mad family, but she had never imagined a career in the field. “I didn’t find sport, it found me,” the acclaimed sports presenter and broadcaster likes to say.
Not that she made it easy for sport to track her down, however. After finishing school in Randburg, Titus headed down to Cape Town – where most of her family can be found, she says – and started a national diploma in journalism at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She had her heart and sights set on the world of hard news, which is why she joined eTV as a broadcast journalist.
“I knew from the age of five, that I wanted to be a journalist,” she explains. “But the reality of the crime and suffering that I was forced to witness on a daily basis got to me.”
Titus wasn’t even thinking of sports journalism as a calling, but a former colleague who’d joined the SABC summoned her to his side – “I need you here”, he cajoled. She was reluctant to make the move; sports journalism, after all, was the enemy of ‘real’ news: “It’s where hard news goes to steal time.”
But with a what-have-I-got-to-lose shrug, she did move to the SABC, a decision that would change her life. Sporting narratives – of winners and losers, of rivals contesting for glory and titles, of both players and fans bouncing back from defeat – proved to be a blessing in disguise. “Suddenly I’m telling good news stories as opposed to just always being the bearer of bad news,” she recalls. “I found that as a journalist, I enjoyed telling those kinds of stories far better than the crime related, hard news type stories.”
Making it in a man's world
The rest, as the tired but fitting cliché goes, is history. With SABC, as a freelancer with SuperSport, and as a talk-show host with Vision Views Sports Radio and ‘The Touchline’ on Radio 2000, she would become one of South Africa’s most celebrated and recognised sports journalists, especially in her coverage of Premier League football and boxing. Accolades poured in, from being named the best news anchor by SABC in 2008 to twice winning the Best Sports Show award (for ‘the Touchline with Romy Titus’).
International acclaim would follow in 2014. In acknowledgement of her standing as one of the world’s leading sports journalists, Titus was invited by the gilded Laureus World Sports Awards to be a member of its Laureus Media Selection Panel, which selects the nominees for all the annual Laureus awards (bar the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year). She has served on the panel since.
The accolades have not come easy, however. Titus has been outspoken about the hurdles thrown in front of her. Her male colleagues, she shared in one 2013 interview, “made no secret of their dissatisfaction that females have now crept into what has predominately been a male dominated space”. She has been equally critical of how disappointed she has been by many women – not all – in the industry, even in her new job as media officer for Bafana Bafana. “I wish there was a sisterhood where we uplift each other, don’t talk each other down, embattle each other,” she said an in interview with Laureus.
Stepping away from the camera
Supporting other women is exactly what Titus had in mind when she started her not-for-profit, Babies Behind Bars.
The genesis of the charity goes back to 2000 and her hard news days, in particular the day Titus was sent to cover a Christmas party for children living with their mothers in prison. She was unaware that children born to women inmates were living with them in jails. “It startled me,” she recalls. “I thought to myself, I’m sure no one knows that there are kids ages zero to five in prison.”
Babies Behind Bars, launched in 2007, to help those mothers raise their children.
For many years, that charity was largely devoted to providing the women with some of the essential supplies that any parent would need – clothes, toiletries and the like. Titus and the project have been showered with awards, including a Mandela Washington Fellowship (initiated by former US President Barack Obama), a community hero award by beauty house Elizabeth Arden, an Ubuntu Award from the Department of International Relations & Cooperation, and a Paul Harris Fellowship awarded by Rotary South Africa.
Soon Titus would add a major new arrow to the project’s quiver. In 2020, then a mother to a three-year-old daughter, Titus signed up for an international Executive MBA at the Henley Business School, studies made possible by her winning Henley’s African Hero Scholarship. “We created the African Hero Scholarship in 2018,” Henley Africa dean, Jon Foster-Pedley, explains, “to acknowledge, skill up and support societal leaders, who have shown courage and commitment to building a fair, inclusive, prosperous and thriving South Africa. Romy was an ideal and inspiring recipient”. The degree, Titus explains, was in preparation for the day she chooses to step away from the front of the camera.
The MBA also proved to be a timely coping mechanism during the pandemic. “To be very honest, if I hadn’t had my studies I don’t think I would have kept sane,” she says.
In addition, the MBA inspired her to reimagine Babies Behind Bars. After having a doula present at the birth of her daughter, Titus herself trained and now practises as a doula – someone who provides emotional and physical support to women during pregnancy and childbirth. “I often say that if I didn’t have a doula, I’d still be pregnant today,” she jokes.
She now aims to use Babies Behind Bars as a platform for delivering similar training to women in prison.
Many inmates often give birth with their legs shackled, Titus reports, having recently filmed a soon-to-be-released documentary on the subject. “So providing them with doulas is about making sure that they receive perinatal care,” she says. “Making sure that incarcerated women are able to give birth and have their dignity intact.”
Titus made this proposed initiative the subject of her MBA thesis, and very soon hopes to get it off the ground. “After the MBA, I realised that Babies Behind Bars can no longer exist in the way it has done,” she says. “I used a lot of my Henley research to pitch this idea to both Correctional Services, and for the funding of my film.”
As a woman sports journalist, Titus got used to shaking up old ways of doing things. With Babies Behind Bars, it looks like she is doing more of the same. And in many ways, she’s only just getting started.