Sexism in Sports Writing

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This is a subject where I am like many others. I’m strongly opinionated and don’t say a lot because it’s a very political issue. Yes, you may feel free to be mad at me for taking the “Republicans buy shoes” stance. I’ll try and fix that.

Tammeh Treymayne aka @Mrs__NBA, who writes at The NBA Mistress and I got into a discussion on this subject. I was spurred by this recent piece by Kate Fagan over at ESPN – Recent events expose sexism in sports culture. Kate discusses the issues being a female beat writer — how the respect and access that comes to male sports reporters is lacking and more frighteningly, how we let that continue.

There’s a key that Kate and Tammeh have both hit on that we need to accept. Sports are sexist. Not just a little, not it’s getting better but there are still residual sexist trends from old eras. Sports are sexist. Listen to sports radio. Listen to how common it is to insult someone by calling them feminine. Watch the commercials that come up during your favorite sports game. Dr. Pepper bet hard on ‘it’s not for women’ campaign of Dr. Pepper 10 and promoted it heavily in sports media. Go to live sporting events and notice that the only way sports have found to include women is have them dance half naked when the game is stalled. A “watch the game” moment that startled me —  one cameraman’s job is apparently to just always aim for up the skirt angle shot of cheerleaders. So, let’s just start with this fact. The realm of sports is sexist. Its views towards women is that they are weak, or sexual objects and that the sports being played are not for them, at least not in an active role.

Now, the scary part of this pretense is that is bleeds into our media. I was shocked to hear Tammeh say

“Your favorite [main stream media], probably, has DM’d me and told me no one would take me seriously unless I “tone it down” …”

I’ll be honest (for the first of a few times this post): this shocked me. Why? Because, I’m a little jealous of Tammeh. She came onto the blogging scene later than me and much later than the Wages of Wins. And in a short period of time she was very popular on social media and had her own site that produces NBA content at an amazingly fast rate. And the content is also a perfect blend of analysis, historical pieces, and quick blurbs on recent events. In short, Tammeh was a very quick success in NBA blogging and it’s easy to be jealous when a newcomer quickly outperforms you. This also makes it easy to be shocked to hear anyone try and say she wouldn’t be taken seriously. How is that possible? Her blog, her twitter are already being consumed by many (more than consume the Wages of Wins I assure you). Isn’t that evidence enough?

The question of this claim is “why?” And this is where the sexism of the sport plays in. Tammeh says that often she hears her work is “good for a woman” or in the even worse cases “she shouldn’t blog because she’s a woman.” And I’m going to get to the double edged sword here. First, I feel incredibly silly and patronizing in the above sentences. It sounds like I’m trying to defend Tammeh and to me that seems ridiculous. Her work stands on its own and certainly the last thing she needs is another blogger telling the world “hey stop picking on her!” Because, in our sports mentality world, having a defender is viewed as weakness. And more importantly, there is no need for me to defend her or her work, as I mentioned, it’s top notch.

The next, bigger problem we have to accept is that our standards for viewing women in the sports writing realm, ARE tainted. I brought this up a while back when I reviewed Hanna Rosin’s book “The End of Men”. The issue is this, the same actions by men and women are not perceived the same way. A man arguing for a bigger initial salary is viewed as strong. A woman doing the same has a much different result. In the book Rosin also brings up how men being talkative and aggressive in meetings can be seen as being a natural leader. The same action by women can make them critical or shrill. And this is key. Time for another bit of honesty. I fell for the same trap. You may recall I started the season saying Westbrook was worse than Lawson. I was thanked by Lawson playing terribly and Westbrook upping his game. Tammeh called me on this constantly. If you know me on Twitter (or real life) you know I love to argue. And yes, I argue with Tammeh quite frequently. But unlike arguments with others, I eventually tried to end the argument. I got genuinely upset. I sent Tammeh a direct message to explain that she was free to disagree with me but I was done arguing. Why? Because I’m not different! I too saw a female blogger arguing heatedly and went “Whoa, hold on!” If Mosi of the Miami Heat Index had done the same (I should say, does the same…because he does…and I do enjoy arguing with him) I wouldn’t have backed down, wouldn’t have felt bad. And right after that argument, I had to take a step back and it freaked me out.

That last part is the key. We’re not immune to a culture of sexism. It’s very easy to proclaim “I view all bloggers equally and gender doesn’t play into it!” Tammeh mentioned over Twitter

What infuriates me are those that appear they’re all for accepting more female personalities in sports are the first to be the biggest sexist pigs. Females are only allowed if they fit a specific prototype.

And she’s right. It’s a lot like cheerleaders. We may say that sports is accepting of women. But in reality, it’s only if a certain mold or role is portrayed. Tammeh is an outlier. She brings up advanced stats in her arguments. She swears. She mentions sexuality in sports and athletes. This is not the typical female reporter we’re used to. And we have to accept the culture we’ve fostered for years is going to impact how we respond to that. We can’t just continue sitting by and watching and simply saying that ‘Well, that’s the way sports are’. We also can’t just claim we’re open-minded and accepting when in reality, we’re only accepting of specific roles.

What to do

At the end of yet another giant post, I see why it’s so hard to write this piece. I’m a stats person and an engineer. I like to view problems and find an easy solution. This is a hard problem. I already combat the fact that I have to deal with being told I can’t write about sports because I’m just “an excel crunching numbers geek”. I want to be clear, I’m not even putting this on the same scale. The type of people that yell this at me are the casual fans. I’ve received respect from the top level in NBA circles for my thoughts. The issue with females in blogging is much worse. The same immediate disdain applies and applies at all levels. How to combat that is hard. Sure, if all of us stood up to it each time it happened it would be easy. But just one or two standing up can come off as attempting to be the “guy to come in and save the day” And I hate that too. I guess that the simple start is to call people on the small stuff. Call Dr. Pepper and say “What the [expletive]?” When your local sports anchor says a player throws like a girl or should get in the kitchen, call them on it! It’s a small start but it’s something.

The next solution is one I’m not part of but am happy with. You see, the media is a pretty tight network with some outdated thoughts. Yes, they can keep people out or tell women to act a certain way. Except, the internet is changing that a little. Like I said, any major site telling Tammeh “no one will take you seriously” is silly, Tammeh is already taken seriously by thousands of people. It’s easy to make a Twitter handle, it’s easy to make a blog. And if you do good work, people will find you. The media’s belief that it can control the type of personality and type of writing is slipping. Yes, people still go to the major sites. I’ll be candid though, my RSS is slowly losing major sites and slowly adding smaller blogs. It doesn’t matter if mainstream media doesn’t like you! If some people like you, you can provide content. Hopefully more female bloggers will write and ignore the stupid comments from close minded fans. And when that happens, rest assured that the right people will take them seriously.

-Dre

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