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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why misogyny in sports culture?

Why is it that an aspect of sports culture appears to go hand in hand with misogyny?

I have been listening to a lot sports talk lately on the subjects of Ben Roethlisberger and Erin Andrews, reading articles about both, and reading the comments from sports fans after the articles. In both, hearing what is said by radio sports talk show guys and the comment sections by knucklehead sports fans I find myself really disappointed in recognizing how today’s sports culture and misogyny goes hand in hand.

It has been really interesting to see how sports culture handles these two incidents and, specifically, the women involved. In the report of Roethlisberger’s alleged sexual assault, many have jumped on his bandwagon to show blind support for their “hero” and suggesting the reason they do so is because of all they “know” about him or that they know him so well that they are on first name basis with him. What many know about Ben is his on-field performance and accomplishments but most of us have no clue what he is really like off the field, including how he treats women in his life. (To be honest, I don’t know Ben nor do I know a thing about his criminal history or his significant other relationships other than he’s not married.) On the other hand, most in sports culture do just the opposite with McNulty. Though we know she held a high position at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino, many fans immediately assume she is a “gold digging-jersey chasing- psychotic slut” simply because they would prefer not to wrongly condemn their pal Ben . ESPN even chose not to run the story, at first, taking a silent bystander approach of support for Ben.

I get, to some degree, if sports culture wanted to fault on standing up for their own but their reaction to Erin Andrews shows me that is not the case. In case you don't know, Andrews is a sideline reporter for ESPN and recently someone has posted peeping tom videos of her on the internet. Andrews has been described as “the woman every man loves”, “THE sexy sideline reporter”, “sideline siren” and “America’s sexiest sportscaster” by not just fans but many media networks and outlets. As opposed to Ben, Andrews is shown support for how she looks rather than her on camera work and accomplishments as if that’s all that matters to sports culture. What’s worse is that many in sports culture have belittled the violation to Andrews or are proposing that women have no place on the sideline or sportscasting in the first place. Even a local sports talk show I have generally found respectable in these matters was discussing what other sexy sideline reporters they want to see in slimy videos or nude photos. I was not surprised one bit, however, when the other local sports talk show discussed how it is the fault of the networks for putting "sexy girls on the sidelines" and how this wouldn't have happened if Andrews was "homely".

Look, I'm an avid sports fan and usually stand up for the values that sports provide youth as well as the entertainment college or professional sports provide adults. There's a lot about sports that I don't like including the power and privilege we give to certain athletes, the money that's thrown around, and, among other things, the exploitation of young athletes for their physical talents over and above their intellect, character, or other talents. But it absolutely disgusts me when stories like these come out and sports fans, members of the sports media, and sports networks are quicker to feed and support misogyny as if it were intrinsic to sport rather than consider justice for the victims.

We would prefer to think that these, and incidents like them, are rare or some shadow side of sports culture rather than consider that sports culture is intrinsically misogynistic. But in order for us to believe otherwise, two things must happen: 1) incidents like these must decrease in sports; 2) more men need to speak out against the sexism and misogyny we see in sports culture. I am convinced that in order for (1) to happen we need to put more time and energy in (2). That is why I was grateful to find this article by Jim Williams of the Washington Examiner who not only supports Andrews but all women sports casters that are "subjected to ridicule and sexual innuendo despite, in most cases, being smarter and knowing more about sports than their male colleagues." Unfortunately, I have not seen many men in sports culture that are willing to put themselves out there not only to not judge McNulty but also to consider her side of the story apart from what they know of Ben’s on field accomplishments.

UPDATE: Two more male journalist speaking up & out about who's to blame and how these incidents are a show of men being men at their worst.

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