Are women welcome in the wide world of sports fandom? And if not, who’s keeping us out? “Why, men are!” shout the self-appointed standard-bearers of women’s rights. They lament that after all the decades women have been competing in sports, the fan club for sports of all kinds seems open mainly to men. Even female announcers and sportswriters complain that they are not taken seriously.
A male announcer at ESPN was yanked off of a plum assignment – covering the Fiesta Bowl – for having made a sexist remark. In a pregame meeting (mind you, not even on the air), Ron Franklin called sideline reporter Jeanne Edwards “sweet baby,” asking her why she didn’t “leave this to the boys…” When Edwards did not respond to this favorably, he followed it up with “okay then, [expletive].”
Franklin received a reprimand, then lost the Fiesta Bowl. He is 68 years old. What are the odds he’s going to change much?
His mug shot is only the latest in a rogue’s gallery of alleged sexists in the sports media. TV host Tony Kornheiser was suspended last year for having remarked on the wardrobe of “SportsCenter” anchor Hannah Storm. Harold Reynolds and Steve Phillips lost their jobs as baseball analysts for separate incidents of what Yahoo Sports Blog calls “demeaning behavior toward female employees.” Mike Tirico, an announcer on “Monday Night Football,” was taken to the woodshed for harassment back in the Nineties. And the lineup goes on and on…
Now, I’m a sports fan myself. I love both men’s and women’s sports, and have been a WNBA season ticket holder for years. But I must confess that all this crying about male insensitivity leaves me cold. I have a question that doesn’t seem to have occurred to many other female sports fans: What if we simply didn’t care?
Though that approach may sound like weakness, perhaps it’s actually one of strength. Imagine, for just a moment, that it didn’t matter whether men respected women in sports or not. Do we respect every guy in the business? And do legions of men wear out their hankies if we don’t?
I don’t expect a man nearly seventy years old to have the same perspective on women in the sports world as one who is in his twenties. Nor does it seem reasonable that either of them should have to watch every remark he makes, even in a private conference. Why are we supposed to be so worried about this? Sports were an almost-exclusively male bastion for generations. Any tradition that entrenched takes time to change.
Why don’t more women in the sports media cover women’s sports? Some regard such assignments as demeaning. Why should they expect to be given a degree of respect they themselves deny to women athletes? And why don’t more of the women who say they like women’s sports actually attend the games? If they’re too whipped to go because their boyfriends or their husbands won’t go with them, what sort of message does that send to daughters who dream of careers in sports?
The crying is tiresome. Those who spend all their time crying are weak. As we learned from Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, “there’s no crying in baseball.” Maybe it’s time we figured out what we like and quit worrying about whether the guys approve of it. Perhaps, when it comes to the opinions of louts who don’t think women belong in sports, we need to discover the awesome power of “I don’t care.”
It’s precisely the attitude most men have about women’s opinions on sports. And it seems to have gotten them a lot farther than all that crying has us. Truth be told, men expect us to cry. They also expect us to care — which is what makes us so weak.
We may not enjoy being called “sweet babies.” But the best way to respond to it may be not to act like babies at all.