In my previous life as a mainstream jock journo, I surely was guilty of a few sexist scribblings.
It doesn’t matter that it was during a more tolerant time and place. A time and place when we didn’t have the politically correct police parsing every syllable or turn of phrase we produced in print or on air. Even if written with a tongue-in-cheek quill—which it was—or to ruffle feathers—which it did—it still registered as sexist and today would result in a prompt and thorough scolding and scorn on social media. So, yes, guilty as charged.
I am reminded of my past indelicacies because the pungent odor of sexism is again awaft.
Everywhere you look, there is sexism in sports. On TV. On the Internet. In newspapers (what’s left of them). On the playing fields. In changing rooms. And, yes, in the press box. Definitely in the press box.
To believe, or pretend, otherwise is to believe Donald Trump doesn’t really live in the White House.
So, yes, sexism exists, most definitely in professional tennis, as we were reminded in the past two weeks.
Alizé Cornet strips off her tennis top at the back of a court during a U.S. Open match. Code violation. Novak Djokovic and numerous other male players strip off their shirts—multiple times—courtside at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Crickets.
That is an undeniable, undebatable sexist double-standard.
And, quite frankly, what happened to Cornet was, to me, far more offensive and egregious than anything that went down in the U.S. Open women’s final between young champion Naomi Osaka and her bully of an opponent, Serena Williams.
Unless Williams, or any among her mob of angry apologists, had access to chair umpire Carlos Ramos’s inner thoughts last Saturday, they cannot say with any level of certainty that he issued three code violations and docked 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams a game simply because she is a she.
The fact that Williams chose to play the gender card does not make it so.
Williams had been on the uncomfortable receiving end of a good and proper paddywhacking from Osaka when Ramos observed her coach, Patrick Mouratoglu, flashing hand signals from his perch in the viewing pews. For that, Ramos issued a code violation. Cue the sideshow. A racquet-destroying hissy fit earned another reprimand. The hinges were loosening. Branding Ramos a thief and a liar cost Williams a game. Completely undone.
Nothing Ramos did or said suggested sexism was on the table. He was governing the match according to the rule book. Williams—no one else—made gender the issue, on court and during her post-match chin-wag with news snoops.
So, is sexism something we should be discussing today? For sure. But not as it pertains only to tennis, which occupies a very small corner of the sandbox.
Let’s talk about sexism and the sports media.
In the fallout from the Williams meltdown, many opinionists—women and men—have been barking on air, in print and in cyberspace about the evils of sexism in sports, but they’re living in a glass house and throwing stones.
Surely you’ve noticed all the pretty faces and big hair that surface every night and day on TSN and Sportsnet: Jennifer Hedger, Tessa Bonhomme, Kara Wagland, Kate Beirness, Lindsay Hamilton, Natasha Staniszewski, Sara Orlesky, Caroline Cameron, Martine Gaillard, Evanka Osmak…all babes. Talented, but babes nonetheless. They look like they arrive at the studio directly from a Vogue shoot.
Is that by design or accident?
I think we all know the answer to that.
The men, on the other hand…meh. They can have a face like Yogi Berra’s old catcher’s mitt and a body shaped like an igloo and still get the job.
And, of course, the men have all the answers.
A woman is allowed to look pretty and read the teleprompter (stay in your lane, girl) because, you know—hair, cheekbones, eyes, lips, hips, legs and boobs are the only reason she’s there, right? It’s left for the men with their large brains to interpret, break down and make sense of what the woman has just read. The more the woman reads, the more mansplaining there is to be done. Let’s go to the boys on the panel.
Is that sexism? Absolutely.
It’s moderately different on the print side of the sandbox, in that the babe factor isn’t at play. A woman who doesn’t look like Michelle Pfeiffer can still apply. And find work. But she better have game, because there’s an entire world of men out there convinced she doesn’t know a football from a facial.
No one wonders if a male jock journo is a nitwit until he opens his mouth or writes his first article to remove all doubt. Conversely, it’s a given that a woman doesn’t have a clue right from the get-go. And she fights that misguided stereotyping her entire career, otherwise we’d hear more female voices in panel discussions.
Is that sexism? Absolutely.
Basically, sports media in Canada is a man cave and will remain sexist until it’s accepted that women have functioning brains.
Thus, before they tell tennis or any other sport/organization to clean up their back yard, they might want to look at their own first.