Yes, there’s sexism in sports, and it’s no more prevalent than in the media

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

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.

Novak Djovokic

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.

A helpful guide to political correctness for 21st century sports scribes and broadcasters

I feel sorry for scribes and broadcasters covering the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil.

I mean, they’re working without a net. Political correctness is running at a faster gallop than Usain Bolt and, coupled with a language landscape that has changed dramatically this century, they no longer know what is safe to say and write. That’s why, barely into the second week of the Games, media already have issued more mea culpas than Donald Trump’s apologists. Someone’s ox is always being gored and the jock journalists can’t tell all the special-interest groups without a program.

Well, I like to think of myself as a helpful sort, so I’ve begun to piece together a new, politically correct style guide for the news scavengers in Rio de Janeiro and, indeed, for those here at home, just so they know what no longer is acceptable.

Let’s begin with some time-worn cliches and phrases. Use any of the following and you’re sure to put someone’s knickers in a knot (and, remember, this is just a start)…

politically correct style guidBeggars can’t be choosers: Never use this phrase. It marginalizes the homeless. Most of them choose not to beg, but those who do choose to beg have their reason. You don’t have to agree with the reason—you don’t even have to know the reason—just leave the homeless out of it.

Life is a one-way street: Totally homophobic.

That’s a horse of a different color: Clearly racist. What does it matter what color the horse is?

Life is just a bowl of cherries: This can be perceived as a derogatory comment about a group of women who have yet to lose their virginity.

He’s in the driver’s seat: No, no, no, no, no. Women drive, too, and god forbid if you ever call in to question their ability behind a steering wheel. Nobody is in the driver’s seat. Ever.

They’re behind the 8-ball: Being behind the 8-ball carries a negative connotation. The 8-ball is black. Do the math.

He goes both ways: You might think you’re talking about a football player who plays both offence and defence, but someone is guaranteed to think you’re outing a bisexual athlete. Never out a gay or a bisexual athlete. Especially the men.

They control their own destiny: This will upset the gospel sharks who are convinced that their God controls all things and all people. They will remind you that all things are an act of God. Even game-winning field goals.

It was a clean sweep: Never use this phrase when referencing a women’s team, unless you want to do your own cooking and cleaning when you get home.

It’s a Cinderella story: That suggests it’s all about the shoes. More female-targeted sexism from male journalists.

Boys will be boys: What about Caitlyn Jenner?

He’s a real work horse: You want the people from PETA knocking on your door? Nothing will get them running faster than a suggestion that an animal is being used for anything other than petting. Animals are meant to be layabouts, don’t you know?

Let sleeping dogs lie: Go for it. This will make the PETA people happy. Then, again, it will likely alienate cat lovers, who’ll cry prejudice and insist that their kitties be considered equal-opportunity layabouts.

That’s his bread and butter: Promoting poor eating habits is a no-no. Generous helpings of bread and butter is an okay diet for sports writers, and I’ve seen enough of you scribes to know you’ve made a visit or three to the McDonald’s drive-thru. It’s okay for you to be soft around the middle, but dietitians will have your scalp (which is another phrase one never should use) if you talk up the benefits of bread and butter for athletes.

He’s a meat-and-potatoes guy: Oh, sure, tick off the vegetarians.

They’re feeling each other out: Oh my. What will the children think if they learn that grownups are feeling each other out? They’ll be scarred for life. Either that, or little Johnny will think it gives him license to cop a feel from little Suzie in the schoolyard.

It’s nip-and-tuck: Hey, plastic surgeons are people, too. They don’t want their serious skills to be trivialized into a sports cliche about a close game. They have feelings, even if that botox injection numbs the feeling in your face.

It’s a real barn-burner: Can you say KKK, kids?

That’ll put a few more grey hairs on his head: It’s acceptable to use this phrase when discussing men. There’s nothing wrong with some snow on the mountaintop. It doesn’t mean the coach can no longer think straight. At worst, it means he needs a little dab of Just For Men. If, however, you’re talking about a woman and grey hair, it’s ageism.

His coming-out party: Not a phrase to be used for male athletes. We know there are no openly gay men in any sports league that truly matters to the beer-swilling, belching lumps who sit on bar stools. But mention of a coming-out party tends to make the closeted gays antsy. Numerous gay female athletes have had their sexual coming-out parties, but since men only write about women’s sports once every four years, they probably haven’t noticed all the lesbians.

A pretty Penny: Holy sexism, Batgirl! Don’t even think of going here. Pennys aren’t to be told that they’re pretty. Not at any age. If you have to write about an athlete named Penny, change her name to something that is non-punable so tabloids can’t use it for a cheesy play-on-words.

Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public: Even though it’s been documented that many men (usually bachelors) wash their dirty laundry in those convenient places we call laundromats, radical feminists shall insist that this is yet one more example of sexist stereotyping.

She’s the (insert male athlete’s name) of her sport: Write or say this and you’re on your own, pal. And I shouldn’t have to explain why.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

Man oh man, the Sexism Police are having a field day with the Rio Olympics

If it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is equally accurate to suggest sexism is in the ear of the beholder.

And, oh boy, do the Sexism Police monitoring the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro ever have good hearing. And eyesight. They’re listening to and viewing the Five Ring Circus with ears and eyes wide open, convinced that there’s a sexist bogeyman lurking in every sound bite and turn of phrase. Why, if you listen and read closely enough, they’ll have you believing that there’s as much raw sewage and garbage spewing out of the broadcast booth and press box as there is into Guanabara Bay.

Katinka Hosszu: Her husband made her do it.
Katinka Hosszu: Her husband made her do it.

I mean, I’ve probably read two dozen articles accusing the media of sexist reporting. It’s to the point where I’m thinking that Slip of the Tongue and Dangling Participles might be new Olympic sports.

If so, we can present the gold medal to Dan Hicks right now, because the NBC gab guy had the bad manners to credit Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s world-record performance in the 400-meter individual medley to her coach/hubby, American Shane Tusup, who is “the guy responsible for turning his wife into a whole different swimmer.”

Joining Hicks on an increasingly crowded podium would be a couple of his colleagues at the Peacock Network—NBC’s chief marketing officer John Miller and talking head Jim Watson—as well as Hannah Parry of the Daily Mail in the U.K. and a twit of a tweeter at the Chicago Tribune.

But are we dealing with sexism or thin skin here? Let’s take a sober second look at a handful of the alleged sexism cases.

Dan Hicks: At first blush, yes, his comment sounds horribly sexist. A case, however, could be made that Hicks’s timing and news evaluation, if anything, were wonky.

Verdict: Did Hicks make the coach the story because Tusup is a he and Hosszu is a she? I doubt it. Clearly, in the immediate aftermath of her accomplishment, the focus ought to have been squarely on the Hungarian Hosszu. She was the lead story and deserved to be lavished in praise. Tusup should have been assigned as an afterthought. A sidebar, if you will. Hicks is guilty of a colossal gaffe in editorial judgment. He got it bass ackwards.

U.S. women's gymnastics team: Let's all celebrate at the mall, girls.
U.S. women’s gymnastics team: Let’s all celebrate at the mall, girls.

John Miller: The NBC marketing poohbah reacted to criticism of the network’s delayed coverage by saying, “The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

Verdict: Guilty. Must-see TV coming to NBC next season—Real Housewives of Rio. No matter how you slice and dice Miller’s remarks, he’s guilty of sexist tripe of the highest order.

Jim Watson: The United States women’s gymnastics team wowed ’em in the qualifying round and, upon observing them smiling, giggling and glowing on the heels of their performance, Watson said the women “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall.” Yes, Jim, nothing delights a woman more than hanging out with all her mall-rat friends while the menfolk are off doing the heavy lifting in life.

Verdict: Guilty of sexism, as charged. Watson is sentenced to an entire afternoon of traipsing behind his wife (girlfriend?) while she travels from shoe store to shoe store to shoe store with all her mall-rat besties. And, of course, while the ladies are inside slipping in and out of pricey pumps, he must stand outside holding his wife’s purse. Then pick up the tab.

Katie Ledecky: Man oh man, what a swimmer.
Katie Ledecky: Man oh man, what a swimmer.

Hannah Parry: Can a female reporter make sexist comments about female athletes? Well, I know gay people who are homophobic and transphobic. So sure. But is it sexist for Parry to write that American swimmer Katie Ledecky is being “touted as the female Michael Phelps?” By way of comparison, consider Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair, long regarded as the best female footballer on the planet. If I were to write “Christine Sinclair is the female Lionel Messi” am I guilty of sexism? Must I write, “Christine Sinclair is to women’s soccer what Lionel Messi is to men’s soccer?” I’m saying the same thing, only using a different turn of phrase.

Verdict: Not guilty. Parry did not betray the sisterhood. She is comparing Ledecky favorably to the greatest swimmer of all time, which is not faint praise. It is, in fact, the highest manner of praise.

Chicago Tribune: After U.S. trap shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein reached the podium, someone at the Trib posted this Twitter tease: “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” Yikes. That old “wife of” thing just doesn’t cut it. Not even when the husband plays for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League.

Verdict: Guilty on the lesser charge of making a woefully lame attempt at localizing an international story. I mean, if Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States and the Trib tweets, “Wife of former President wins White House” I’ll scream “Sexism!” In this case, though, trivializing Cogdell-Unrein’s achievement by linking her to her hubby is more an example of pathetic news judgment than it is sexist.

In summation, your honor, yes sexism has reared its ugly head at Rio, some of it outrageous and some of it exaggerated. And it’s a lot like the garbage in Guanabara Bay—there’s probably more to come.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.