Sports, Spring, Column

Sexism In Sports Journalism Still Present Today

In early October, an Atlanta-area sports radio personality named Mike Bell took to Twitter to complain about an announcer on an ESPN broadcast of a playoff baseball game. Normally, I wouldn’t have any issue with this. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. Anyone can decide that he or she doesn’t like the way a game is being announced.

But Bell’s complaint was solely that Jessica Mendoza, a woman, dared to presume that she knew enough about baseball to announce a playoff game! Gasp! Bell tweeted a sexist joke from the movie Anchorman and questioned Mendoza’s qualifications to call a baseball game. Because, you know, she’s a woman. And according to Bell, women—even women with a past like Mendoza’s—inherently aren’t as qualified as men to discuss sports.

See, Jessica Mendoza is a former collegiate and professional softball player. I’d list all of her college accolades, but there are far too many to name. Suffice it to say that she was a four-time First Team All-American at Stanford University and broke about a billion Cardinal records during her four years there. As a professional player, Mendoza represented the United States National Team for six years, winning two gold medals, and played in the National Pro Fastpitch softball league. And she worked as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN, appearing on Sunday Night Baseball to replace the painfully racist Curt Schilling. Hell, she even called a no-hitter—Jake Arrieta’s against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 30.

Clearly Mendoza knows what she’s talking about. So why did Mike Bell assume that she didn’t? That night in October, a quick search on Twitter would show that Bell wasn’t alone in his criticism of ESPN using a female announcer. It is deplorable that, unlike their male counterparts, female broadcasters face scrutiny about their sports knowledge, appearances, and personal lives.

It’s not just high-profile women like Mendoza or Erin Andrews who have to deal with damaging assumptions about their sports knowledge. I have also been on the receiving end of sexist remarks from several old acquaintances who just couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that a girl might actually know what she’s talking about.

One of my best friends told a male friend of hers that she loved sports. He reacted to this by writing a sports quiz and sending it to her. Later on, when I met this male friend for the first time, he also questioned me about my sports knowledge. I find it hard to believe that he would do this if a male friend discussed his love for sports. So why on earth would he do it for a female friend?

I think it is mind-boggling that anyone would make the assumption that men automatically know more about sports than women. Do they think there’s a biological difference? Do they think men are just born with the capacity to retain more sports information? I have no explanation. Maybe one day science will tell us why some people cling to alarmingly sexist opinions. I can only hope.

I don’t mean to sound defensive. I don’t mean to imply that all men are sexist and that all men believe that women naturally know less about sports. In fact, I have not met anyone with this viewpoint since arriving at Boston College. My time on The Heights has been wonderful so far. But it is undeniable that there is still rampant sexism facing women in sports today. In my experience, though, for every person who tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about, there is another person firmly in my corner, reassuring me that I don’t have to explain myself to these idiots. My gender doesn’t define my capacity to understand sports. If other people don’t get it, it’s their own problem.

My high school newspaper staff advisor was one such person. I never openly discussed it with him. I can’t recall ever telling him about remarks people made to me. But when I approached him for the very first time as a freshman and asked about how I could get involved with the newspaper—how I could get involved with the sports section—he didn’t bat an eye. When I was a sophomore, he promoted me to co-sports editor. He never treated me any differently from anyone else on the sports staff. I wasn’t just a girl who loved sports. I was a person who loved sports and was qualified to write about them. My gender didn’t play into it at all, and neither did anyone else’s. If they weren’t qualified to write about sports or if they didn’t take it seriously, they wouldn’t write about sports. Plain and simple. This support meant the world to me and boosted my confidence beyond measure.

My parents also never acted like my love for sports was abnormal. Both of my brothers and I were exposed to a wide variety of sports at a very young age. Instead of watching movies like Pocahontas, 101 Dalmatians, and The Lion King, we used to watch Washington Redskins NFL Yearbooks from 1982, 1987, and 1991 on VHS. We all played about a dozen different sports growing up. I can discuss sports like football and baseball with my dad. I can talk about sports like tennis and golf with my mom. I owe so much to my parents, who have never trivialized women in sports, and who have always supported me.

There is no doubt that the sports world has opened up for women in recent years. There is no doubt that a vast majority of people treat male and female sports broadcasters and journalists just the same. There is no doubt that people like Bell are in the minority. But even a minority is too much when it comes to sexism in sports. Hopefully someday women in the sports reporting industry can do their jobs without being questioned about their appearance and knowledge. As long as people like Bell are given a platform to discuss their prejudices, that day is a long way off. Until people like Bell can acknowledge that women understand sports just as much as men, and until they can acknowledge that women are just as capable of discussing sports as men, there is still work to do.

Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Graphic

December 10, 2015