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January 23, 2009

Girls on the Side(lines)

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Written by: YankTank
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“A woman with a woman’s viewpoint is of more value when she forgets she’s a woman and begins to act like a man.” –Leonor Kretzer Sullivan, American Congressman

On January 20, 2009, the first African American President of the United States was sworn into office. The country wept with pride, hope and relief, with a renewed faith in their nation for breaking down barriers. It was a truly monumental occasion in American history.

Except for the fact that we elect a president every four years.

The fact that politics has mushroomed into some kind of chic cachet demonstrates that this election is considered exponentially more remarkable than any other.

There’s no disputing the reason behind this—but I thought it wasn’t about race. I thought it was about Obama’s commitment to change and his promise of hope.

Why is it a big deal that he’s black? Why not be excited because you’re glad his policies were victorious?

This celebration/dismissal of preconceived prejudices is the same dialectic framing women sportscasters. People’s accomplishments should not be qualified by their rarity or the adversity behind them. Our achievements are what they are and should not be measured by cultural variables. 

That being said—all things being equal, I unquestionably prefer men.

That does not make me a sexist. It makes me someone interested in the glib, conversational voices of a gender that essentially was born into sports. It’s not a groundbreaking theory that generally, men know sports more than women do.

I can already hear the indignant huffing and puffing of self-professed female sports nuts:

“Listen, clown. I won my fantasy baseball league, and I played with all tough guys.”

“Yeah, well, my cousin Edmond thought ‘icing’ was a Rachel Ray special episode until I explained it to him.”

“Back up there, do the words Pam Oliver mean anything to you?”

Please realize, I said, “generally.”

Put it this way. Remember Sports Illustrated for Women?

Yeah—neither do I. That’s because I have gummy bears that have lasted longer than this defunct periodical. The problem with this type of desperate niche is that it overlooks a significant insight: Women don’t like sports.

However, those that do like sports, like sports in general. They don’t want or need to have sports tailored to their sex. 

The book Differentiate or Die by advertising genius Jack Trout talks about why this type of marketing to seeming untapped niches isn’t necessarily the brightest move:

“Successful firsts aren’t tricky,” he said. “They tend to be good ideas. Conversely, unsuccessful firsts tend to be bad ideas. R.J. Reynolds spent a fortune on the first smokeless cigarette. This is the antithesis of common sense. Their theory was that smokeless cigarettes would appeal to nonsmokers. Unfortunately, nonsmokers don’t buy cigarettes. Something like $325 million went up in smoke (or non-smoke) with the dismal launch of Premier cigarettes…Premier may have been a first, but it was just plain stupid.”

Whether you’re smoking or following sports, you don’t want a skewed version of either. I will take a man reporter over a female 10 out of 10 times. It’s not because men necessarily know more. In fact, plenty of times sports knowledge coming from women edges out those of men.

The thing is, I don’t need or want to hear every fact ever about a running back—I just want pithy, conversational, unaffected analysis.

The reason I never get this from women is because their reports indicate they don’t identify as a sportscaster. They categorize themselves as female sportscasters. 

The glaring difference between them is that men have nothing to prove. That makes them sometimes sloppy, but ultimately likable. Women do have something to prove, which makes them ultimately successful and often unentertaining. It’s like watching a boardroom scene in The Apprentice, or something along the lines of that. 

After being absent from the scene for so long, women deliver their commentaries with noble ambition and meticulous accuracy. Kudos, ladies. 

But no matter how much you know, no matter how hard you try to dodge the stigma, it still comes across to me as impersonal and trying too hard. Both are understandable, but not something I care to mix with the effortless leisure of watching the game.

I have to assume it’s the equivalent of starting a new job and going to your first status meeting. The account workers are irreverent and confident because they understand the office character. They know the parameters of what’s considered appropriate, what employees respond to and so on.

Even if the rookie is coming to this meeting with a stellar resume to her name, she’s still a little reticent to immediately hop into this dynamic. Instead, she wants to showcase her capability and establish herself in the pecking order by demonstrating she belongs there.

She has something to prove, but impressive as it is, it’s boring. No matter how ridiculous Boomer sounds, no matter how melodramatic Gus Johnson seems, and no matter how manic John Sterling can be, I still prefer their easy-going, honest, and seamless game coverage. 

I want to hear Sterling’s bubbly and often substance-less celebration of a grounder to short that he describes as “nearing the warning track,” more than I want to hear Suzyn Waldman’s rattling laundry list of every radar gun count of every pitch thrown since the turn of the century. 

If a woman has decided to pursue a career in sports journalism, her qualifications and performance should be held to the same standards as men. That means recognizing that they need to stop perceiving themselves as minorities, because the fact is, they chose to be there.

I’m frankly sick of hearing girls start any fantasy league story with, “I’m the only girl in the league.” 

Why does that matter? If you like the sport, then what difference does it make? Constantly bringing your gender to everyone’s attention proves your love of the game is punctuated by your love of the fact you’re a girl who loves the game. 

If women want to be considered as equals in the sports industry, then why do they perpetually imbue their work with reminders of their sex? If they want to be seen as a professional journalist and treated like one, then what difference does it make that you’re a super-brave, independent girl tackling the intimidating world ofMonday Night Football?

One thing I will never have to be subjected to when a man’s delivering the score is the scary hi-def portrayal of “When makeup attacks.” The ever-improving level of clarity characterizing new plasma screens is quite beautiful when it means that I am able to see the skate marks on the ice. It loses its cachet when it means I am distracted by nickel-sized pores stuffed with bronze-toned concealer.

Women should take their cue from Terry Griffith, the underrated 1980s B-list movie character in Just One of the Guys. She chopped off her locks and de-feminized herself so she could be taken seriously as a writer.

I don’t want to see this happening at the 50-yard line, but maybe women should adopt the mentality that the proof is in the pudding. She wanted to write, so she did. She didn’t care that no one knew she was really a girl. Do it for the sake of doing it. Be a sports fan without perpetuating a stifling prejudice.  

I’m not saying it’s an industry that should be exclusive to men, but I’ll opt for the bumbling male every single time for the same reason I didn’t like Lost in Translation, Vanilla Sky, or Taxi Driver. I don’t care how impressive the cinematography is or how sophisticated the script is or how challenging the production was. When it comes to entertainment, I’m not deep enough for subtext. Give me Vince Vaughn playing video games over Scarlett Johansson transcending existential barriers any day of the week.

Especially if that day is Monday night.



About the Author

YankTank
Kris Pollina lives and works in New York City as an advertising copywriter. She lives and dies by NY sports and is the first to admit she can be wildly irrational in defense of her teams. She spends too much time thinking of fantasy team names, too little time reading injury reports. She doesn't understand people who keep score at baseball games. She has more interest in the Kreb Cycle than she does in the NBA, tennis, golf, or anything that is limited to running around a track. She doesn't mind the NFL overtime rules, thinks hockey is wildly underrated, and hates the expression "step up to the plate." Most importantaly, she doesn't believe in wearing baseball hats with football logos on them. Football players wear helmets.




9 Comments


  1. Vin
    Vin

    Here’s the problem with female sports reporters: it’s not the fact that they’re bad. It’s the fact that they’re always relegated to roles that are useless.

    So it’s not that I hate Suzy Kolber and Michele Tafoya (although I do), it’s that they are sideline reporters. The most useless position in all of broadcast journalism outside of whatever position Stephen A Smith is in. Look, it’s not just the women, it’s Armen Ketayan (sp), it’s Craig Sager, it’s ____. (Especially useless is Tony Siragusa but I’m not sure if he’s a sideline reporter or a clown.)

    I was watching something meaningless on ESPN and there was a female color guy. It wasn’t so bad. Although it might have been something like Div II basketball. If they had the chops, I wouldn’t mind a woman in the booth. Hell, the men in there are usually terrible anyway. I find that CBS has the worst announcers in football. I feel bad for you AFC fans.


  2. C’mon Vin!

    “Here’s the problem with female sports reporters: it’s not the fact that they’re bad. It’s the fact that they’re always relegated to roles that are useless.”

    That should have been:

    Here’s the problem with female sports reporters: it’s not the fact that they’re bad. It’s the fact that they’re not all Erin Andrews.


  3. Yeah, I dont know. Sideline reporters are annoying male or female. But I mean, I feel it’s just like anything else in life: men don’t need to assertively weigh in on every last thing, whereas women talk too much so no one overlooks them.


  4. mw2828

    Lost in Translation was somewhat pretentious, but the cinematography [CINEMATOGRAPHY, A WORD THAT CAN MAKE ANYONE WHO SAYS IT SOUND SOPHISTICATED. That’s cinematography] and acting were quite good. Not the kind of movie that I’ll watch more than once though.

    Anyway, I have a beef, because Taxi Driver is awesome. You know what the funny thing is about Taxi Driver? People really overcomplicate a bizarrely simple story. Paul Schrader, the guy who wrote the movie, was losing his bird while working on the script. Everything about the movie that people try to interpret, from whether the ending was a dream and on and on, is really a waste. It was all real. Bickle killed all those people. He saved the little girl. She went on to have a happy life. He somehow didn’t go to jail. The knockout from the election office later rode in his cab on a random night after he inexplicably became a hero. And I think we were supposed to gather that she felt regret for missing the boat on such a great guy like Travis. Sick, sick shit, I know, but Martin S. has said himself that the ending is what it is, not a fantasy or whatever. Taxi Driver is a work of impressive lunacy. Yes, Travis is “supposed” to be seen as the ultimate good guy by the end of the movie. Schrader was probably pissed off at society and wanted to create a character to act out his anger against phony politicians, scum bag pimps, and the like. The only reason I’m going on this spiel is basically to say Taxi Driver isn’t like those other two movies. There isn’t any more complexity to Taxi Driver than what people manufacture themselves. Vanilla Sky and Lost in Translation were designed to be dense. I actually think Vanilla Sky was really, really good.

    By the way this:

    “This celebration/dismissal of preconceived prejudices is the same dialectic framing women sportscasters.”

    I liked. Nice writing. Did you shave your head before writing that sentence?


  5. Ha. To be honest, I never saw past the first 15 minutes of Taxi Driver, because I fell asleep. I have no attention span, and i especially have no suspension of disbelief. I can’t even watch period pieces because I can’t relate to them.

    And I’m not saying women should shave their heads! Im just saying I think they should do something for the sake of doing it. The girl in Just One of the Guys wanted to write so she did. It sucked she couldnt do it as a female, but it was more important to her to write, not for everyone to know she was a girl.

    ps THANKS FOR RUINING THE ENDING OF TAXI DRIVER!

    j/k I probably never would have watched it anyway. Not while there’s movies like “my bloody valentine” to enlist in the war on my brain cells.

    Thanks for reading and commenting! 19 more days til pitchers and catchers..


  6. mw2828

    I’d like to issue a spoiler warning retroactive to yesterday.


  7. Vin
    Vin

    1) Erin Andrews – I kinda feel bad for Erin Andrews (well, about as bad as one can feel for hot women who probably never get speeding tickets.). Erin Andrews could be the brightest sports mind in the entire century and no one would ever know because they’re too busy looking at her sweaters… and I don’t mean in a “wow that’s a fabulous color!” kind of way.

    2) Lost in Translation is a fantastic movie that I’ve seen several times. It is possibly the only good acting Scarlett Johannsen has ever done and clearly the best work Bill Murray has ever done. The cinemetography IS fantastic (see matt, I can sound smart!) and the direction was so good, it made you forget about the Virgin Suicides. Where exactly is Sofia Coppola these days? (I’m also a bit of a film geek.)

    3) I need to watch Taxi Driver again. Matt, when you say Schrader was losing his bird, do you mean bird in the british sense or did you just invent a new euphemism for losing his mind? And the election campaign hottie was a young Cybil Sheppard. You know who else was really hot in her day? Mia Farrow.

    4) I liked Vanilla Sky too. It wasn’t nearly the abortion everyone said it was. I could’ve done without Tom Cruise but Penelope Cruz is perfect in it and Cameron Diaz does a great job playing an insane blond. Or she might have just been being herself.

    5) How many days till pitchers and catchers report?


  8. mw2828

    Vin: Schrader was going nuts. Section 8 all the way. In the original script all of the opposition SCUM were black as well, something Martin S. changed when the movie went into production. [Think there might have been backlash if changes weren't made? Yikes] These days, nobody touches a script like that. The industry had more guts back then, risks were taken. That all changed after the directors lost power to the producers. [Thank the utter horror show of Heaven's Gate for that] Don’t get me wrong, I still think plenty of great, great films get made every year. But something as insane as Taxi Driver? Not likely.

    And speaking of baseball, Vin, congrats on the Phillies. Too bad about the Eagles yet again. I kind of wanted McNabb to get a ring.

    You know, I have no idea what Sofia Coppola is doing. I do know she was working on that period drama Marie Antoinette for years and finally finishing it may have taken a ton out of her. She was going crazy on details when it came to set design. I never saw the movie, personally. The funny thing is she was having such trouble writing “Marie Antoinette” that she started working on “Lost in Translation” just to let out some stress. Lost in Translation was a huge success and the other movie… not so much. Strange how that works out.


  9. Maybe the Yanks Will Make the Playoffs this Year... or not!

    I think you said it best when you said you’re just “not that deep.” To suggest that SI for women is comparable to women participating in sports commentary is a fairly bold leap. I don’t think anyone would disagree that there is a substantial difference between reading sports news and watching it. What you are missing (which is frightening for someone in advertising) is these two have a completely opposite target audience.

    “Men know sports better than women do.” Men were “born into sports.” These are nothing short of ignorant comments. There are plenty of men out there who don’t know a first down from a touchdown and it would probably be safe to say those individuals choose not to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. Likewise I doubt they read SI or spend much time watching ESPN.

    While I find it surprising that you say, “Women don’t like sports.” Ironically, you profess that you “live and die by NY sports and [are] the first to admit [you] can be wildly irrational in defense of [your] teams.” I must admit, it sounds to me as though you like sports and you’re a woman and apparently a hypocrite.

    Women can be very successful in sports broadcasting. I agree with some of your points regarding the subordinate roles many female sports broadcasters play and the way they come across the public. The problem is that you have been brainwashed into thinking you are getting everything you want from your sports broadcast.

    Men’s and women’s brains operate in different ways. Women process information much more than men do, considering all possible connections or implications a piece of information could bear on. I appreciate that your brain might work as simply as a man’s does. However, the problem is that the men who control sports broadcasting haven’t so much as given a thought to how to get women more interested in sports.

    The answer certainly is not to put moderately attractive to borderline unattractive women on the sidelines with a microphone trying to reach Yao Ming’s mouth as they stand on their tippy toes while their camera man is trying to get them both in the shot and cursing the idiot that hired this 5’2″ woman to interview basketball players. The problem is either (1) that the men who hired them didn’t connect the dots and realize this set-up was idiotic or, more likely, (2) they want women in sports to fail because they’d like to keep their jobs.

    The things women are interested in are different than those men are to some extent when it comes to sports. A successful woman in this business must attract both men and women which will truly broaden the audience. This would bring increased advertising revenue to sports networks, increase mutually enjoyable activities couples can engage in, and promote harmony in the marital home. The answer is that women want different information than men. If women in sports broadcasting continue to solicit the information the men want, it is likely that few women will be inclined to begin following sports. If, however, women broadcasters were actually allowed to ask questions about what women wanted to hear about, it would be a whole different ballgame.



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