Why Female Sportscasters Lose Their Luster
"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 of Monday 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.
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