Sport, Media, and a Woman’s Place

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Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi

You may have read about Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers’ quarterback, and his response a few weeks back to a woman journalist who asked him a question at a press conference about “routes.” If not, then let me refresh your memory. The interaction went something like this:

Jourdan Rodrigue (journalist): “I know you take a lot of pride in seeing your receivers play well. Devin Funchess has seemed to really embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards. Does that give you a little bit of enjoyment to see him kind of truck sticking people out there?”

Cam Newton: [smiling and chuckling] “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”

As a woman who participates in and writes about sport, watching this interaction made me angry. Little angry face emojis could be seen emanating from my flaring nostrils and fuming head as news of this hit the media. Are you [expletive] kidding me? Are you seriously [expletive] kidding me? Since when is it “funny” for a sports journalist to ask a question of an NFL quarterback at a press conference? I mean, I am pretty sure it’s not funny. Ever. A woman asking a question as part of her job as a sports journalist is not a joke. It’s her profession. Women have those, you know. Professions.

Flashback to February of this year, and Tampa Bay’s quarterback, Jameis Winston’s comment to a class full of third to fifth graders:

"All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down. . . . We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. Now a lot of boys aren't supposed to be soft-spoken. . . . But the ladies, they're supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong."

Winston later apologized, responding to critics by referencing his own poor word choice. Newton also apologized and also referred to word choice. He did go beyond “poor,” however, calling his word choice “degrading and disrespectful to women.”

 

QB Cam Newton's full apology, issued via social media, for his response to sports reporter Jourdan Rodriguez. 

 

Then what about Beth Mowins, the NFL’s first woman commentator to call a nationally televised NFL game? She made history during a Monday Night Football game between the L.A. Chargers and Denver’s own Broncos on September 11, 2017. In a spectacular show of just how sexist football fans can be, she received scores of critiques on her historic work, including comments about her voice such as “shrill” or “grating.” To say I am surprised by the response to Mowins’ debut commentating a nationally televised NFL game would be a lie. I am not. Nor, apparently, are other observers. New York Times writer Julie Dicaro found it so predictable she wrote an article about the responses Mowins received titled: “The Safest Bet in Sports: Men Complaining About a Female Announcer’s Voice."

The sad reality is women are still not welcome in sports media, regardless of tenure, skill, or knowledge. They continue to be belittled, degraded, silenced, and erased from the landscape. None of this operates in a vacuum. Newton’s comment, Winston’s focus on boys’ strength, and the responses to Mowins are pieces of a larger cultural landscape wherein men’s contributions are positioned above those of women. Sport is but one place where this hierarchy is routinely paraded in front of us and accepted as normal.

While there was backlash against Winston and Newton, there are countless other instances in which women’s contributions have been rendered invisible by a sports machine owned, funded, and operated by men. We must be steadfast in calling out these manifestations of sexism. We must watch women’s sport and encourage our daughters to play sport--and not just those deemed “appropriate” for girls. While many still believe a woman’s place is in the home; I resolutely do not. I believe a woman’s place is anywhere she wants it to be and that absolutely includes sport and sports media. I am not a joke. I will not be silent. And I will not accept criticism of my voice, by body, or my clothing as legitimate. And broads, neither should you.