I’d like to apologize to Erin Andrews.
Apparently, my lifelong obsession with professional sports — the tears I shed when the Giants won the Super Bowl and when the Mets lost the Subway Series, the John Starks “Dunk” poster I had on my bedroom wall, the tiny radio I kept in bed with me, tuned to Joe Beningo’s overnight show on WFAN — is what caused some pathetic Peeping Tom to install a camera in Andrews’ hotel room keyhole and then upload its contents onto the Internet.
At least according to US News and World Report’s Bonnie Erbe, who today issued a cantankerous call to arms:
I wish women would stop propping up men’s sports. If women didn’t attend NFL games or NBA games, or even watch them on TV to help drive up ratings, they would be doing more to stop men from behaving badly than they could ever do otherwise.
Okay then! The only problem is that I’m not sure to do with all the free time I’ll have now that I can’t watch SportsCenter. I could read Vogue — women like fashion, right? — but I’d worry that my subscription dollars would constitute an explicit endorsement of the body dysmorphia and materialism contained within. If another model died of complications from anorexia, there’d be blood on my hands, you know? I could take up cooking, but what if I prepared a recipe written by a celebrity chef who once pinched a cute waitress’s ass? The only way to fight sexism in the kitchen is via a good old-fashioned hunger strike. My options, it seems, are bleak.
Erbe’s misguided opinion seems to have springboarded from a Seattle Times piece by Jerry Brewer, in which he asserts:
The Andrews incident has largely been labeled an Internet scandal (blame it on the blogs, huh?), but really, it’s a sports culture scandal. It’s about men being men at their worst. It’s about the false notion that it’s OK to be intolerable and horny and barbaric because it’s all part of the guy sports experience.
Brewer, to his credit, backs up this assertion via a compelling interview with Seattle sports reporter Lisa Gangel, no stranger herself to the uneven expectations and unsettling catcalls from fans. And he’s quick to look inward, noting: “At times, I’ve been guilty of objectifying women, too.” Which is why I think his point, while valid, doesn’t go far enough.
This isn’t just an Internet scandal, and it’s something of a sports culture scandal, but really: it’s just a culture scandal, and it’s not limited to sports. For every Erin Andrews at ESPN, there is an Erin Burnett at CNBC. And while the latter may not have to endure the sorts of belching bon mots that get hurled at the former in person, you better believe they’re being bandied about on the trading floor nonetheless.
As it turns out, Erbe was not the only woman whose take on the Andrews story and the men-behaving-badly culture has raised ire. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan recently posted this to her Twitter:
Women sports journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house. There are tons of nuts out there.
Outrage ensued. Brennan later clarified her remarks, noting that she was not speaking to or about Andrews directly and that the “frat house” comment was a line she often uses when speaking with younger women interested in a career around sports. “It’s not fair,” she wrote, “but it’s the way it is.”
To hear Erbe tell it, boys will be boys, (it’s the way it is?) and so it’s the women who watch the boys that need to make changes. Or the women who raise them:
If they encouraged their sons to play sports instead of paying to watch other people play baseball or football or basketball or soccer, they would be sending the message that athleticism is good, but pro sports culture is bad. And it is, nothing but bad.
This is a charming idea in theory (and I’m sure her imagined sports leagues are the ones where everyone gets a trophy) except that it makes no real sense. We should “encourage” our children to value the tenets of “athleticism” — teamwork, endless practice, strong bones and a healthy body, presumably — while rejecting the professional athletes, most of them sans criminal record, who have devoted their lives to doing so? What young hockey player, her helmet bigger than her little body, hasn’t pretended to score the goal that wins the Stanley Cup? Can you imagine telling a child that he can play all the basketball he wants but is not under any circumstances to watch the NBA? (This might make sense if you were saving a potential Knicks fan from himself, but that team hasn’t fallen under the category of “professional sports” in nearly a decade.)
I’m being flip, I know. The unfortunate truth is that there are serious issues and problems in the world of professional sports that range from financial excess to athlete entitlement to fan behavior. Parents everywhere (including Morning Joe guests Dan Senor and Eugene Robinson this morning) are expressing concern, for example, over the inevitable comeback of Michael Vick, who will likely appear back on the NFL field after serving his 18-month prison sentence for his involvement in a dog-fighting operation.
What message will it send to children if Vick can return to his winning ways? How can we cheer a man who tortured dogs in gruesome ways just because he’s a quick scrambler in the pocket? On the other hand, the man served his time as sentenced by a court of law. Why should he be punished further? Should athletes be role models, or should they be athletes? These are heavy questions, but they are precisely the ones that could spark a dialogue between a parent and a child, something that would be far more rewarding than a parental edict banning pro sports from the premises.
Speaking of edicts, Erbe concludes:
I am well aware this suggestion is the stuff of fantasy. That said, I never have understood why women participate in male sports culture, and then turn around and criticize it when something bad emanates from it. It’s a waste of time, pure and simple.
Ah yes, the old “leave the conversation if you don’t like what’s being said” manuever. That sounds familiar!
But once again, I apologize to Erin Andrews for my involvement in the despicable crimes perpetuated against her. Here I thought, all this time, that I was just enjoying the simple thrill of a come-from-behind victory, or at the very least the delicious calories in a Hebrew National hot dog. I guess when my dad taught me to score a baseball game by hand he forgot to mention the “Facilitating Misogyny” statistic. Swing and a miss.
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