photo credit: Sportsnet
Good morning sports media insiders and outsiders. I'm looking for story ideas so if you have some topic you want to see covered here, please be in touch (note: you can DM me even if we're not following each other). Also, if you're in the industry and want to get something off your chest, we have ways of making that happen.
Of all the topics we cover in this space, the ones we discuss the most pertain to the intersection of sports and social issues. Of those issues, sexism, racism, and homophobia stand out as the most important. The reason is that sports is reliably lagging behind the rest of society. So even though we are in 2016, there is still a need to shine a light into the corners of the sports world where these problems continue to lurk. Baseball fought the integration of black players. Just last month we learned of a baseball prospect quitting after his coach talked about killing gay people. We don't have openly gay current players in most professional sports. And it wasn't that long ago that one of the world's most famous golf courses banned women.
The news isn't all bad, of course. The NFL pressured Arizona to drop some anti-LGBT legislation by threatening to move the SuperBowl. Some teams are doing the same with respect to a similar law passed by North Carolina. The You Can Play project has seen some uptake by individual professional teams as well as the CFL, MLS, NHL, and their respective players' associations. But the existence of good news doesn't make the bad news any easier to accept. And the bad news when it comes to sexism has been an ongoing story in several leagues in recent months.
Here's an abbreviated list: the NFL's initial lax treatment of Ray Rice punching his girlfriend into unconsciousness, the same casual attitude towards Greg Hardy's domestic violence, the LA Kings' laissez-faire approach to the Voynov assault, and Gary Bettman's trademark disingenuous response to the Corey/Katy Perry chants. PPP also writes about, among other related issues, a recent Chicago BlackHawk prospect being charged for revenge porn. (note: comments are closed on this thread at PPP. Attempts to ascertain the reasons why were ignored by their Site Manager. Feel free to comment here.)
All of this serves as the background to the big story of the week. The CEO of the Indian Wells tennis tournament Raymond Moore said some sexist things, and later resigned. The BBC has a great breakdown of the issues.
Here are the relevant quotes:
"In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport."
He also referred to women's players as "physically attractive and competitively attractive" while talking about the future of women's tennis, referencing Genie Bouchard and others.
When asked to comment on Moore's remarks, Novak Djokovic said many things, including this:
"I applaud them for that, I honestly do. They fought for what they deserve and they got it. On the other hand I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve."
Seems like a reasonable argument. He also said this:
"I have tremendous respect for what women in global sport are doing and achieving. Their bodies are much different to men’s bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don’t have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don’t need to go into details. I have great admiration and respect for them to be able to fight on such a high level. Many of them have to sacrifice for certain periods of time, the family time or decisions that they make on their own bodies in order to play tennis and play professional sport. … I’m completely for women power."
Oh boy. Let's separate out two issues:
1. Pay Equity
2. Sex appeal in sports
These are distinct issues and you can have no problem with the second and lots of problems with the first, and vice versa.
Let's deal with the first: should women stars be paid the same as their male counterparts?
In most other sports this would seem ridiculous but in tennis it is not. Have a look at the BBC article for some relevant data. As a complete outsider, it seems plausible to me that the star system in tennis is cyclical. In an ideal world there will be stars in both at all times. In reality, women will be be the stars at times and men will be stars at times. Pay equity in the most lucrative tournaments seems like a reasonable solution to the ebb and flow of the sport.
I can understand the argument that purses should be relative to ticket sales for all events, including the majors. After all we don't expect WNBA stars to make the same as NBA stars. But it is hard to compare tennis to any other sport. It's an individual game not a team game, so likening men's and women's tennis to the NBA and WNBA doesn't work. However, tennis is also not like golf where your main competition is with the course, not your opponents. It's also not like golf in that the men and women tour together for majors and other tournaments. Since individual fates are very much intermixed in tennis, pay equity at the most popular tournaments seems like a decent solution. There is room for reasonable disagreement on this issue.
On to the second: is there a problem with marketing sex appeal in sports?
All things considered the answer has to be: no. These are among the most fit humans in the world. Their bodies are amazing. I have no problem with individuals choosing to draw attention to their physique. Where it becomes problematic is when a league decides to use that as its marketing technique. I'm sure the women who signed up to play in the Lingerie Football League knew what they were getting in to. The fact that some of them are very good at playing football is secondary. This is not at all the case with the WTA. So for Moore to suggest that the league should start focusing the attention on how attractive their players are is demeaning to the athletes who compete in that league.
Again, to be clear: there is nothing wrong with Anna Kournikova building a fortune based on her looks rather than her tennis skills. The problem is with a highly paid and powerful tennis executive publicly arguing that this is what all women in the sport should be doing.
Over to you: for those of you who actually follow the sport, how representative of general sentiment are Moore & Djokovic's comments? Is there merit to the argument that since women play best of 3 while men play best of 5, men deserve to be paid more?
The Indian Wells fiasco brought to mind some similar comments by Sportsnet host Bob McCown in 2011. On International Women's Day (March 8th of 2011) McCown went on air at 3pm and began his show by talking about women in sports. As you'll recall, moving PTS to 3-6pm and replaying the 5 o'clock hour from 6 to 7pm was a Kollins Genius Idea™. This decision came after he opted to hire Andrew Krystal to host the morning show, another KGI™. By March of 2011 Krystal was hosting 1-3pm, and he regularly joined Bob for a cross-over segment (KGI™).
The two hosts discussed the state of women's sports for roughly 20 minutes. The podcast of the show has been lost in the sands of time (note: I'll make a donation to your favourite charity if you find and send me the audio) but some of Bob's remarks were recorded for posterity. Here's a sampling of McCown's thoughts:
"The sole motivation for a man to watch any sport is: Are [the women] half naked and are they good-looking?"
"I have never seen a female volleyball player I would consider attractive. I’m not saying they’re all dogs, or butch, but they’re not overwhelming. Women’s hockey, I would never watch because you can’t see them."
"You don’t get enough close-ups in soccer to see if they’re attractive or not."
Dave Bidini in the National Post has a commentary on Bob's remarks, including the parts where McCown discussed "Gabriella Sabatini’s nipples, her sweat, likening her competitive look to a wet T-shirt contest." Readers on this site also discussed the comments.
Bob appears to have revised his view of things in the intervening 5 years. The always excellent Christine Brennan (USA Today) appeared on PTS on Monday (March 21, 6pm hour – Shannon warning!) to discuss Moore's remarks and succinctly articulated why they were sexist and unacceptable. Bob noted in response that "any right thinking person" would agree with her.
In a slightly uncomfortable segue, Bob Ryan was the next guest and said we should not be surprised at the dumb things executives say when it comes to gender. Ryan also appears to have evolved since he famously said that a prominent NBA player's wife should be smacked, and refused to retract the comment when given the opportunity to do so. (As an aside, PTS should move on from Ryan as a paid guest. He's incoherent most of the time.)
It would have been illuminating to hear Bob explain his change of stance on women's sports. While he claimed to have been joking when he made the sexist comments in 2011, the content of what he said speaks for itself. As far as I know he never apologized for saying those things. So as a listener I am unsure whether Bob has genuinely changed his stance or not.
Naylor & Landsberg had a great segment with Howard Bryant (ESPN) on the Moore comments (March 21, Hour 3).
@bruce_arthur and sorry if some random dude on Twitter inspired you to call me weird, Bruce? Are we at odds?
— Andrew Walker (@FAN590Walker) March 23, 2016
OMG SID JUST ISSUED A DANCE-OFF CHALLENGE TO @evankaosmak!!! Retweet if you NEED to see this!
— Tim and Sid (@timandsid) March 24, 2016
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)