By Aaron Leibowitz
(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron: https://medium.com/the-cauldron/sexist-pigs-make-bad-sports-journalists-65d33d50cb38)
On Wednesday, the San Francisco Examiner announced it had hired Jay Mariotti to write about sports. Yes, that Jay Mariotti.
In 2010, Mariotti was charged with seven misdemeanors related to a domestic disturbance. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation and community service. In 2011, he was charged with stalking, domestic violence and assault. He again pleaded no contest and was handed more probation and more community service.
If the folks at the Examiner decided this was the type of guy they wanted writing for them, I suppose that’s their prerogative. More likely, they decided he was worth hiring because he’d “stir controversy” and “generate buzz” and get people to talk about their publication in angry think-pieces like this one.
But beyond the hire itself, the publication’s attempt to justify it is what should really be raising eyebrows. Get a load of this piece by Mark Segal Kemp, the new editor of SF Weekly (theExaminer’s sister publication), in which he explains why it’s totally cool to have a domestic-abuser-at-worst and super-creepy-stalker-dude-at-best cooking up hot takes on sports:
“Here’s the deal: Of course we know about Mariotti’s troubled legal history. We know he was accused of domestic violence and that he pleaded ‘no contest’ and got probation for it. But we didn’t bring Mariotti here to write about domestic violence. We brought him here to write about sports. And he’s a terrific sports writer.”
The assumption that all it takes to be a great sports journalist is knowledge of sports and the ability to form sentences is what allows editors to justify hiring (or not firing) journos who just happen to be sexist pigs on the side.
Asking sports journalists to become experts on domestic violence is one thing. Asking them to have a basic understanding of the subject is another. And asking them not to be physical, verbal or emotional abusers of women seems like a more than reasonable request.
Which brings us to the sexist, abusive conversation that transpired Wednesday on Twitter between Dan Bernstein and Matt Spiegel, two writers and on-air personalities for Chicago sports radio station “670 The Score.”
Here’s how it went down via Twitter:
It begins with Spiegel making an unnecessary, condescending critique of a Chicago sports reporter who works for CSN. It’s uncalled for, but not abusive. That’s when Bernstein jumps in to inform us that, while he doesn’t care how well this reporter does her job, he does “enjoy her giant boobs.”
Spiegel goes along for the ride; Bernstein says “boobs” a few more times; end scene.
We could talk for hours about why two adult men felt compelled and entitled to speak publicly about a female counterpart’s job performance and body. For now, though, the point is that they dehumanized a fellow sports journalist — and that women in sports journalism deal with this kind of crap all the time.
In the aftermath of that ugly interaction, a handful of women in the field called them out:
The SF Weekly piece about Mariotti received similar responses:
These tweets are awesome, important, and on some level, probably therapeutic.
But whenever something sexist passes the lips or fingertips of a sports media man, about 90 percent of the critiques I see come from women — even though about 90 percent of “mainstream” sports reporters and editors are men.
Putting the burden on women to stave off every troll and call out every misogynist is unfair. That’s an exhausting task. Plus, the sad reality is that when men call out other men, the latter group of men is more likely to take the criticism seriously.
That’s why, when Dan Bernstein goes full-objectification mode (he’s donethis before), his overwhelmingly male teammates at The Score should say something, publicly or privately, to Bernstein or to his boss.
Will anyone among this male cast of characters decide enough is enough?
To be fair, this is something I, too, can work on. It’s easy to see sexism and discount it as “not my problem,” or to simply decide it’s too stupid to warrant a response. On the one hand, you don’t want to feed the trolls. On the other, imagine if every time a man in sports media said something sexist, 100 more told him it’s not okay.
Now as much as ever, sports intersect constantly with issues of gender and domestic violence, race and class, history and politics. Those who cover the games only stand to become better at their jobs when they are sensitive to, and have general knowledge of, those topics.
If that’s too much to ask, demanding that sportswriters not spew sexist vitriol would seem to be a decent place to start.