Sexism still rampant in sports media

Doug Close, Sports Editor

Mike Francesa has been the face of one of New York City’s and the east coast’s most popular sports radio stations since 1987. During his almost 30 years spent as a fixture of baseball talk radio on WFAN, Francesa has done and said some controversial things while on the air.

During a segment on Francesa’s show March 1, a caller rang in to Francesa’s show on WFAN. The caller mentioned that his daughter was an avid sports fan, and then asked Francesa whether he thought there would be a female coach in a major professional male sports league in his lifetime.

Francesa answered, “No.”

While that might not be the most delicate way to answer a question, Francesa could be forgiven for expressing that sentiment. In a general sense, many mainstream sports like baseball have made it difficult for women to get involved, even at the grassroots level. In that sense, a woman going on to coach in the MLB may seem extremely unlikely to occur in the lifetime of the 62-year-old Francesa.

But that wasn’t Francesa’s argument. Instead, he relied on the dated, incorrect notion that women cannot handle the physical and mental strength required of players and coaches at the highest level of professional sports.

Francesa used the case of New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, a male, as an example. He talked about how Hornacek has recently come under scrutiny from his star player, forward Carmelo Anthony, and how he doubted if a female coach could handle such criticism.

“How would one of these women stand up to that scrutiny, if we’re being realistic?” Francesa said.

He got some heat for that. He also got some support, namely from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with women’s rights,” Francesa said. “It has nothing to do with being chauvinistic. I have no problem with women advancing in business. They have every right to and they will do it as well as men, maybe better. Same thing with politics.”

Illustrated by Nate Mulroy

So in Francesa’s mind, women hold the capabilities to own a company and run for president. But coach a male sports team? Perish the thought!

I shouldn’t have to waste time explaining the physiological reasons why Francesa is wrong. As for his “mental toughness” argument, there is already a female assistant coach in the NBA (the San Antonio Spurs’ Becky Hammon) who has received plenty of public criticism and hasn’t crumbled under any pressure from the media. His argument is also based on conjecture. He has no evidence by which he can make such claims.

And Francesa has no evidence, partially due to members of the media like him who don’t think it’s even physically possible for a woman to be in a position to receive such criticism.

This old-school, “lovable uncle” approach to sports analysis and commentary has been one that Francesa has relied on for decades. It’s an approach that my uncles love, my mom hates and one that I tend to avoid as much as possible. It’s not uncommon for these conversations about sports to digress into publicly broadcasted group-ramblings between middle-aged men, and it is unfortunately common for sexist sentiments like Francesa’s to work their way into the dialogue. Talk radio is its own unique beast in today’s media. And it’s not all bad – talk radio is a space in which people try to free-form ideas and discuss all kinds of topics. Sports talk radio specifically is usually benign. Most of the time, every goofy local sports show host tends to rely on a similar spiel as the goofy local sports show host from the town next door, and I usually just don’t care.

But when that spiel perpetuates a false notion on a national scale – a false notion that does nothing to help find a solution to an issue as longstanding as sexism in professional sports – then I do care.

Francesa’s contract with WFAN expires at the end of 2017, and hopefully opinions like his will expire within a similar timeframe.


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