Fanhouse Interview on Sexism in Sports Blogging

Today there is a post on AOL Fanhouse of an interview with me about sex/sexism in sports blogging. There were cuts made to the interview that I objected to, so I am posting the interview in its entirety here because I don’t think a subject’s answers should be cut, or if they have to be cut the subject should be the one making the cuts. The big cuts are in italics. There are other minor changes here and there as well.

1. Let’s start with my list of candidates for the job of Deadspin editor, and your criticism of the dearth of females on that list. Isn’t it just reality that the vast majority of sports bloggers are men? Or is it sexism on my part to overlook talented female candidates for that position?

Well, you weren’t looking for a list that represented an exact representation of what comprises the group of sports bloggers. You were looking for a list of the candidates based on your opinion. If you really think the one woman you listed is the only woman qualified to be in the running, then you shouldn’t include women just to say you included women. I find it hard to believe you think 22 male bloggers are all in the running and only one woman is, but it’s your list. People have asked me who I would take off to make room for a woman, but that is a false premise for a question. It’s not a finite list. It’s made up of 23 names. I mean, if someone had asked me who the Top 10 candidates were for the Deadspin Editor job, I don’t know if I would’ve included any women. Not because of their ability but because of the lack of female writers on Deadspin to be in contention (which is Deadspin’s fault). The number 23 seems fairly arbitrary to me; it doesn’t seem that you’d HAVE to remove someone to include more women. Was it sexist that you overlooked talented female writers? Well, it depends on if you actually did that. I doubt that you consciously thought, “Well, so-and-so’s really good but she’s a girl so I’m not going to include her.” If you did that, then yeah, that’s sexist. But if you truly believe only one woman is qualified then no, it’s not sexist. You just don’t think there is more than one female writer worth considering, I guess.

2. Donovan McNabb created a controversy last season when he said, “There’s not that many African-American quarterbacks, so we have to do a little bit extra.” If you replace “African-American quarterbacks” with “female sports bloggers,” do you understand where he’s coming from? Do you feel that female sports bloggers are held to a different standard than male sports bloggers?

A different standard by whom? I mean, your list seems to reflect that the standard for Deadspin Senior Editor is met almost exclusively by men. So maybe you hold women to a higher standard, or maybe you just think we all stink as writers. The feedback I’ve received over on Bugs & Cranks from the other writers on the site has been overwhelmingly positive, and it was never qualified with “for a girl.” So I don’t think they hold me to a different standard. They hold me to the same “good writing or bad writing” standard, which is what everyone should be held to.

3. Do you ever feel uncomfortable talking about being a female sports blogger or talking about sports and sexism?

Not really, but there’s always that fear that anytime it sexism comes up (blogging or otherwise), guys are going to roll their eyes and label you as a hairy-legged feminazi who is going to start burning her bras. And once they’ve got you labeled as such, they’ve stopped listening to you.

4. Is there such a thing as a female approach to sports blogging? Is there a sense of needing to assimilate to a more male form of writing, for a male audience?

I don’t think there is a female approach to sports blogging. I think the approach the Ladies takes, appreciating hot athletes while also having substantive posts, is certainly ONE approach, but it’s not necessarily a female approach. Plenty of male sites ogle female athletes. A gay blogger could ogle male athletes, same goes for a lesbian blogger. Hell, I can appreciate that Sharapova is a damn fine-looking woman. That’s just one aspect of sports. I also don’t think there’s a “male form of writing.” There’s just writing people like and writing people don’t like.

5. What is your opinion of the phenomenon that is Erin Andrews’ pervasive role in the sports blogosphere? Harmless fun or a sign that male sports bloggers are too busy looking at female sportscasters’ bodies to bother evaluating the words coming out of their mouths?

I love Erin Andrews. She seems cool, she knows her stuff and yes, she is very pretty. Even moreso in person. And I honestly have no problem with bloggers ogling her online. I mean, that’s the Ladies’ schtick. We feature hot athletes. It comes with the territory of being in the public eye.

The reason I got so het up about Sutcliffe is because for the love of Pete a female reporter should be able to do her job and not be objectified on the air. I mean, if this had happened on my local news broadcast? If Ron had just turned to Sunny (yes, that’s her name. I wish she was the weatherwoman.) and said that her dress was distracting the weatherman or the sports anchor or whomever, that would be completely unacceptable. Unprofessional and rude. Why is it different because it’s some bozo on ESPN? Because it’s sports casting? And women should just expect that kind of behavior in a male-dominated arena? I don’t understand why it’s different. And yes, Erin Andrews rolled with it. She pretty much has to, on the air at least.

As far as male bloggers evaluating female sportscasters goes, I would hope they can separate attractiveness from ability and knowledge. Who doesn’t like to sit around and talk about which famous people they think are cute? I love to do that. (For the record: James Marsters, Scott Rolen, Erik Szamanda, and Ryan Stiles. Don’t judge me.) But I hope they also know that the female reporters might also have good things to say.

6. Coverage of female athletes in sports blogs focuses to a large degree on their attractiveness, whereas coverage of female athletes in the MSM focuses more on their accomplishments in the field of play. Is that an area where bloggers should emulate their MSM colleagues?

I think bloggers should do whatever they want to do. If your schtick is ogling female athletes, that’s your blog’s thing. People will either read it or not read it. Other blogs will talk about the accomplishments. I just see such a distinction between a colleague on the air doing it and some blogger doing it on WordPress. That might not be how people see it, maybe that’s not such a big distinction for some people. But it is for me.

7. Does Ladies … contribute to an atmosphere where athletes male and female are judged by their appearance?

Yes and no. One thing I’ve noticed is that we might rank the best forearms in sports or talk about Albert Pujols’s fine behind, but that doesn’t change how we feel about the players. I love Scott Rolen to a fervent degree, but that doesn’t mean I drafted him in the 2nd round of my fantasy baseball draft (I wanted until the 5th round). So we appreciate the good looks but I don’t know if we “judge” the athletes? Does that make sense? I mean, I find Carlos Zambrano to be kind of scary-looking. But he’s a helluva pitcher. He’s been shutting down my Cardinals for the last 10 years, it seems like. Same with Greg Maddux. He looks like an accountant. But he’s amazing. I love that guy.

So we certainly perpetuate the ogling, but I don’t think we judge athletes by their appearance. At least, not as “athletes.” Maybe as “potential boyfriends.”

With guys noticing female athletes, I actually think they only really notice the pretty ones, unless there’s a big news story about some particular female athlete. Guys don’t generally follow women’s sports. They know the hot ones, but even with the hot ones…can they rattle off statistics? I mean, I can tell you how cute I think Pujols is and I can also tell you his OPS and how last season he hit 43% of his homeruns on Sunday (which was so weird, by the way). But along the same lines, I can’t tell you who led the WNBA in assists this year because I don’t follow women’s basketball at the pro level. Hmmm. This just kind of wandered off into nowhere.

But maybe I just object to the word “judged.” I’m sure we can all agree that Anna Kournikova is hot, but nobody let that fool them into thinking she was Venus Williams. Do female sportscasters get judged on their appearance? Yes, they do. But like I said, I think (hope) people can separate the two things. It’s fine to find Erin Andrews hot but let’s also acknowledge that she’s in-tune to the games she covers. Along those lines, I’ve heard plenty of guys joke about Pam Ward’s attractiveness level, but I’ve also heard them say that despite that, she calls a good game. Same for Linda Cohn. So maybe we can separate the two.

8. Is it objectifying women in general and holding them back when showing pictures of scantily clad women or is it empowering individual women for them to be able to pose with few clothes on and be able to make money in that way?

Pictures of scantily clad women always objectify the women in them, but that’s sort of the point. They wouldn’t be scantily clad if it wasn’t. And I love it that women have the freedom to do that if they want to. That’s empowering. Sideline reporters who are not scantily clad are still objectified, but that kind of comes with the territory of being famous. However (and this may not ever happen) both men AND women could stand to realize that a pretty face/good body is not all there is to a woman and that she could have a brain in her head. Good-looking men are not assumed to be stupid, but good-looking women often are.

9. You recently wrote, “Guys who are threatened by women who know sports can bite me.” Do you think that’s common, for men to be threatened by women who know about sports?

There are different kinds of guys when it comes to this. The best ones are the ones who realize that it’s cool their girl likes sports, she is not a freak, and sports is something you can share together.

There are the ones who think you’re a party trick to be trotted out for people. “Seriously, she can tell you Jeff Weaver’s ERA pre-Cardinals and post-Cardinals, just ask her!” or “Hey, what’s Paul Pierce’s shooting percentage on the road this year? … See! I told you! She knows her stuff!” Those guys aren’t tooooo bad, but it depends on if they treat you like it’s a compliment or if they treat you like you should be on display at the circus.

Then there are the ones who get so threatened and freaked out that they almost don’t know what to do with themselves. A few years ago I was in a bar with my friend BJ who is a Yankees fan and we were debating who is the better hitter, Albert Pujols or A-Rod? And a nearby guy (let’s call him “Jim”) from our law school jumped in to say David Ortiz. We were excited to have another debate partner, BJ and I even joked about the Big 3 markets being represented. But we started noticing (BJ and I talked about this later) that Jim was only addressing BJ and ignoring me. When I finally pulled Jim’s attention, he made a comment about me only liking Pujols because my “daddy” was probably a Cardinals fan. He turned to BJ to get a supportive laugh and BJ goes, “Boy, did you just poke the hornet’s nest.”

I then rattled off some statistics to support my claim and also some Ortiz statistics to dispute his claim. Jim got so mad and/or embarrassed that he stood up, shoved me out of the way and stormed out of the bar. He shoved me so hard I fell over. That guy was bothered and threatened by me putting him in his place.

Do I think this is common? Well, the commenters on Deadspin are generally in the first group, but out in the “real world” it’s been much closer to an even split. So I don’t know.

10. Any final thoughts?

In the sports blogging world, there is good writing and bad writing. Men and women authors contribute to both groups. I’d just like to see the good female writing given a more prominent place. We’re getting there. I write for a previously all-male site and the feedback and pageviews have led me to believe that I don’t suck. Holly writes for EDSBS and actually just ran it solo for about 5 days and she was great. Clare was asked contribute to Fanhouse for the Olympics and I’m sure it’s going to be great too. Those women wouldn’t have been asked to write for those sites if they weren’t good writers. But there could be more women writing for the bigger sites. Maybe the women aren’t trying hard enough in the sense of sending in their stuff, asking to be a contributor. But maybe the sites aren’t looking to employ any women (and by “not looking” that could be inadvertent or overt, I don’t know). It’s probably six of one, half a dozen of the other. Either way, there should be more women writing for the big sites.

32 thoughts on “Fanhouse Interview on Sexism in Sports Blogging

  1. I second what Amanda said. And I also want to add that I’m surprised by what was cut out of the original post, though I probably shouldn’t be.

  2. Thanks for taking the hit here. My main area is fiction writing, and there’s a woman I know who runs a site where she counts the amount of male vs. female bylines in each issue of the new yorker. another colleague who counts male bylines in rock journalism vs female.

    we’re just plain underrepresented.

    and i think we should just start our own deadspin.

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  4. They cut the parts most relevent to the points you were making, particularly in questions seven and eight. Not to be reactionary, but what jerks.

    My mother told me I should work towards being published in magazines and newspapers, not writing for free on the internet. I told her that the reason I do is because, unlike the print world, the blogosphere is a pure meritocracy. Apparently this is not the case.

  5. How is the blogosphere not a meritocracy again? In the weeks and weeks of this discussion I have yet to see a single instance of a chick getting turned down for a high-profile gig on account of being a chick.

  6. LA, you rock. I think they did cut out a lot of really relevant points. Cutting out the last question was a bad move on their part, I think–with #9 finishing it off, you go out with an “I don’t know” for that question. It makes it seem like you didn’t know what you were talking about–which, of course, is not the case!

  7. This is a great interview which sums up almost exactly what I feel about this issue. I had a long late night (beer-fuelled) argument about this issue with a music journalist the other night (male, inevitably) and despite being an intelligent man he really struggled to understand my point of view at all. It always amazes me how ingrained some of these attitudes are.

  8. VERY well-said. My aunt once told me that she thought it was awesome that I know so much about sports, because it’s one more way to get ahead in “a man’s world.” Horrific jerks notwithstanding, most guys can genuinely appreciate a woman who knows sports.

    That being said, I am more than a little sketched-out by the attitude of a lot of prominent male sports bloggers. I’ve exchanged e-mails with a few of them about some of the awful things that I’ve read about women out there in the blogosphere. They’ve consistently expressed regret about sexism in sports blogging, but nothing ever changes. I mean, if Big Daddy Drew can come right out and write this with nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and a “what are you gonna do?” attitude, it’s clear we have a LONG way to go.

  9. Good job, Andie – it’s always a good sign for The Ladies to represent themselves well. It’s too bad that MDS felt the need to cut out so much of the original interview, as it loses some of its impact. But, I guess that only confirms much of what you said about men (or boys, really) being threatened by women like you all.

  10. Hello all. John Ness from FanHouse here. Just wanted to make it clear that I edited the piece, not MDS. If you disagree with any of the cuts, I’m the person to complain to. We edit all interviews on FanHouse to make them cleaner and more readable — that’s the goal, anyway. If you have a complaint, please drop me a line at john dot ness AT gmail. We’re a fan of the Ladies … and we want to be responsive to any complaints.

  11. Hey, Scott.

    I made the edits, so this buck is mine. I think MDS made it clear that he was open to criticism of his choices when he invited Andrea in the first place, so I don’t think it would be fair to accuse him of passing the buck, either. You can accuse me of poor editorial decisions if you like, but I think our record on opening ourselves up to criticism is pretty strong.

  12. Wouldn’t it be better to not do the stupid shit that requires you to open yourself to criticism?

    Also, that was probably just a joke.

  13. Westlaw: No, it wouldn’t. We welcome the criticism, under the assumption that reasonable people can disagree about things.

    wraparoundcurl: You may think it’s “oddly telling” that it was cut. For the record, I cut that sentence because I thought it went without saying that gay people can post salacious pictures of the gender they’re attracted to. And if it goes without saying, I’d prefer to leave it out of the interview. People have limited lunch hours in which to read these things.

  14. Holly: I think it’s more of a meritocracy than most other forms of media. However, it’s clearer to me now that the same old prejudices drive perception in this part of the media as much as any other, or at least close enough to give me a severe case of disillusionment. Except in cases where it’s not obvious that the woman writing it is a woman, as in NeedForSheed, women’s sports sites tend to be treated as just that – women’s sports sites. They’re set in a separate category, whether their shtick is about hot men *cough* or not. This is all a matter of tendency, of course, and generalizations are unfair. But in this case, it seems that those who think a “woman’s perspective” changes things (when in reality we all have different perspectives, which is what makes this interesting) outweigh those who don’t. I’m not saying it’s not a meritocracy when it comes to employment – just that many female writers seem to be judged as “not knowing their stuff” or being not worth reading, and prejudice precludes judging someone by their merits.

    /thoughts on meritocracy

    Of course, we all know this is a titocracy anyway. I’m unfamiliar with the bosoms of the other Ladies…, but I’m sure I’m not at the top of this non-phallocentric totem pole.

  15. Loved the interview. Really, really loved it. Especially (ironically) a lot of the stuff that was cut out. I recently started blogging myself, so while I don’t have much experience with this kind of borderline online sexism, I can definitely see where you’re coming from already in what I read around the block. The sad thing is, though, that the critique doesn’t even always come from men.

    An anecdote: I was watching the Crosstown Classic game today with my female friend, and we got to talking about my new blog, and she said that she didn’t really understand all of the articles (mostly because she didn’t know all the people I was referencing), which was a fine comment. But then she told me that, though my blog claims to be from a “strictly girly point of view” it really didn’t seem like that to her. After which she recommended that I add more comments about hot athletes and the like to my posts. I just shook my head and sighed, assuring her that there’d be more talk of hot butts in the future.

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