Sexism still an issue in sports journalism in 2015

Mike Bell Jessica Mendoza
(Photo Credit: Twitter)

This post was originally published on my JN 499 class blog at The University of Alabama, a course dealing with journalism ethics: https://uajn499.wordpress.com/2015/10/20/sexism-still-an-issue-in-sports-journalism-in-2015/

It was then later published on DoingEthicsInMedia.com, the website for the “Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications” textbook used for the course: http://www.doingethicsinmedia.com/wp/sexism-remains-an-issue-in-sports-journalism-in-2015/

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If you think you have it better off than me, there’s a good chance you’re wrong.

Ask yourself, are you a male? Yes? No? If it’s the latter, then I don’t think it’s up for discussion.

While I could probably use this test in most areas of our masculine culture and get the same result nine times out of 10, it seems clear to me that it especially holds true in a field I know quite well – journalism.

First of all, if you haven’t been able to paint some type of picture of me yet, let me be as succinct as possible: I am a male. I am a journalist.

And so when I talk about sexism in journalism, particularly in sports journalism, a field that has a history of degrading the women who work within it, I have no idea what it is like. I am not a woman, and men, certainly, in my mind and experiences, do not face that type of prejudice in this line of work.

But at the same time, I don’t think I’m immune to empathy, either, or, more broadly speaking, possessing proper ethical behavior.

Recently, just two weeks ago on Oct. 6, Mike Bell, an Atlanta sports radio personality, aired his contempt for Jessica Mendoza, a notable former softball player turned ESPN analyst who was making history as the first woman to call a nationally televised MLB playoff game that night, in a long-winded rant on Twitter.

His sole reasoning? She was a woman and “You guys are telling me there isn’t a more qualified Baseball player ESPN can use than a softball player? Gimme a break!” he tweeted. (He has since deleted his account.)

Perhaps I am wrong, but in all likelihood, many female sports journalists have probably never faced sexism in their work experiences. I like to think that, in this day and age, most have been able to move past such negative thinking and instead choose to treat all with respect.

Yet, I know it’s naïve to think that Bell’s situation was a mere anomaly. (Example here.)

I can’t speak for the athletes, coaches or even fans involved in sports, as I am not one of them. That’s not to say I condone any sexist comments or actions that they may express, but I don’t think I have much voice in stopping them. (If I included their negative feedback, it only becomes worse.) I do believe, though, that I can speak for my colleagues’ remarks.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, journalists should seek to “minimize harm,” meaning that they need to keep in consideration those they are working around.

That, as listed, includes colleagues.

Bell did issue a statement and apology, which I think should be commended, and even received a suspension as well, but I’m not sure it makes his comments any less abhorrent and disappointing.

From my perspective, a male perspective, this type of behavior warrants sharp criticism – which Bell did receive from both male and female journalists included – but must it come to this point at all?

Frankly, I am tired of it. Understandably not all female sports journalists are great, though neither are all men. If Bell had just said he doesn’t think Mendoza is any good at her job, he would have offered a fair opinion. Instead, though, he chose to make it directly about her gender, which, at that point, it becomes more of an ignorant statement than anything.

While not excusing Bell’s remarks, Kim Eaton, a communications specialist and adjunct journalism instructor at The University of Alabama who previously worked as a reporter at West Hawaii Today and the Tuscaloosa News, said it’s imperative that all journalists have a “thick skin.”

“You can’t really get upset or offended by what people say or how they act, because you’re always going to run into challenges going into the field of journalism, period,” said Eaton, who noted that she faced sexism at some level on a few occasions while working as a reporter. “It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, white, black, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have problems, and you’re going to get hurt and your feelings are going to be hurt, and you’ll be threatened and called all kinds of names.”

Mendoza, to her credit, handled it all with grace, only responding publicly to the rant by way of an exclusive interview with ABC News two days after the incident on Oct. 8. (She even accepted Bell’s apology, too.)

When asked how women move past the sexism in a “male-dominated sports world” in the interview, Mendoza simply described her ideal scenario in the profession.

“I want to get to a point when we hear a female voice on NBA, NFL or just anything in men’s sports, and it’s like, ‘Sweet! She’s doing a good job,’ Mendoza said.

Me too, Jessica. Me too.

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