A couple of weeks ago radio show host Don Imus, who’s show aired on MSNBC, made some derogatory remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Amid a discussion of the team, he called the women “nappy-headed ho’s.” This slanderous statement is a knock both to the ethnicity and the gender of these players, and it has no place in professional journalism or sports casting. After a plethora of complaints were filed, Imus finally offered up an apology and the show was suspended for two weeks as punishment. CBS radio fired Imus last Thursday following a strong public outcry against him and dwindling support from many of the show’s sponsors.
As a young woman and sports fan, it’s very disappointing to be reminded once again that the world of sports is still dominated by men who seem to think that they can make such remarks without repercussions. Many in my generation reacted only with a sigh of resignation at the fact that this is the world we live in and comments like these are commonplace, especially in sports. I do not sigh with resignation, rather I get angry and frustrated by the lack of outrage.
But as I was taking out my frustration on the elliptical machine at the gym recently, I tuned into the ESPN sports show “Pardon the Interruption” (PTI). Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser were discussing the comments Imus made when I started listening. I have to report that Mike Wilbon is one of my new gender heroes after the comments he made on the show. Wilbon came out in support of women in the sports world when Augusta Golf Club refused to admit female members several years ago, so this is not his first foray into the world of gender issues.
On the show last week, he very appropriately acknowledged that the comments were not only racist in nature but sexist as well. Wilbon acknowledged that as a man, he and other men were less likely to think of the implications such a comment can have for women as a group. I heard him use the word gender and almost fell off the machine because I was so excited. Wilbon continued by stating that the word “ho” was such a standard part of the cultural lexicon that most people don’t think twice before using it when referring to women. But he said that when he watched the press conference where the players commented on the insults they’d received, he realized that nothing could be further from the truth as these women were clearly eloquent, well-educated, and upstanding people. Wilbon frowned on society’s use of derogatory language and urged viewers to think about the gender implications of such disrespectful comments.
I want to personally thank PTI for addressing Imus’ remarks in a fair and balanced manner and for bringing gender issues to the floor in the world of sports. Women have made tremendous gains in the fight for equality in the world of sports, but we still have a long way to go. I’m very excited to know that we have allies in sports broadcasting, and I would like to encourage other sports journalists to follow suit. With the help of journalists and commentators, women and other advocacy groups can bring discrimination to public view and someday eradicate it from the wonderful world of sports. I look forward to that day and I thank Mike Wilbon for taking an important step in the process.
Elisabeth Crum