Guess what, folks: Sexism in the sports world still exists

Kylie Bunbury attends the "Pitch" screening and panel discussion at the 2016 PaleyFest Fall TV Previews on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

On Sept. 22, FOX will premiere a new show called “Pitch,” which follows the fictional life and career of the first woman ever to make the major league (a black woman, no less). The show has already received its fair share of backlash, mostly from cranky old men and sexist dudes claiming how dumb the show is because “women can’t play sports!”

I never thought that this kind of attitude would reach a major news publication. Yet here we are.

The New York Times Arts section recently wrote an article in a tone that can only be described as corporatist. I’ll spare you the details, but the article takes an awful angle to a sensitive subject—they don’t focus on the importance of making a show that depicts a female of color stealing the spotlight in a man’s world (they only quote the actress playing the female pitcher once). The majority of the article talks about FOX’s dependency on this show for better ratings.

Let me say that again. An article about what has the potential to be a groundbreaking show talks mostly about television ratings.

I guarantee you, nobody outside of the greedy core of FOX executives cares about how awful their ratings are. As a die-hard female baseball fan who gets told time and time again that women don’t know anything about sports, seeing one of the biggest news publications in the world tackle the subject so clumsily infuriates me.

I have to constantly look at replies to promotional tweets about the show that say “go back to the kitchen,” “this show is so stupid, a woman will never be as strong as a man” and others like it. I’m here trying to make it as a sports writer in a field that is so male-dominant that I can only name two female beat writers I know (Kristie Ackert, who covers the Mets for the NY Daily News and UConn Journalism professor Terese Karmel who writes for several newspapers and magazines).

To read articles that talk about the show strictly from a money-making standpoint from a newspaper that anybody in their right mind would take a job from in a heartbeat is more than disheartening. This is the kind of show that matters to people like me, and to other young girls and young women who aspire to make it in a sports industry that’s tough enough to enter as it is.

I remember when I was very young, I was watching the ESPYs and decided right then and there, laying in my bed and sipping juice out of a sippy cup at age seven, that I was going to enter this field. I was going to be a female who went into a male-dominated sports industry and everybody was going to love me for it.

But it’s 2016, and 19-year-old me knows damn well that it’s going to be a lot harder than I thought.

Surprisingly, the article as a whole is not the thing that enrages me the most. The real issue with this article, the thing that made me realize that attitudes about women sports fans have barely progressed at all, lies in this tweet from the Times, taking a line from the piece itself:

Are you kidding me? As if being a woman and being a sports fan are mutually exclusive things. The fact that this even had to be said reveals two things to me:

1) There are people out there who really think that they need to separate women and sports fans, and

2) We still live in a world where men can’t even think about the idea of watching a show where a woman threatens to succeed in a male-dominated industry.

I could start going into the cliché of how fragile masculinity really is, but I won’t, because that’s not my point. My point is that the Times got this horribly wrong. They got it wrong by not even interviewing the star of the show. They got it wrong by including quotes like this:

“Dana Walden, a chief executive of the Fox Television Group, said “Pitch” is at its core a soap opera, and we’re hoping to attract a big number of female viewers.”

I am in literal disbelief that a FEMALE FOX executive basically implied women won’t watch the show because of its implications, but rather because it has juicy drama and is like a soap opera, and all females just HAVE to love soap operas!!!

I am in disbelief that the writer of this article included a quote like that and barely elaborated on it; or even challenged it. Its implications are grossly sexist and heavily stereotypes, but who cares, because at least the network will be getting more viewers!

Yeah, we could all guess that FOX doesn’t really care how meaningful the show is because they just want money, but for the Times to not take the perspective of the issue that really matters—a black female in professional sports—and play it off as some kind of false dilemma of getting females as well as “hard-core sports fans” to watch is just unacceptable.

Simply put, we can’t continue to push narratives like this. We can’t keep complaining that not enough females watch sports while alienating those who do from the sports world by referring to the two like they’re separate. We can’t keep writing articles about television ratings when the premise of the show is about a female of color trying to find success in a white man’s sport. We can’t keep stereotyping women in a way that implies they’ll only ever watch a show about sports because it’s “at its core a soap opera.” At some point, this ridiculousness needs to stop.

I was hoping that it would be a lot sooner than this.


Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.