Misogyny in Sports

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Jaclyn Friedman has an interesting article over at the American Prospect about the overwhelming misogyny that supposedly characterizes American sports. Riffing off Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s alleged rape of a Harrah’s hotel worker, Friedman writes that “sports misogyny apologists” leapt to Roethlisberger’s defense:

You know the ones — would-be or former jocks with Peter Pan disease, women desperate to be one of the guys, or who dream of being Gisele Bundchen to the next Tom Brady. They all cling to their game and their team above everything else, including evidence, compassion and logic.

It’s almost undebatable that American sports culture is characterized by a whole lot of misogyny. But Friedman goes too far—or perhaps not far enough—when she suggests that it’s sports celebrity, not celebrity in general, that’s the problem. Rich, famous male athletes don’t get treated differently than “normal” people because they’re athletes. They don’t get excuses made for them because they play for the Steelers or the Lakers. They get treated differently because they are rich and famous men. (Sometimes, as in the case of the University of Colorado football player rape case Friedman mentions, just fame is enough.) It’s not just the world of sports celebrity that’s full of misogyny and anti-feminist attitudes. Those attitudes pervade the entire celebrity culture: movies, music, fashion—even punditry.

That aside, I think Friedman is misreading the nature of fandom when she criticizes people for clinging “to their game and their team above everything else, including evidence, compassion, and logic.” That’s what a lot of team sports fandom is—rooting for one’s team despite x. In a sport like baseball or football, you’re rooting for a team that will probably have a very different lineup from one year to the next. If you get caught up in the personalities, good and bad, of the individual players, you’re going to be switching teams every year. There are bad people and good people on every team. It should be okay to root for a team that has someone who did something bad on it—provided you condemn that person for the bad thing they did. Otherwise, how are you ever going to be able to pick a team to root for? Every team has a steroid user or a wife-beater or an accused rapist or a dog-fighting enthusiast at one point or another. The goal should be to get those people fired—not to get people to stop rooting for the team.

(This is different in individual sports. It would be hard to excuse rooting for, say, a golfer who beat his wife. But being a Phillies fan does not mean you support Brett Myers hitting his wife.)

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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