Sports journalism: Where the female agency tends to disappear
Prologue: Once in a while I choose to divert from Celtics related content and focus on other important developments in NBA, thought-provoking remarks by basketball figures or sports journalism in general. Previously I have covered Mark Cuban's remarks on professionalism and ESPN's coverage of Jason Collins's announcement that he is gay. Today's item is not as big compared to those two, one might even say it's a non-story (and it should be) but I will try to explain how little things like this affect the "male athlete culture" and we are trying to change.
Here's a news story that should have no interest to us at all: Nik Stauskas, who was the subject of a post on this website recently in light of trade rumors about him, and his girlfriend, Taylor Anderson, have made a bet with a high school student from Detroit about a prom date. The student won the bet and a prom date with Anderson, and probably Stauskas too. Sports Illustrated and The Independent have covered this story in a professional manner. That should be the end of the story, but it isn't.
Here's how Daily Mail chose to report it: (By the way, if you are not familiar with Daily Mail, it's a tabloid newspaper in Britain. Basically, it is trash, but a very, very popular trash)
NBA rookie loses Twitter bet to high school senior and now student gets to go to prom with the star's girlfriend
Jamie Guerra made a wager with the Sacramento Kings' Nik Staukas
Asked how many retweets he'd need to take Taylor Anderson as his date
The player, not expecting him to reach the target, set the target at 10,000
After just three hours, with help from other athletes, he'd already reached it
See the problem here? If you just read the headline and the summary, it sounds like Nik Stauskas has made all the decisions himself, has not consulted his girlfriend at all and since he lost the wager, Guerra goes to prom with his girlfriend. His girlfriend cannot do anything about it. She has no agency. Stauskas owns his girlfriend. This is not how it went down at all; Taylor Anderson was in on it since the beginning, and even if it weren't so, just because Stauskas lost a wager with a random dude doesn't mean Anderson will have to obey it. That would be outrageous.
Now, as I have mentioned before, this is news published on a piece of junk that is not even American, so it should not matter. Enter ESPN:
It is Bomani Jones's take on it that makes me quite uncomfortable: "Hey man, you don't put your girl out there for 10,000 retweets!" (...) Look what happened. Now all of a sudden, she is tangled up in his web..."
Yes, I know that Highly Questionable is a program where sports meets comedy. Yes, Jones is rightfully making fun of Stauskas's wager, because it was a silly wager. However, is this the best choice of words? "Put your girl out there..." Really? How is this language different from that of the aforementioned trashy tabloid?
I know many of those who read this will say "C'mon man, this is just silly. Jones is making fun, he's not serious, take it easy." But this is exactly my problem with this: That it is funny. That a sports athlete "lost his girlfriend on a wager" is funny. That this is the way Jones chooses to make fun of the situation, because this is the sports culture we have today: Athletes, and their girlfriends who are stripped of their agency and are made to sound like they're the athletes' property. This is the culture that feeds the athletes a patriarchal ego. This is the culture that wants to turn a blind eye on domestic issues as long as it can. This is the culture that reports on Ray Rice's domestic assault only from the eyes of Rice and doesn't give a damn about how his partner, Janay Palmer, the actual victim, feels.
Again, I'm NOT saying that this kind of reporting leads to serious issues. I'm saying that this kind of reporting is reflective of how we treat the athletes. I cannot emphasize this enough.
If we really want to change the sports culture in the US, we should be careful about how we frame jokes too. The people who took part in this wager might be high school students and recent college grads, so that is fun for them. No harm done. But if the adults start shoving patriarchal standards down their throats, it stops being fun.
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