I am a Golden States Warriors fan, largely a function of fascination with their culture shaped by their most recent NBA championship runs while I was living in the San Francisco Bay area (that picture is the flag from those glory days). And the Warriors are attempting another run at this championship. This means that my TV time has abruptly expanded, and I find myself watching ESPN.
Over the years, when I find myself immersed in an experience awash with unconscious sexism, I pretend I am a sociologist conducting a qualitative research project. This ruse is predicated on a rationalization: I minored in one or another version of sociology while earning each of my degrees: BS, MS, and PhD. Hey, I reason, I am prepared to do this. I do find my data have a clearly biased flavor, with the sardonic humorist in me in charge of writing the summary report. So, this is my ESPN viewing research summary, at least in part (I am still collecting data; we have only reached the Western Conference games at this point).
ESPN works very hard to signal that they are working on diversity, the most overt version focused on race and ethnicity. From what I can gather, this involves trying to include both European American men and African American men on most shows. It does not appear that either group knows that there are other marginalized groups not at the table. I have been watching for a Native American; so far, no show.
ESPN gender equity is even more entertaining to watch. In most shows, there is a woman involved. Most are white, young, slim, pretty and perky. It is not clear how much they know about the sports they are discussing as they are often scripted. The current and/or former members of the WNBA show up every once in a while, breaking the template both visually and behaviorally. It is interesting to watch the contrast. (If you don’t know what the WNBA is, look it up!)
Based on the frequency that commercials for Nugenix are aired, it seems that we may have a national crisis of depleted testerone among males in the US, or at least the ones interested in sports. The most unsettling part of these commercials is the wink at the end: “And she’ll like it too…” quickly cutting to a shyly smiling young woman partner of the man in search of testerone. I keep trying to imagine the estrogen version of this particular social science event.
Apparently, some men who are sports figures, both players and those who manage the sport, occasionally behave badly. This is reported cautiously and then quickly hidden from view. Allusions to the bad behavior are referenced as “trouble in the past” when necessary. This bad behavior often involves inappropriate behavior toward women. Everyone looks very uncomfortable during these little forays into “covering” this part of the sports world.
While there are many sports involving high profile women (think gymnastics), the percentage of time devoted to women in sports sometimes is so minimal that it becomes invisible. There are “correctives” for this imbalance: dead TV time telecasting women in sports. I think we need a spread sheet of this distribution of time, linked to top coverage hours, to grasp how disturbing this pattern actually is.
There is an interesting friction point in reporting many men’s sports, usually involving the OWGs (Old White Guys, discussed in a prior posting), and often including Old Black Guys, lamenting the changes in their sport. Usually the sport has become “soft and they recall the “good old days”. From what I can gather, the decline in violence and injury is “soft”. Teams who are “physical” are admired for manifesting the “good old days”. It appears “physicality” is a code word for violence. Being physical does not kill, it just creates fractures, injuries and overall bruising, pain, cuts, etc. Apparently, abandoning this is “soft”. It is not clear where skill, intelligence, or strategy fit in this debate.
In any given sport, the Greatest Of All Time, aka, the GOAT, is an important aspect of all programming (based on the current evidence, only men can be GOATs). Those in the various programs gather steam disagreeing among themselves about the identity of the GOAT. It is not entirely clear why determining the identity of the GOAT is important, however that it is important is unquestioned.
Winning is very important. Loosing can, and often is, very shaming. Those who have failed to win are subjected to detailed analyses of their shortcomings. These views are then scattered through social media to create “buzz”. This appears to be a marketing maneuver with a strong fiscal undertow. Sometimes the “loser” is very popular or influential; then there is a search for reasons for the failure and a certain feigned compassion shows up.
Being the “Best” is thus very important. Even when discussing team sports, the “Best” player is the focus. Criteria for the “Best” are unclear, often vague and variable. Nonetheless, discussions about the “Best” can be quite passionate and even lead to fractured relationships. Makes being the “Best” look fairly scary.
Money appears to drive everything: sponsors, viewers, populous or passionate sports fans…they set the agenda. So, one has to sit through discussions of fairly irrelevant sports teams simply because the “market” requires it. Sometimes this is painfully amusing to watch. Meanwhile, all sorts of achievers in sports go largely unknown.
This concludes my initial summary on my research findings. It is uncertain if a subsequent summary will find its way to this blog. One can only give ESPN air time in small doses. Go Warriors!!