Sunday, January 23, 2011

'Do me a favour, love'

Working in sports — be it on the production side or in the media — brings with it a certain stigma. Those of us known as "sports guys" tend to get cast as uncultured meatheads with no interests outside our favored sport(s). Worse still, there is a significant section of the sports population that believes women have no place in sports, be it in locker rooms (Lisa Olson, Andrea Canales, etc.), working as officials or otherwise. Where they think women should be is best left for another day.

Another episode of said meatheadedness popped up over the weekend, and yet again my gender's stupidity has me feeling compelled to apologize to all womankind. If you're a fan of English Premier League soccer, odds are you're familiar with Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray. The punditry on Sky is most often bland and rarely rises above mediocre, but every so often you get a moment of real, ugly honesty:

The commentators, who apparently believed their microphones were switched off, were recorded making disparaging remarks about Sian Massey, 25, before Liverpool’s Premiership clash with Wolves yesterday.
They also criticised Apprentice star and West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady who had yesterday written about sexism in a newspaper column.
Commenting on Ms Massey, Mr Keys said: ‘Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.’
Mr Gray, a former Scottish international footballer, replied: ‘Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don’t know the offside rule.’
Mr Keys replied: ‘Course they don’t. I can guarantee you there will be a big one today. Kenny (Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish) will go potty. This isn’t the first time, is it? Didn’t we have one before?’
Yes, Dicky, you did. And in case anyone starts reaching for the "I was misquoted" defense, listen for yourself.

If the dynamic duo's chauvinism isn't stomach-churning enough for you, Keys' response is worthy of the Iraqi Information Minister himself:

When The Mail on Sunday put the transcript to Mr Keys, he said: ‘I have no recollection of that. I have no idea what you are talking about.
'My recollection is that I wished the young lady all the best.’
When told a recording existed of the conversation, he said: ‘If you have a tape then you don’t need me to talk to you.’
Sure, Dicky. Were you wishing these young ladies all the best, too?

Keys and Gray's antics are sadly in keeping with the attitudes of many in the footballing establishment, who trot out the same, tired lines about "political correctness" and "tokenism." Perhaps the meatheads will claim they are showing gender neutrality by trying to dissuade young men and women equally from ever becoming referees? Considering how often the even more weathered canard of so-and-so "never played the game" is belched forth by professional athletes, perhaps they will only be truly satisfied when the only people officiating, covering and operating their sport are their fellow professional athletes. For as much as we hear about athletes who "love to play the game" and "would play for free if asked," how many of them love the game enough to give back to it? Where are all these former players lining up to become referees, administrators and youth coaches and take the place of all these know-nothing amateurs who are apparently ruining their sport?

Thankfully, sanity prevails outside of Sky Towers, with some praising Massey for her performance. For me, I hope Massey and her peers have the chance to do their job the way it should be done — in peaceful obscurity. Even had I not watched Dallas Malhiwsky develop into a top-flight soccer referee while doing high school and college games in Nebraska, and even if I hadn't spent a good portion of my journalism career covering women's soccer and seeing a number of fully capable female officials, it doesn't take the brightest of bulbs to know that gender has no effect on one's abilities as a referee. Fitness, positioning, knowing the Laws of the Game and managing players do not hinge on what does or does not dangle between one's legs.

Keys and Gray aren't about to change, of course. Why should they when everyone they associate with reinforces their views? I wouldn't shed a tear if they received the Ron Atkinson treatment, but I fear they'll make a limp-wristed, half-hearted apology through a press release, refuse further comment and normal service will — depressingly — be restored. Come on, Sky. Prove you're as much about substance as style.

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