Monday, March 4, 2013

For Women: Failed Kicks, Overlooked Pass Lowlights That Garner Too Much Attention

All too often the media overemphasizes or overstates sports-related issues related to women or women in the media, and the past couple of weeks have provided some prime examples.

Although the best stories generate interest or resonate thanks to context and depth, stories with women in sports -- and especially those that seem to garner the most attention among national media -- get to that point with an easy, superficial approach rather than context and reporting.

With Danica Patrick at the Daytona 500, the story of her pole-qualifying run and strong race was appropriately about women's firsts. First to qualify on the pole. First to finish so high in the race itself.

Still, anything beyond that was haphazard at best. And the examples were numerous:

  • A story about her boyfriend who also races, and what might happen if they were racing for position during an event? Strictly gossipy stuff.
  • A story about her weight and any advantage being lighter might provide (even though NASCAR has rules in place to account for drivers' weight)? Somewhat serious, but still off base.
  • A story positioning Patrick as the face of women's sports, a champion for equality? Silly, just because that hardly seems to be Patrick's position on the matter. Especially so with her long-proven role pitching Go Daddy.
This week, former collegiate women's soccer player Luaren Silberman, who participated in a regional NFL tryout, the first woman to get such an opportunity, was the focus. Again, it was a matter of firsts, and everyone rallied around the story.

Instead of the typical handful of media members who show up for such NFL regional combines, nearly two dozen media members turned out for Silberman's tryout. Although she herself seemingly diminished the effort by talking about what might come from it beyond football (and that was before it happened, so you have to wonder about the ultimate goal), the tryout flop proved the media's inability to find context or truth beforehand. 

Honestly, when she exits the tryout after two kickoff attempts, the best of which reached four yards beyond midfield, the abundance of hype only seems to damage the efforts of women in sports.

Some media members know that, but they are among the minority. For example, NFL Network Aditi Kinkhabwala seemed to indicate her impatience with the process on Twitter during the tryout.

Instead, though, some women's media standouts and women's rights champions, notably Christine Brennan, stand behind any such effort. In this case, Silberman also was positioned as a pioneer and while the tryout opportunity was nice, she was hardly in a position to make an impact. For the media to advance the story beyond that, without context and without real reporting, borders on irresponsible.

At the same time, more important stories about women in sports and sports media have been overlooked or diminished.

Also at the Daytona 500, rapper 50 Cent tried (repeatedly and eventually successfully) to kiss reporter Erin Andrews on pit road before the race. While some national media types thought the TV moment was an unscripted highlight of the broadcast, it was really an affront to Andrews. It also diminishes the value and work of all sideline reporters, and especially those who are women because it objectifies their role.

Without an outcry about the moment, which had to be viewed by many more people than watch a regular season college football game or many other events when female sideline reporters get airtime, it becomes an acceptable approach. And it's not.

Meanwhile, all three of those stories get more attention than than the much-more-important move by Lesley Visser. According to a report by, Visser will move from duties as a sideline reporter to enterprise and features work for CBS Sports. 

An on-air pioneer for women in sports broadcasting, Visser started her career at the Boston Globe and later moved to TV. She has worked for CBS Sports, ABC and ESPN. She has covered the NBA, NFL, college football, horse racing and the Olympics while earning accolades from her peers as well as fans and viewers. When we find things to focus on, the accomplishments of Visser, and the legacy she leaves as well as the doors she opened, are much more important than a former soccer player trying a pair of kicks at a camp full of NFL hopefuls.

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