Monday, February 16, 2009

Class wars, ESPN-style?

If this is true as presentedand I emphasize, if this is true as presentedthen I don't understand how it could have happened or gone on for very long. First off, the mind boggles at the notion that an organization of any size in this day and age would actually (and habitually) fly males first-class while sticking the females back in steerage. But let's even assume that ESPN is one of the last bastions of unapologetic macho piggery; how do they expect to get away with so visibly discriminating against someone on the apparent basis of gender? That's why I think there has to be more to this. It could be, for example, a question of rank, or more specifically, RHIP. It's noted in the stories that Dales (shown with the legendary Dick Vitale) belongs to a reporting team that includes Paul Maguire, Bob Griese and Brad Nessler. Though the circumstances aren't exactly parallel, one could also say that sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya belongs to a reporting team that includes Al Michaels and John Madden, but I don't think anyone would dispute that Michaels and Madden are the starsthe "draw"and that they probably expect, and receive, commensurate treatment and perks. I'm sure they get better hotel rooms and more lavish expense accounts, and even get to sit in the very best section of the cross-country bus.*

Now, it's true that certain environments have an inherently sexist tinge to the
m, and one doesn't take a job in those environments without understanding andto my mindaccepting that. You don't go to work for Playboy and then complain about all those pictures of nude women (or even, I would think, about the guys in the office whistling at Miss March's "nice rack"). If you work at Hooters, you can't realistically object when people, possibly including your boss and male coworkers, stare at your ass. I don't think it's fair to accept employment in such settings and try to force compliance with the usual rules against hostile environment. Judges have tended to agree with such a view in the occasional cases that are filed, though clearly there are limits.

So: What is a sideline reporter's true raison d'etre? The species has come a long way since the days of Jill Arrington (above left), when sideline reporters were eye candy, basically centerfolds who happened to be standing somewhere near the coaches and players, and were there purely for the amusement of male viewers who might otherwise grow bored with the (on-field) action. Bottom line, if the circumstances are as Stacey Dales alleges, then this is deplorable. Perhaps even the basis for a federal lawsuit.

Here's another way of looking at it
and a more pertinent question, perhaps: Was Dales getting paid anywhere near what Tony Siragusa reportedly gets** for standing on the sidelines, looking obese, and now and then saying something marginally interesting, no doubt by accident?


Ironically/tangentially related: A kind word or two*** from Columbia Journalism Review on my February Playboy piece about NFL officials.

* That's not entirely a joke: Madden, as many sports fans will know, refuses to fly.
** I don't have the number handy and I couldn't find it in the quick web search my schedule permitted me this morning, but I remember hearing his salary mentioned, and it was a lot of money. Enough to keep Goose in pizzas for a long, long time.
*** Follow the link and scroll down, if you care to.


Elizabeth said...

Several sentences that caught my attention in that piece:

"At some point, you have to take a stand at whatever you are doing in life," Dales said. "That's not sounding like a feminist. That's not sounding like a spoiled, rotten kid. That's making a business decision that affects the quality of your life. That was an important thing for me."

Oh my, oh my, oh my... So for a long time she put up with a stinking in-your-face discrimination, and yet she still has to apologize for finally taking a stand? We have not come a long way, baby. Not yet.

And "That's not sounding like a feminist. That's not sounding like a spoiled, rotten kid" is priceless. A standard line every woman who stands up for her rights is obligated to insert in her never-ending apologies for standing up for her rights.

Then there is the standard assumption of the male author of the piece:

Alright, the obvious, immediate reaction here is jump all over Dales and criticize her for refusing to "grow up" or some such terms.

Boy, oh boy... And I use this noun pointedly.

Elizabeth said...

P.S. Steve, indeed a nice plug for your Playboy piece in CJR.

(Though this:

but there’s plenty to draw readers of both genders

seems a stretch to me, LOL.)

eyes wide open said...

I don't know much about sports but judging from the photos, if they're at all representative, doesn't that say it all? Look at the way the women have to look in order to gets jobs in sports television, compared to that fat slob you show at the bottom. And if I'm not mistaken, you imply that he makes more money than the women. (And probably gets to fly first class). Talk about a double standard!

So you can be a gorgeous blond with a beautiful shape like these gals or if you happen to have testicles, then it's ok to be an overfed pig. But no, there's no sexism involved, Steve.

eyes wide open said...

And I just realized something, is that old guy at the top an announcer too? You describe him as "legendary". Show me one woman on TV in sports or anywhere else, except for that one at the presidential press conferences, who is allowed to stay on TV in high visibility positions much past 40!

Steve Salerno said...

Well, Eyes, not to be contentious, but just off the top of my head I can think of Barbara Walters, Candy Crowley (who is also rather large), Diane Sawyer, Meredith Viera, Joan Lunden...and even "perky little" Katie Couric is 52. Kathie Lee Gifford is, I believe, 56, and for sheer sex appeal (does anyone use that phrase anymore?) would give a lot of the younger media stars a run for their money. I think you may have oversold your argument by pegging the age of female obsolescence at 40.

But your overall point is taken, certainly about the sports realm in particular. You don't see any Candy Crowleys reporting from NFL sidelines or roving the stands in MLB ballparks.

Anonymous said...

I'm a male sports outsider, occasionally I'll catch a football game or be forced to watch other sports by other men. I don't see what the big deal is. These sideline reporters don't do a whole lot of heavy lifting. At most they probably talk 10% as much as the sports announcers do. Tony Siragusa is a bad example being a well known retired Baltimore Raven and all. Do you think James Brown makes as much as Dan Marino on The NFL Today? The whole notion that they're "part of a team" seems so anti sham-blog to me. The truth is nobody is equal in an organization and this "we're all a team lets stick together" is bunch of fluff.

Cal said...

It's amazing that ESPN still gets away with this stuff. A guy who I went to college and has had a decent career as a sports journalist wrote a book about ESPN earlier this decade. He basically describe the network as a glorified frat house.

Sarsabu said...

Maybe the overfed piglike fat slobs are sitting up the front cause they are the only seats they fit into? Likewise the well proportioned ones sit in regular seats down the back cause they can (apologies to your fine President!)

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 12:02: See, this is where it gets tricky. I don't think we want to fall into the trap of assuming that all individual people should automatically get the same pay for the same (or similar) work. Marino has star power, and if he gets more money, it's because of that star power. I'd assume that Bradshaw (who I think is an idiot, but that's besides the point) also has a pretty sweet deal. I'm sure that The Bus Bettis got a nice hunk o' change when he signed on. But it's when entire classes of people--like, say, women--get paid less than the others that eyebrows start to raise. As they should.

Cal: Yes, I always got that feeling from ESPN (frat house); their commercials about Bristol University even encouraged that notion. You will recall, however, that Harold Reynolds, now of MLB Network, got his hand slapped and ultimately lost his job for supposedly "hitting on" female coworkers in a repetitive and tasteless way. So I guess there is a line drawn somewhere.

Anonymous said...


One more thing to hate about America. When will you folks wake up and reorder your priorities and begin paying people according to the true value of what they do? You argue about whether one sports star's millions are fair compensation vs. another sports star's millions when the real issue is why are teachers struggling along on $30,000?

I have to laugh at your implication that Ms. Dales is "underpaid" for her groundbreaking work of standing on the side of a football game looking like a piece of ass, to use a thoroughly vulgar expression I've always hated but is right on the money here. That's "work"? And then she complains because she doesnt' get to fly first class. Poor baby!

Only in America.

sassy sasha said...

this is a tough one for me, i honestly don't know how i feel. i mean in part i want to root for any woman who's making it, yet again i have to ask myself if how she's making it is really good for women in the bigger picture? does this form of success actually cheapen the image and value of women and set us back? no offense steve, about your work for playboy!

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 10:37: So where exactly do you live that these sorts of pay disparities don't apply? Are there no rock stars in your country? Elite soccer players? Celebs of another sort? Or if by chance you're from the UK, which I somehow suspect, let's please not overlook what goes on with your own royalty, OK? (And don't even get me started on the Vatican...)

America may be fraught with many inequities/inequalities, but let's don't go overboard by implying that this is a purely American phenomenon. We are blessed, or cursed, with great wealth and great freedom, and when you have those two elements in coexistence there are going to be some wild skews in money.

That's not a justification for it, nor for the fact that teachers--I agree--are mostly underpaid to a tragic degree. Just an explanation.

Anonymous said...

"Lilly Ledbetter had worked at Goodyear for 19 years when she discovered she was being paid significantly less than every single one of her male counterparts. A jury agreed that she had been paid unfairly, and awarded her $223,776 in back pay, and over $3 million in punitive damages, but a judge cut that to only $300,000 because of a 1991 law that limited a company's liability for damages — even when found guilty of willful wage discrimination.

In an "off with her head" moment, the U.S. Supreme Court took away every penny of the back pay and damages awarded to Lilly Ledbetter, saying incredibly that the 180 day filing limit had begun way back when the very first paycheck showed lesser pay. Eighteen years of continuing wage discrimination against Ledbetter by Goodyear held no sway with the Roberts court."

Anonymous said...

Steve, I like that you brought the jazz corner down to a more manageable size. I hope this is permanent, it looks much better and easier to use!

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 2:56: Thank DimSkip and Sasha; they brought it to my attention.

Elizabeth said...

Steve et al, it's unrelated, but I'd like to plug another blogger / piece of writing worth your time.

In the spirit of a belated celebration of Valentine's Day, see this funny advice on how to write a romantic movie from the blog of TV writer/baseball announcer Ken Levine.

P.S. Don't skip the readers' comments. :)

literary lioness said...

Can I see more Steve Mariucci? He was so cute as the coach of the 49'ers. He is on some sports channel now and doing pretty well.