January 31, 2011

Women Are Still Getting Sidelined In the Sports Arena

ESPN talking head Ron Franklin was fired after condescending remarks made toward side reporter Jeannine Edwards in which he referred to her as sweet baby.

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Another situation in the world of sports has me thinking about women’s rights again. For those who may not be up to date on college football current events, ESPN announcer, Ron Franklin, was fired on January 4th for comments he made to Jeannine Edwards, a sideline reporter. When Edwards tried to interject into an off-air conversation, Franklin allegedly said, “Why don’t you leave this to the boys sweet baby…” in what was reported to be a condescending tone. Edwards responded by asking Franklin not to address her in that way and Franklin’s replied, “Ok, then listen to me a**hole.” Following the incident, Edwards was pulled from reporting at the Fiesta Bowl game on New Year’s Eve and on January 4th Franklin was fired from ESPN.

Much ado about nothing?

Some of the people writing blogs and comments about this issue have argued that the incident was blown out of proportion. Perhaps Franklin’s comments were out of line but do they warrant him being terminated as a result? According to USA today, Franklin himself believes he has been mistreated. In fact, last week Franklin filed a wrongful termination law suit against ESPN whom has employed him for the last 25 years.

But, this is not his first offense

Some may see this as an over-reaction from ESPN executives, however, this is not Franklin’s first offense. Back in 2005, Franklin berated a sideline reporter, Holly Rowe, during a Notre Dame-Purdue blow out.  After the incident, Franklin received a “talking to,” which clearly did not have long lasting impacts given his comments towards Edwards. But, even if Franklin has demonstrated a pattern of behavior which is offensive to women, was firing him too harsh?

How do I weigh in?

Let me start by saying that I think Franklin’s firing was just, especially given his history. My problem with his comment is two-fold. First, it is well known that the world of sports is a male-dominated arena. Female reporters have been pushing their way in and while some trail blazers have made it into the outter most rings of the boy’s club circle, there are still many layers women have yet to permeate. Critics say that women do not have a place in supports journalism. Some have said that women cannot adequately contribute to sports dialogue or conversation as they have not played the sport. However, there are many male sports journalists who appreciate and enjoy sports without having played. So needless to say, there can be women, too, who love football for the love of the game, like Jeannine Edwards and want to be involved in sports journalism. Such women are trying to claw their way into this field and comments like those made by Franklin (and perhaps many others) are just small jabs, pushing them back out of the circle. My second problem is with the language used. The word a**hole in and of itself does not seem as offensive to me as sweet baby. Why, you might ask? Well I could imagine that in a high pressure situation where people need to meet deadlines and the unexpected can throw you for a loop, swear words like a**hole get thrown around, especially when the pressure cooker is on high. Yet, the term sweet baby demeans Edwards because I think its use directly relates to her being female. After all, could you imagine Franklin calling Ed Werder sweet baby? I believe Franklin was clearly trying to diminish her opinion simply because she happens to be a woman. When she responds by asking not be talked to in that way, Franklin calls her an a**hole. And in the context of this situation, I do have a problem with Franklin’s use of this word. To me his follow-up comment demonstrates a level of intolerance for women trying to have a voice in the sports work place (“leave it to the boys”), especially one so dominated by men.

Many sports journalists, invested sports fans, and opinionated others have weighed in on this issue. Yet no one has described the event with the label it deserves, and that’s sexual harassment. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “sexual harassment at work occurs whenever unwelcome conduct on the basis of gender affects a person’s job…and the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.” Let’s consider this: Franklin’s comments made in reference to Edwards’ gender impacted her job in that she was pulled from reporting at the Fiesta Bowl. Additionally, I can only imagine that this turn of events has made the work environment quiet hostile. And, Franklin’s condescending tone and attitude were probably intended to intimate Edwards from participation in the conversation in question.

A few good men

I am sure that the firing of Franklin had a lot to do with politics and less to do with the overarching belief by execs at ESPN that what Franklin did was in appropriate, sexist, and wrong. However, I do think that was a hard line for them to cross and I commend them for crossing it. I also realize that now they are facing the repercussions of their actions given that Franklin is suing ESPN. But clearly Franklin has demonstrated a pattern of behavior so making an example out of him shows that sexist behavior should not be tolerated.

And a few more good men…almost

I have been impressed by the way some sports journalists, male and female, have reported on this situation. Rather than hanging Edwards out to dry, many have spoke out on her behalf. Jeff Waginheim, for example from the Faster Times, Sports Pulse, provided an interesting and thought provoking account of these events articulating his disdain for Franklin’s comments. However, I have to say I am disappointed by his juvenile closing remark. In the article, he stated his ambivalence about Franklin’s firing–I can appreciate that. Although I think Franklin deserved to be fired, I respect Waginheim’s opinion about this well known ESPN announcer. However, he concludes the article by saying that instead of Franklin getting fired, “an ESPN big cheese should have simply taken Franklin into a room and let him know what’s acceptable, and then they should have brought in Edwards and worked things out. That’s how my son’s second-grade teacher handles things.” Perhaps he meant this tongue and cheek–I am not sure. But didn’t the ESPN execs try that already back in 2005? So letting Franklin off the hook with another “talking-to,” does not seem to set the appropriate example of how women should be treated and reinforces gender discrimination in the workplace, especially in the world of sports. Besides, don’t you think that an adult man should know how to treat people in a professional environment, at least more so then a second-grader? I would certainly have higher expectations for someone who is supposed to be considered a seasoned sports announcer.