If you must profit off a demographic specifically for your own gain, you’d better respect them.
Or, if you’re Texas A&M, you instead ask a group of women to pay you $80 to get into an event in which you spend the duration insulting, harassing and demeaning them.
The Aggies held a “Chalk Talk for Women” event — you know, the kind that has been widely popularized by football programs across the country to capitalize on the coveted “female fans” demographic — this week, during which slides created by two assistant coaches displayed graphic and sexual innuendo as “tips” for playing the game. They are unprintable in this publication, quite honestly. The coaches also created a version of the fight song “for women” that included lines about kitchen products and “being full of estrogen.”
Look, I’ve been trying to elbow my way into this game for almost a decade now, since I was a teenager. During this time, I’ve been asked if “I’m watching my boyfriend play” while I was working in the press box at an NFL game; I’ve been sexually harassed on social media; it’s been suggested by some I’ve come across in my field that I wear tighter clothes; and I was once referred to as “the reporter with the booty” and called “sweetheart.” I’ve stuck my hand out to shake but been pulled into hugs by coaches who likely meant no harm but should know better than to treat a professional in such a familiar manner. When I covered professional baseball, the father of a young man I was dating asked me “if his son was OK with me being in the locker room.”
I’ve even been asked if I’ve been “smitten” with players — as a professional, that’s like asking a Burger King employee if defrosting frozen patty chunks is arousing.
Last week in Chicago for Big Ten Media Days, I talked with two female colleagues from separate publications who I have been lucky to learn from on the beat. We were dismayed that in the room of 200 sportswriters, there were about 10 women. Three of us cover Penn State.
So, to the issue of these “chalk talks.” Some can be tastefully run, yes. By a few accounts of attendees that I’ve spoken to in recent weeks (reporters weren’t permitted to cover the event), Penn State’s (for $120 a pop) was fairly inclusive, with somewhat gender-neutral marketing and language. I suppose you pay more for implied sexism as opposed to overt sexism.
I’ve also been told that when Joe Paterno and his staff ran these chalk talks, women got dressed in full pads and gear and went through a practice similar to those players themselves had. One woman told me that her experience playing middle linebacker — actually playing and making pre-snap checks and calls — at one of these clinics remains one of her best memories. That sounds like a lot of fun and could, of course, easily be made all-inclusive.
Others, of course — like A&M’s, or Ohio State’s, where women reportedly undressed players onstage — are abhorrent.
But all of them, as neutral as the language might be or as careful the marketing strategy, project condescending exclusion of women by the very nature of their existence. As Yahoo’s Pat Forde stated in his column on Saturday, “(These clinics) are operating under the dubious and sexist theory that girls don’t understand football and cannot understand football without male instruction.”
I couldn’t agree more with Forde.
And I personally just don’t have the patience to accept these “chalk talks” as the standard by which women are let deeper into the game. It’s flat-out disrespectful to all women, and especially to those of us who have been fighting for “three yards and a cloud of dust” for years.