I’m sorry, I don’t wear pink. Ever.

ESPN Latin America

You know what else is four letters? "FAIL."

The other day, a reader emailed to suggest that we offer up our perspective on espnW. Since the USWNT played last night, I am full of energy to rant about anything, really–so, dear reader, I responded that I would keep the topic under consideration, but clearly I needed to start this post. [Disclaimer: this is entirely my opinion and experience, which are not necessarily shared by my co-Collector, Joan.]

To be honest, when I first saw “espnW” popping up in Twitter talk, I thought it was a joke. There wasn’t a website (there might be now, but it takes more hunting than it merits) and this clearly wasn’t a TV channel… so really, who did these people think they were fooling? What a gimmick.

Then they had their retreat. Oops. So they did (do) exist. They were (are) for real. And that’s tragic. As I have said elsewhere, espnW is setting up a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation for women’s sports fans, athletes, and supporters. As a former education major, espnW looks like No Child Left Behind to me–and if you are a teacher or a teacher-in-training, you immediately understand the rhetoric at work here. From the outside, the concept is lovely: a women’s sports presence on ESPN! The network is cleaning up its act and finally giving women’s sports attention! But on the inside, it’s merely shifting the blame. If you don’t support espnW, you don’t support women’s sports. If you don’t support women’s sports when they are handed to you (separate from the male “mainstream”) then why should ESPN cover it along with “everything” else?

My inner academic has a hat-tip for ESPN for the game the network is playing, but the inner academic is also grinding her teeth and hoping for blood that will never be shed. I would rather have ESPN ignore women’s sports entirely than build us this ghetto. Because, by the way, have you watched ESPN’s previous/current coverage of women’s sports? Have you listened to the commentary? Have you suffered through their women’s soccer coverage? Cross-Conference had more balanced and in-depth coverage of the Portland-Santa Clara game than ESPN offered, and that was just from shooting off emails, chatting up a handful of players, and glancing at archives in our spare time–before the game.

For the past two years, even before the espnW nonsense, my opinion has been a great big Good Riddance to ESPN.  I have the luxury of being outside of the economics of the mainstream-media-versus-women’s-sports mess, but give me my cynical moment. I would rather have internally produced media (look specifically at WPS) than processed, artificial, one-note ESPN games, features, and commentary. Our league is going to be on life support regardless of ESPN’s mainstream attention–and don’t get me wrong, this is not to let ESPN off the hook. It’s to say that ESPN coverage of women’s soccer (and women’s sports) is so half-assed that it would hardly make a difference.

[It’s] really critical for these guys to understand that they’re not the target audience, either. And on the surface, although this may seem like an easy target for a quick joke, if they ever want their sisters, daughters or granddaughters to have the opportunity to experience financial success as professional athletes, they’ll need to support (or at least not mock) a major sports media company when they build opportunities for female athletes to get attention.

Emphasis mine, and I don’t buy it. If ESPN were to genuinely build opportunities for female athletes, the female athletes would be on ESPN, getting coverage on par with male athletes. So that when you’re channel surfing or walk through a room where the TV is always set to ESPN (hello, student union at my undergrad alma mater) you have a chance of catching a glimpse of any female athlete the same way you currently have a chance of any male athlete.

So espnW? Still half-assed, ghettoizing, passing of the buck.

[Essentially, you can look at this the same way Lindsey Mean looks at FIFA.com in “Making Masculinity and Framing Femininity.” Next up in Ruth’s Anger Series, “Here Is What I Really Think of Alex Morgan’s Call-Up,” and “Why Do You Automatically Assume I’m Going to Offend Someone?”

Edit: Okay, so I’m not as angry as my friends.]

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2 Responses to I’m sorry, I don’t wear pink. Ever.

  1. WoSo95 says:

    The counterargument always made is that ESPN, and sports media in general, are in the business of covering sports; it’s not their job to promote it. This assumes that sports are ‘news’ and not ‘entertainment’, as if, in the movie/TV business, E! and Entertainment Tonight were pure journalistic endeavors.

    They cover NFL/NBA/etc because they’re popular, and those leagues are popular because they cover them. If women’s sports aren’t popular enough to cover, it just might be because they don’t cover them.

    My suspicion about espnW is that it’s not an effort to really cover a niche so much as an effort to demonstrate ‘good faith’ in doing so, as if it’s court-mandated restitution. Not a good start.

    • vRm says:

      Well, the sad thing is (as you said) that any coverage at all for women’s sports can be considered promotion. It’s a lousy counterargument and a greasy car salesman’s version of “good faith.” Vote of no-confidence from me, obviously. It doesn’t solve any problems and it really just makes some new problems for our side of the equation.

      I’m not one of those people that already gets what she wants from ESPN. I’m one of those people that knows that when the middleman is just going to keep screwing you over, it’s better to go straight to the source instead of asking him to be fair. This is why I avoided talking about it for so long. My opinion is pretty much moot.

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