NewBlackMan: Protecting the (White Male) Gaze: Homophobia of Sports Talk Radio Goes Unchallenged

Protecting the (White Male) Gaze: Homophobia of Sports Talk Radio Goes Unchallenged

by David C. Leonard | NewBlackMan

During his ESPN show on Tuesday, Bruce Jacobs described the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury as “the “Los Angeles Lesbians” and the “Phoenix Dyke-ury.” He returned to the air the following day to offer the following “apology”: “My comments yesterday were ridiculous, stupid and amateurish. I apologize for even uttering the comments, whether you heard them or not, whether you were offended or not.”

To date, little has been made about either his comments or his half-hearted apology that neither apologizes for the spirit of his remarks nor the ideological underpinnings that led to such comments. His apology does not repudiate his own homophobic stereotypes nor does it challenge the ideological assumptions evident here, but instead apologizes for vocalizing them. It isn’t the homophobia that warrants the apology, but expressing it on his show.

While Mr. Jacobs needs to be held accountable for his remarks, along with ESPN, which has failed to publicly condemn the comments, it would be a mistake to isolate this rhetoric as that of a “bad apple.” The homophobia and sexism on display here is reflective of sport talks radio. As with talk radio in general, sports talk radio emerged as a movement to “restore” the hegemony of white male heterosexism. The homophobic remarks of Bruce Jacobs represents a systemic and longstanding effort to restore the normalized vision of sports as a space of male dominance.

Like the efforts to sexualize female athletes, the construction of female athletes as lesbians reaffirms the “normalcy” of sports as a male domain. According to David Nylund (2004), “With White male masculinity being challenged and decentered by feminism, affirmative action, gay and lesbian movements, and other groups’ quest for social equality, sports talk shows, similar to talk radio in general, have become an attractive venue for embattled White men seeking recreational repose and a nostalgic return to a prefeminist ideal.” As argued by Trujillo (1994) and quoted in Nylund:

Media coverage of sports reinforces traditional masculinity in at least three ways. It privileges the masculine over the feminine or homosexual image by linking it to a sense of positive cultural values. It depicts the masculine image as “natural” or conventional, while showing alternative images as unconventional or deviant. And it personalizes traditional masculinity by elevating its representatives to places of heroism and denigrating strong females or homosexuals. (p. 97)

His comments, thus, embody the efforts to silence, surveil, demonize, and ultimately discipline and punish any challenges to the white male heterosexuality of sporting cultures. Those perceived threats to this hegemony are met with efforts to reclaim the sporting space as one of masculinity. From the ubiquity of images of hypersexual female athletes on various sports websites to the commonality of homophobic, sexist, and racist rhetoric, we see that despite the increased levels of diversity, the hegemony of white male heterosexuality remains a central facet within to contemporary sports culture.

The relative silence about this instance of homophobia (as of writing there has been only 9 articles about Jacobs’ comments) and the culture of homophobia within the sports media is especially telling given the widespread condemnation of various players for homophobic slurs during the 2011. Others may cite the varied levels of celebrity and the divergent platforms as reasons for why the comments of Kobe Bryant, Joakim Noah, and Wayne Simmonds received ample media attention. Yet, the comparative silence here reflects a level of comfort in isolating homophobia as a symptom of athlete culture, hip-hop culture and blackness.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Protecting the (White Male) Gaze: Homophobia of Sports Talk Radio Goes Unchallenged.

New piece @NewBlackMan: The “Selling of Candace Parker” and the Diminishment of Women’s Sports

The “Selling of Candace Parker”and the Diminishment of Women’s Sports

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

Breaking News: The WNBA is about to complete its 14th season. If you watched ESPN regularly, read a myriad of sports pages, or surfed the virtual sport world, the fact that the WNBA season was actually going on might be breaking news. In what could have been an exciting season—given the parity between teams and the influx of new talent, which could have resulted in increased cultural and sporting significance—the WNBA experienced yet another summer of alienation.

In a recently published piece in The Nation, entitled “Sex sells Sex, Not Women’s Sports,” Mary Jo Kane explains this marginalization, debunking the idea that sex is able to sell women’s sports. Rather, she notes that, “Sex sells sex, not women’s sports” leaving little doubt why women’s sports continues to struggle within the marketplace. “Millions of fans around the globe just witnessed such media images and narratives during coverage of the Women’s World Cup in Germany. Perhaps such coverage will start a trend whereby those who cover women’s sports will simply turn on the camera and let us see the reality—not the sexualized caricature—of today’s female athletes. If and when that happens, sportswomen will receive the respect and admiration they so richly deserve.” To reflect on these dynamics and the continued struggles of the WNBA to transcend (or even undermine) the sexist grips of American sports, I want to discuss an almost three-old year feature on Candace Parker.

In 2009, ESPN: The Magazine, as part of its women in sports issue, featured an article on Candace Parker. This one story encapsulates the persistent sexism that detracts from and inhibits the development of women’s sports within American culture. Reducing women athletes to sexual objects and potentially profitable spokeswomen, the article, entitled “The Selling of Candace Parker” does little to introduce and celebrate the contributions of women’s sports, but rather elucidates the systemic problems of American sports culture.

The emphasis on selling sex, rather than athletics and sport, is evident from moment one of the piece. “Candace Parker is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup she is proud of but never flaunts,” writes Alison Glock. “She is also the best at what she does, a record-setter, a rule-breaker, a redefiner.” Eliciting some criticism about the references to her body, and the reduction of her body to its sexualized parts, ESPN: The Magazine brushed off accusations of sexism, identifying the article as sensible given the demographics of the magazine. According to Gary Belsky, editor-in-chief, “It’s not the worst thing in the world in a men’s magazine to talk about things like that.”

The sexualization of Parker and the focus on her body, at the expense of a narrative highlighting her athletic talents, doesn’t end with this initial introduction of readers to her physical attributes. Glock continues this treatise on Parker’s body before moving to a discussion of her “feminine charm”:

She is a woman who plays like a man, one of the boys, if the boys had C cups and flawless skin. She’s nice, too. Sweet, even. Kind to animals and children, she is the sort of woman who worries about others more than about herself, a saint in high-tops.

It is this unprecedented combination of game, generosity and gorgeous that has Team Parker seeing miracles. They believe with all their collective heart that their 22-year-old, 6’4″ stunner with the easy smile and perfect, white teeth will soon be the most recognized woman in American sports.

In other words, Parker represents an ideal femininity – nurturing, sexy, and heterosexual (the article make this clear though various rhetorical phrases, references to her husband, basketball player Sheldon Williams, and of course its discussion/visual presentation of Parker’s pregnancy); she is the perfect woman who happens to play basketball. In this regard, ESPN is selling Parker as a sexy and attractive woman whose job is to play basketball, a professional choice that in no way comprises her role as mother, wife, and sexual object to be consumed by male fans.

Yet, Glock doesn’t seem to limit Parker’s immense potential as the Michael Jordan of women’s sports because of her “flawless skin” and breast size (despite multiple references to her bust size), rather arguing that Parker can transcend women’s sports, breaking down commercial barriers to become “a one namer” because she isn’t like so many of today’s (black) athletes, whose brash and hyper-masculine demeanor alienates fans. She is “nice,” humble, and likable. She “is the total package, an advertiser’s dream: attractive yet benign enough to reflect any fantasy projected upon her. Like Jordan before her, Parker is a cipher of sorts, nothing outsize or off-putting. Nothing edgy. Nothing Iverson. Aside from being an athletic freak, she’s normal. You could imagine her hanging out at your family barbecue. This matters; if Parker seems like a down-home gal, a possible friend, then it’s a short step to trust, and with trust comes a willingness to buy what Team Parker is selling.”

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: The “Selling of Candace Parker” and the Diminishment of Women’s Sports.