To the Editor:
I write in regards to Ira Combs’s column published in your September 5 edition entitled, “Can the Wildcats Bounce Back from Loss?” As a frequent reader of your newspaper and Mr. Combs’s sport analysis, I couldn’t help being shocked by the blatant sexism and ignorance he displayed when he intimated that female sports reporters who cover football, “(are) the biggest turnoff in sports television today.” This is hogwash.
While I certainly appreciate Mr. Combs’s right to his opinion, regardless of how arrogant and misguided I find it, I cannot believe the management of this newspaper — whose publisher and ace reporter, incidentally, are women — allowed such rubbish to find its way onto newsprint. As a man, and a die hard Vanderbilt Commodore fan, I can overlook Mr. Combs’s clunky style and occasional lapses in grammar, his vociferous and staunch support of the University of Kentucky athletic programs, which I don’t share, and even his fast and loose application of facts to justify his assertions. This, however, is a bridge too far.
For far too long, female journalists, especially female sports journalists, have fought tirelessly to prove their value to newsrooms, readers, and viewers across this country. Until last week, I hadn’t given any serious thought to the fact they hadn’t succeeded in doing so. Apparently, I was wrong.
Mr. Combs wrote that, “I simply detest a female broadcaster (even a sideline reporter) trying to explain anything about football to me. I’m not alone either.” He doubled-down by going on to point out it was a view shared by “several friends of mine, both in the media and not.” Now, I’m under no illusions that sexism is gone or that we’ve made any strides in eliminating it in our society. There are plenty of men who don’t share such views on women, but for whatever reason, there are those who persist in maintaining gender views from the 1950s. Most of them, however, have the good sense not to say them out loud, let alone write them in a widely printed column. This newspaper, while not openly endorsing Mr. Combs’s views, has tacitly endorsed him by printing them. And for that, you should be as ashamed.
Having said that, however, any implication that female journalists, who comprise only ten percent of sports desks across the U.S., can’t offer insightful and engaging analysis on football or any other sports is as preposterous as it is wrong. Although he fails to expound on his comment (it was three sentences), I imagine Mr. Combs’s line of reasoning would go something like this: most women, especially the very attractive ones that often make up game day crews, have not played football and therefore don’t have the knowledge or ability to offer any cogent or reasonable commentary and analysis. The implication that women, by virtue of their anatomy, shouldn’t be part of game day crews is essentially the same as me saying that Mr. Combs shouldn’t comment on sports because of his large girth. It would be wrong of me to do that, just as it is for him to write what he did. Perhaps in the future Mr. Combs will take to his column to explain just what he means; I hope he does just that. (To start, Mr. Combs may reference the great work of Jill Arrington (who perhaps knows more about football than most men), Erin Andrews, Bonnie Bernstein, and Hannah Storm. He may also want to check out Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State and avid football fan whose named is often tossed around as the next commissioner of the NFL.)
Women have, and will continue to have, significant roles to play in sports journalism and sports generally. Mr. Combs has done a great disservice to himself and to all women by stating otherwise, and this newspaper, by reprinting his comments, has sullied its otherwise solid reputation on women’s rights. It is my hope Mr. Combs sees the error of his ways and this newspaper is more careful in its editing of his column. If not, I take solace in the fact that I, along with most men that I know, would rather see Erin Andrews offer commentary any day of the week over some former coach ofrplayer. Women in sports broadcasting are here to stay; it’s about time Mr. Combs joined the rest or us in 2012 in welcoming and appreciating them.
WILLIAM M. BANKS