In the wake of “patronizing reactions” that followed the U.S. women’s loss against Japan for the World Cup, Bryant Gumbel thinks we should man up with our reactions. On Tuesday night’s final segment on HBO’s Real Sports, Gumbel argued for treating female athletes as equals:
Can we stop coddling women in sports? Are we now so fearful of being labeled sexist that we can’t objectively assess the efforts of female athletes?
Had a men’s team turned in a similar performance, papers and pundits nationwide would have had a field day assailing the players, criticizing the coach, and demanding widespread changes to a men’s national team that flat out choked. Yet the common reaction to this ladies’ loss were simply expressions of empathy for the defeat of the unfortunate darlings and pride in their oh-so-heroic effort.
Another reporter, Rick Chandler, from NBC Sports said we should stop treating these women like girls:
I think that all of this apologist attitude over their loss to Japan is condescending. It’s like everyone is going out of their way to protect their feelings because they’re girls. It’s demeaning. They should be treated like athletes, not cheerleaders.
Gumbel also goes on to say that it’s all fair play in the land of supposed equality, and it’s high time we started critiquing women athletes in the same way we do the men.
I’m all for women’s equality, of course, but it seems to me the answer here is not in being more critical of female athletes so they can rival the treatment that men receive. The answer lies in treating everyone–men and women–with respect. Since when does being a professional athlete mean we have to endure other people’s constant negativity and put-downs? Win or lose, no athlete, team or coach deserves to be harshly criticized, judged or nit-picked.
Not that I’m anywhere near a pro, but after completing a very difficult marathon a couple of years ago, the first thing someone said to me at the finish line was, “What happened?” I wanted to punch him. As if it wasn’t enough that I qualified for the Boston Marathon that day by just squeaking in under my allotted time, I had still missed my goal time by several minutes. Anyone who runs marathons–or competes in any sport, for that matter–knows that on any given day there are a number of factors (some out of our control) that can influence our performance. Right or wrong, we are our own toughest critics and generally don’t need someone else pointing out “what happened”.
These women are intelligent human beings and they know what they did right and where they may need to improve in the future. They don’t need you telling them that. So, at the risk of sounding like we’re coddling people, Mr. Gumbel, it’s time we gave all athletes more applause, not less. Not that we have to get all patronizing and condescending with them (because we realize you sports commentators do provide value in helping us decipher the sport and an athlete’s performance), but it boils down to respect. And that’s not sexist. Besides, these women worked their asses off, and they could kick yours any day.
Photo: USA Today