Three very different stories are circulating in the world of sport at the moment. All of them paint a very bleak picture of misogyny at the heart of sporting culture. Is this something inherent to sporting culture, that will never go away? Should we accept this as part of parcel of a field dominated by men, a field which has clearly defined ideals of masculinity? Or is it something that should be challenged at every opportunity?
The first comes from the NBA. Brittney Griner, a center in a Women’s College Basketball team, is being considered as a draft pick for the Dallas Mavericks. Griner has completely dominated her league, is 6ft 8 tall, and is clearly a phenomenal player. The owner of the Mavericks, Mark Cuban, suggested she might be picked up. And then all hell broke loose.
The twittersphere exploded with suggestions that Griner was actually a man, that her lack of a Y chromosome would be what holds her back in the NBA (strange that both propositions could be true) and that she would be ‘raped’ in the NBA. Whether or not the word ‘rape’ was meant literally, as in forced to have sex, or metaphorically, as in the juvenile adolescent synonym for comprehensively beaten, is beside the point. The use of such a term cuts to the heart of the idea that a woman is not welcome in the male sporting world.
The second is from rugby league in New Zealand. Tony Kemp, the high performance manager at NZRL and former Kiwi international, has been suspended over sexual harassment allegations. More than one person has complained too, suggesting that it wasn’t just a one off offence. Essentially Kemp’s role is that of a mentor and manager to every elite athlete within the NZRL setup, and he is displaying this sort of behaviour. What message does that send to his players?
And worse, someone has even come out in support of Kemp with the old classic, “one of the boys” line. Sash Stosic, another male working at NZRL, has defended Kemp by saying “He’s always been one of the boys and men talk about their experiences and have good times, but nothing more.” To which I answer, how do you know that its always nothing more? Obviously he hasn’t been sexually harassing you, because you too are ‘one of the boys.’ Is it possible, rather isn’t it much more likely that this behaviour has taken place out of sight of the rest of ‘the boys’? To instantly jump to the defence of Kemp shows that few in the organisation take the accusation seriously.
The last story is of a more symbolic nature, and took place in Europe. During the presentation of the medals after a cycling race, the runner up grabbed the bum of a podium girl. Peter Sagan was photographed doing so, and it was subsequently entirely sanctioned by the race organisers, in fact the photo was shared on their official twitter feed. Some cyclists even got on twitter to defend him. The message could not have been more clear. Women in sport are baubles, men are the athletes.
Fans, administrators, athletes. In just the past few days all of these categories of people within sporting culture have been tarnished by the actions of misogynists. Perhaps it is a reflection of a culture that deifies young male athletes, next to them women are put in an inferior position. Perhaps it is just the inevitable result of concentrations of males, so many fields within the sporting world are male dominated, and maybe it is this that breeds contempt for women. It is a depressing thought, and something is clearly rotten in a culture when young athletes brutally rape a girl and much of the media sympathises with the rapist. Does this twisted image of masculinity really need to be a part of the sporting world?
The examples that I have cited above are minor in comparison to the Steubenville Rape Trial, but they are all part of the same continuum. The behaviour displayed by these misogynists is archaic, offensive and damaging. The gender equality gap still exists in the wider world, in the sporting world it is a chasm. Despite the last century of development in the rights and equality of women, sport is yet to catch up. And that is a tremendous shame.
Sexism in sport is clearly not something that can be allowed to continue. Wherever it is seen, whenever it occurs, it must be challenged. There will be more examples of misogynistic behaviour in the sporting world over the coming months, I don’t know what they will be but it is almost inevitable that they will happen. When they do everyone who wishes to bring sport into the 21st century must speak out and condemn sexism. The alternative is a sporting world in which women do not feel welcome, except as objects or inferior competitors. I do not wish to live in that world.