Sunday, September 13, 2020

Not Quite What I Meant

Recently, there was quite a lot of online outrage over a comment by a sports announcer when he said something about the two women leading the race. The way people were responding, I thought maybe he said something negative about someone's weight or commented on a woman's appearance. Instead, he simply observed that the two rabbits out in front in a track race had "much more muscle mass" than the rest of the field. Unfortunately, his giggle and hesitation might have made it seem like he was laughing at the runners, but, taken in context, this doesn't appear to be the case. 

I've been saying we need to take attention off women's bodies for years, so you might be surprised that I don't find this kind of comment as bad as people made it out to be. I agree 100 percent that the wording could have been better to make the comment less controversial, but it clearly wasn't meant to be critical or hurtful. In the moment, it's not always easy to find the absolute best way to say something. He probably should have focused on their power, speed, and strength instead of hinting at anything close to the runners’ size, but it's not like he called them bigger runners, which some feel is just fine depending on who's making the comment, or said anything derogatory, far from it. The way people reacted was extreme, and this is coming from someone who struggled for years with an eating disorder. I fully understand how sensitive anyone can be when it comes to comments about body in general, no matter what the sentiment, but this kind of outrage puts sports announcers in a difficult position, trying to make the commentary interesting and even entertaining while also trying to avoid offending anyone by merely making an observation.

This blog post addresses much of what I was thinking about the issue, so I won't go into great detail here or repeat what has already been said. 

My additional thoughts on the matter are that it's understandable why people are on edge and ready to jump at any perceived error when it comes to commentary on female runners. We've been torn apart and objectified for a long time, and there are lingering effects of the systemic abuse of women and young girls in sports. It's all too easy to jump on the minor missteps of others when the mental health of many in the sport is potentially at stake, but I caution anyone reading to choose your battles wisely. It's unproductive to call for the firing of a guy who very, very clearly meant no harm, especially when there's more than one double standard at play. THAT is dangerous and damaging and shows a complete lack of tolerance and sensitivity. 


  1. "This is coming from someone who struggled for years with an eating disorder."

    For some reason I'm not tempted to draw on my own experiences here as an empathic point. Even at the top level, which I was never close to, elite male runners harboring EDs aren't subject to either the sexualization of their bodies even while they'r racing or the constant speculation about their dietary habits based on what they look like. So even though I can kind of "get there" in my head, none of my experiences or those of any male runners I know come close to mapping on to the stresses you experienced and especially the stresses today's elites go through.

    My own point remains: None of this is an excuse for ripping someone apart for a crime he didn't commit, or for flat-out lying via mind-reading or other mechanisms ("He really meant fat!"). The people I'm concerned about know this, but don't care because they are seeking attention first and foremost, with any social benefit that accrues serving only as ammo for more status-bolstering, and while ignoring any problems they cause or reputations they damage.

    And if he did something correctable, I didn't see any advice toward that end (other than "not be a male announcer," more or less, in one case). He was labeled "disgusting" and thrown aside as a scourge, and I'm afraid none of the ones swinging the hammers will even look over their shoulders.

    One last thing to consider. You know how most of us liberals giggle and shake our heads at Evangelicals who complain incessantly abut the War on Christmas and how basically everything is a sign of its awful force? Well, how do you think those folks would react to the outrage over a professional athlete being called muscular by a broadcaster? If the analogy doesn't click, think about it a little harder. And the nasty part is that Evangelicals aren't going after their own domain with the "War on Christmas" nonsense, the way the Twitter brigade is doing with track.

    1. I agree. The reason I bring up my eating disorder in this case is because of the way innocent comments are often mistranslated in the minds of those who are struggling with body image issues or eating disorders. Anything from, "You look healthy" to "You look strong" can be taken the wrong way. The issue isn't with the one making the comment, is my point.

      I agree that the announcer did nothing wrong. Given how sensitive people can be these days, he could have avoided the outrage by possibly focusing only on the pacers' speed and strength, but the problem really isn't him.

      I'm actually shocked to see how people are reacting, especially those calling for the announcer to be fired. It's kind of unreal.