Favre situation makes us confront sexism

October 11, 2010

Today is going to be awkward. Over the years, the sports world has learned to deal with and discuss real-life issues such as economics, criminality, corruption and racism.

But sexism? That’s the last frontier. We don’t even know where to begin, especially when it comes to football.

In a society founded on the core principle that all men are created equal and should be served by at least one woman, football raises the sexism ante. In a man’s world, football is a man’s game. In every other sport we care about, there is a female equivalent.

When it comes to football, women put on short skirts, tight sweaters and carry pompoms. They grab our beer, fix our buffalo wings and look cute while reporting to us that the return of the player who limped off the field is questionable.


I know Snickers Bars that would feel denigrated being reduced to NFL eye candy.

Yes, today is going to be quite awkward. Deadspin.com, Jenn Sterger and Brett Favre have forced us to address the inherent sexism we tolerate and celebrate in sports.

We gave it a damn fine effort, but we can no longer avoid the elephant on the field.

The sexual-harassment allegations hovering over Brett Favre trump every other storyline heading into tonight’s Vikings-Jets showdown.

Randy Moss’ re-donning of a Minnesota uniform? It’s nothing compared to commissioner Roger Goodell investigating whether Favre harassed Sterger with e-mails, voice mails and obscene pictures of a man’s private parts while they were both employees of the Jets in 2008.

Minnesota’s Super Bowl-or-bust season being on the brink of collapse less than two weeks into October? You can’t analyze that story without weighing how the Favre investigation and possible suspension impact the Vikings’ ability to recover from their rocky start.

Yep, awkward. Very awkward.

ESPN, ground zero for sports sexism, sexual harassment and eye-candy reporters, is going to lead our discussion today. The World Wide Leader will promote and broadcast tonight’s game.

Seriously, I feel sorry for Mike Tirico. Given what was reported about Tirico in Mike Freeman’s book “ESPN: The Uncensored History,” Tirico should call in sick tonight or recuse himself from the broadcast.

Hell, maybe ESPN should just roll with it and bring back Sean Salisbury to call the game alongside Tirico.

OK, it’s unfair to single out Tirico or ESPN. The entire sports media industry is polluted by sexism.

What other explanation is there for the attack on Jenn Sterger? She’s done nothing wrong. Nothing. Even if she participated in the selling of the e-mails, voice mails and pictures to Deadspin -- which Deadspin claims she did not -- she has acted appropriately.

Sterger is not like the Tiger Woods groupies who willingly slept with the married golfer and then squealed so they could cash in.

Sterger, if you believe the allegations, was a victim of harassment. An older, married man made repeated, unwanted and offensive advances toward her. A full-time Jets employee, in an attempt to make the team’s star quarterback happy, gave Favre her contact information.

This is sexual harassment. She’s in her mid 20s, trying to get a foot in the door with the Jets. One of the most important players in the NFL allegedly used all of his leverage in an attempt to bed her.

Why are people upset that she would turn Favre’s harassment into a winning hand for herself? Why is there a pointless debate about whether she was a “reporter” or “game-day host” for the Jets?

She’s a human being. If she sold popcorn for the Jets, Favre’s conduct would still be inappropriate.

If we find out she slept with Favre or led him on, I’ll reverse my position and lump her with the sleazy opportunists who exploited the Tiger situation.

As of right now, I hope she capitalizes in every way possible. I hope she’s on Oprah’s couch Tuesday and on Leno and Letterman later in the week.

If you read my column regularly (or know me personally), you know I struggle combating my own sexist impulses. I can sexually objectify women with the best of them. My thoughts are not pure. Neither are all of my actions. I’m glad I’ve never been as rich and famous as Brett Favre. I might make the same mistakes he’s accused of making.

One mistake I won’t make is pretending that sexual harassment is an issue we can afford to ignore. It’s real and pervasive. It’s damaging and unfair.

In the past few days, I’ve heard male media members I like and respect suggest that it is not our duty as journalists to investigate and analyze the merits of the allegations leveled against Favre.

Wow. We’ve gotten so comfortable in the big house that we’ve lost sight of who we are as journalists. We now want to pick and choose when we stand against clear acts of unfairness. We want to unethically protect a male-dominated environment that favors us.

Today is going to be a trip. A bunch of sexist pigs are going to hold an all-day seminar explaining how we can move beyond this isolated incidence of alleged sexism and get back to football.