On sexism and trolling in sports

On sexism and trolling in sports

A few days back, Facebook friend – and ChicagoNow alumni – Julie DiCaro posted an article about sportswriter Jennifer Gish.

Gish had written an article following Buffalo’s Week 2 victory over the Raiders in which she mocked the rampant enthusiasm of Bills fans, particularly in light of those poor dopes who actually thought the Bills had a chance of beating the Patriots.  Among the comments made by the lady Gish:

Look, I don't want you to get hurt here. It's admirable to stick with your team through thick and thin, to endure years of pain as those Super Bowl appearances start to get all hazy and fade like the numbers on your Thurman Thomas jersey.

But when Brian Noe, host of "The Noe Show" on 104.5 WTMM, did a segment recently about which regional team has the most delusional fans, guess who came out on top?

(and so-on)

If you follow football, then you probably know what actually happened.  Against all odds the Bills defeated the Patriots.  Following the victory, those affable Bills fans on the internet did what pretty much anybody does on the internet: they trolled her.  Hard.  Commentary included zingers such as:

"So how does it feel to be both a woman and so wrong about football? I guess those two go hand in hand."

"seen some photos of you and you are as ugly as your story about we bills fans.  we may lose, we may win but you will still be ugly either way.”

“in response to this story GO TO HELL and you may want to consider plastic surgery or something, you are one god awful ugly looking female."

The nature of the comments caused some journalists to take note.  Here we are in the 21st century and still we have the same usual pack of idiots lambasting a female journalist for being a woman.  These people targeted Gish and tore her down with hundreds of negative comments, many of which were made about her gender and her looks, rather than the more appropriate targets – her idiocy and condescension.

Her idiocy and condescension, by the way, should be open to response.  In fact, I shared Jennifer Gish’s article with my friend (and tremendous Bills fan) Megan Sawyer-Sythe in order to get her response.  Megan wrote:

The fact that this article was even published makes me angry. . . . I feel terrible about the 300+ emails that she received and unfortunately Bills fans are now painted in a bad light. However, I think the tone of her article was also distasteful.

To me, that is an appropriate response.  Making commentary about a person’s opinions is fair game – and one doesn’t have to be a sexist male to find Jennifer Gish to be idiotic on an epic scale.  Nor should blasting Gish be out of bounds simply because she’s a woman.  However, I agree that it was wrong for these Buffalo morons to pick her gender as their point of attack.  I’m just not even remotely convinced that folks play by some secret set of rules in which they reserve the low blows for women and minorities.

Being an individual with a sometimes detrimental sense of right and wrong, I responded to Julie’s link of the article.  I wrote, “eh.  I hardly think male journalists get a pass from the trolls on the internet.”  Little did I know the nature of the crapstorm upon which I was about to embark.

I’ll save you the blow-by-blow recounting of the 64-comments-long hatefest.  Instead, I will merely summarize the gist of all my comments and the response I received from those who, like myself, wasted an evening arguing on the internet.

My take
We need to step up the level of discourse that occurs online.  In short, the lack of a human connection – such as what you establish when debating or discussing topics face-to-face – tends to bring out the most vicious in people.  In real life, a person might smirk or roll his eyes at your ridiculous opinion.  On the internet he’ll wish cancer upon you, he’ll hope your children die violently in a car wreck, he’ll criticize your work, attack your talent, mock your responses, and in general will do whatever it takes to break you down.

I don’t know why it happens, but it is a serious problem.  It’s bullying, harassment, slander and worse.  People who suffer from particularly intense attacks, especially the type that occur daily, may go through depression or have suicidal thoughts.  We regularly see articles about folks – particularly teens – who commit suicide because of cyber bullying.

Generally, such behavior is the actions of the lowest common denominator.  People don’t often sit down and get to know you before ripping you a new one.  They look for easy avenues.  If you’re overweight, they’ll call you a fat piece of shit.  (Let’s ignore the fact that most of us – including these toughies – could be on the shortlist for next season's Biggest Loser.)  If you’re short, bald, big-nosed, whatever, they’ll latch onto and run with your flaws.  And yes, if you are a woman, it’ll become about your gender.

But the question I asked then – and that I reiterate now – is this: wouldn’t the trolls have ruthlessly attacked Jennifer Gish if she’d been a he?

Their Take
Just to get them out of the way, here are some of the silliest comments I received in response to what I wrote, most coming from the same individual (most of them being made by the writer who runs the Metsgrrl blog - and yes, I realize that linking her will make her aware that I'm writing about it):

“Maybe when women say that something is a problem, you should shut up and listen, instead of marginalizing our experience as not a big deal. “

“Once again, when a bunch of women say that something is a problem, it is. It doesn't mean that there are no other problems in the world, but it does mean that your male privilege needs to LISTEN for five minutes, instead of continuing to insist that the world revolve around them - which is all you have continued to do.”

“It's like me taking someone being called a racist slur and saying ‘everyone gets called names.’ It's not the same.

(condescendingly voicing my apparent opinion): ‎"just so we're clear - you're wrong. I am a man! My feelings are more important than yours!"

“Let's keep telling women that their issues aren't important! If I keep talking long enough and loud enough I will shout them down so that, once again, the world focuses on the poor endangered white male!”

The premise is, to me, bizarre.  First of all, I’m not entirely sure what my white male privilege has given me.  I grew up in an impoverished town, raised by a single mother where we sometimes had to get creative just to eat.  I’ve met a lot of privileged white males who couldn’t buy a job and, in fact,  back home many of those that’ve found work live their lives pay check to pay check hoping that their beater cars manage to last another month so they can keep driving 60 miles a day to their $8.00 an hour job.  To paraphrase a much smarter person than myself, “white folks have more in common with black folks than they do with rich folks.”  I would surmise that this is also true of poor men and poor women.

It doesn’t matter who has.  If you have not, life is hard.  At this point it is hardly a newsflash that pretty much all of us reading this have not (and if you happen to be the 1% that has, then I’d like to take this rare opportunity of communication to tell you that you are a dick whose greed is ruining this country*), but if you happen to be an impoverished white male who’s reading this, then you have two things to account for: 1) your white man’s privilege, which gives you an unfair advantage as you bumble through life barely able to keep out of your parents’ basement and 2) the bizarre fact that you have the ability to afford a working computer with high speed internet but have already been described in this paragraph as “impoverished.”  Or maybe you’re using a computer at the library.  In a desperate attempt to hold this analogy together, we’ll just assume it’s the latter scenario.
(*unless you’re Bill Murray, for whom I’d instead like to say, “Keep up the great work!”)

In any case, wrong is wrong.  And if something happens – such as the abuse suffered by Jennifer Gish or any number of other journalists out there (be they women or men) – it should be seen as wrong and stopped.  Why focus on Gish’s gender?  To do so basically slants all other instances as being somehow different or “less wrong.”

I am aware that the sports world is male dominated.  I agree that it shouldn’t be.  Particularly it shouldn’t be in journalism, in the broadcast booth and especially on the sidelines and the front office*.  I guarantee you that there are peanut-brained mouth breathers sitting in executive’s offices right now who are not remotely as intelligent as certain women out there who were – and will continue to be – passed up for the job.  I also am confident that, just as those female would-be executives might be brutally and unfairly mocked and ridiculed by the fanbase they work for (probably through gender-slanted insults), there are also plenty of cruel, angry, small-minded sports fans who say all sorts of insane things about the actual idiot execs that they really have.
(*However, I staunchly oppose female athletes competing in the same boxing leagues as male athletes … unless the women are specifically permitted to kick the men in the nuts – and if that ever happens, then I will watch you, Mixed Gender Boxing League.  I will Watch You Hard)

Would it somehow be worse for the pioneering woman because people can’t get creative enough to insult anything but her looks?  Would it somehow be more acceptable for the peon who actually got hired if the fanbase just focused on his undeniable job idiocy?

Bottom line – people are mean.  Since that isn’t about to change, folks in the public eye need to either stop googling their names and turn off the comments section on their websites – while also maybe not giving out their work Email and phone number, Jennifer Gish – or they have to grow incredibly thick skin.  If you are in the public eye and happen to be black, brown or yellow, then haters will make racist comments about your skin color (some of these hater will even be minorities themselves!!  I know!  It’s crazy!).  If you are a woman, they’ll make sexist comments about your gender.  If you’re a white man, it’ll just be something else equally outrageous.  And if you think that we white boys avoid the really outrageous slurs, then you’re just not bothering to look closely enough.

People who troll for a living make a game out of breaking down and destroying their targets.  Nothing is out of bounds.  Think of the worst thing that you could say to a person* and they’ve said it and worse.   This is the level of discourse we have today.  None of it is right.  All of it should stop.  Saying that one is worse than the other for the simple reason that it’s directed at a woman is a flat-out, backhanded way of saying that we shouldn’t care as much when anybody else receives the same treatment because, up until now, we’ve all had it too good. (Even all of those under-employed Caucasian male schmucks who have to drive 60 miles a day to make $8.00 an hour have had it too good.  Stop complaining, you bastards who’ve been born with the fortune of having a white schlong!)
(*and, quite frankly, “privileged white man” really doesn’t come close to cutting it, no matter how inaccurate it is nor how insulting it is meant to be)

And that’s wrong.  Discourse meant to shock and demean is either all bad or none of it is.  Focusing on the wrongness of attacking one type of victim detracts from the wrongness of the attacks on all the rest.

Post Script
One final note about this whole fiasco.  I EMailed Jennifer Gish to get her response, but she's yet to get back to me.  I'm also going to send her a link to this article.  I assume that she's not ignoring me, nor the situation, so much as I only EMailed her about 14 hours ago and she probably hasn't gotten around to a response.  Further, I anticipate that some folks will be inflamed by these comments.  If so, that's pretty silly of you, since I feel pretty confident that I am voicing common sense.  In any case, for me the debate is over.

I was only partly joking when I wrote about wasting an evening arguing on the internet - I'm sure we all have better things to do, and, if you have such a strong opinion about this subject one way or the other, then do the sensible thing and step away from the computer, walk outside and try to save the world.  Or get a lawyer, whichever seems more prudent.  You can only do so much with a mountain of words.

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