ESPN Doesn't Get It: They Ignore Women's Voices In Public Dialog About Domestic Violence [updated]
Reports that ESPN would have a dialog on domestic violence before its telecast of Monday Night Football, and Esquire's report that the panel would consist of 11 men and 0 women, caused a stir. ESPN’s response to these reports stated there was to be no “panel on domestic violence,” and ESPN reiterated its pride in the work of its female journalists on the issue. Calling for action, GenderAvenger cited the Esquire blog.
The issue is not whether or not there will be a specific panel, but rather that other than the show’s hosts, women’s voices will not be included in the line-up for a two-hour pre-game discussion that was likely to have touched on the NFL’s continuing problem with domestic violence. Women's voices are necessary whether domestic violence is the main topic or part of a smaller segment.
Tonight, before it’s telecast of Monday Night Football, ESPN will present a two-hour panel that will discuss a variety of issues, one of which will be domestic violence. The panel? It will consist of 11 men and ZERO women. Forget that 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Apparently, the only numbers that matter to ESPN are its $15.2 billion broadcasting agreement with the NFL and the ratings that deal commands. Last year, ESPN was “the No.1 network all 16 weeks for men 18-49, and 15 of 16 Monday nights … among coveted key male demographics (men 18-34 and 25-54)” according to an ESPN press release (emphasis mine).
Where are the women at ESPN? Relegated to sideline reporter status at games and cordoned off on the ESPN website in an area dubbed espnW whose mission, according to the network:
… is to serve women as fans and athletes. espnW.com provides an engaging environment that offers total access to female athletes and the sports they play, takes fans inside the biggest events, and shares a unique point of view on the sports stories that matter most to women.
There’s even a section called espnW “Making a Difference” around programs that include mentoring and helping underprivileged women.
Too often, organizations are setting up “women’s” sections, “women’s” conferences, “women’s” lists and holding them up as a way to bolster their bona fides with the women’s community: “See, we do care about women’s voices. We’ve given you an entire (section, conference, list) to highlight your accomplishments.” The rest of the organization’s activities then go on as usual with very few women’s voices heard. Separate and unequal.
At ESPN, one of the “women’s” section advisory board members is Hannah Storm, an ESPN anchor who took the NFL to task earlier this season. She and other women sports journalists have provided a different perspective on the NFL controversies. Though their voices have been heard more this season, these women told The New York Times “…they are still not full members of the fraternity. In general, their point of view has not been integrated into the mainstream sports conversation.” In addition to ESPN’s separate site for women, The Times noted the recent announcement by CBS of its upcoming women’s sports show. Katie Nolan of Fox Sports in a video commentary said:
It’s time for the conversation to change or at least those participating in the conversation. It’s time for women to have a seat at the big-boy table and not where their presence is a gimmick or a concept… because the truth is, the NFL will never respect women and their opinions as long as the media it answers to doesn’t.
At a minimum, ESPN should include Storm among her network colleagues for tonight’s discussion. But, then again, her honest, critical voice might threaten the NFL revenue juggernaut.
ESPN says that last year, “seven of 10 households” were tuned in to its Monday night telecasts. Seven of 10. If ESPN is serious about making a difference for women, it will include women’s voices in the conversation.