Friday, May 8, 2009

Thank You, Selena Roberts

They taught us well. Really they did. Muddled among the coffee-fueled hours in the television studios and the meticulous editing of our print copy were real, practical life lessons. Like how to maneuver the forever-conglomerated media markets. How to write so the weary, bleary masses will take pause. And how, for those of us with XX chromosomes, to stay strong in a field that may never take anything we have to say with even a modicum of respect.

I had some fine college professors in my quest to prepare myself for the cutthroat world of journalism. And, Steinem knows, it's not easy to be a woman in most professions, even in this generation of ceiling-smashers. But no one breathed a word of perhaps the biggest obstacle facing women in sports journalism--one that could cause a society of the here-and-now to forget the inroads that have been made in the largest boys' club in America.

Thankfully, Selena Roberts is around to fill in the gaps--to demonstrate that the most insidious threat to women in sports journalism is, well, other women in sports journalism.

In her opportunistically-timed tabloid biopic, A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez, Roberts aims for shock and empathy, playing both heroic whistle-blower and armchair psychologist. She attempts to paint Rodriguez as an attention-hungry liar, doomed from the start to a life of meaningless accomplishments and empty relationships. Roberts takes great pains to expose Rodriguez for everything she thinks he is and to make her own star shine a little brighter as the long-suffering hero, dutifully reporting the facts so the public will no longer be duped by such a cheater.

Except there will be no ticker tape parade for her efforts. Instead, Roberts comes across as more Perez Hilton than Bob Woodward, relying on hearsay and unnamed sources to support her claims. This leaves her statements easily refuted. Rodriguez was 'roided up in high school? Not so, say his teammates and coach. Pitch-tipping? Texas Rangers' infielder Michael Young doubts the accusation. And we're inclined to believe them. Whether many are willing to admit it or not, Rodriguez represents a generation of baseball heroes fallen. That's not an easy pill to swallow for those who swooned over Mays and imitated Mantle. Without any solid sources or documented evidence, public opinion easily and willingly pokes baseball-sized holes in her arguments.

This would all be unbearable coming from a man--boorish and obnoxious--but, for a female sports journalist, with the bar set all that much higher, it's borderline detestable. Because women have to be that much better and that much smarter in order to gain and maintain credibility in the world of sports analysis and reporting. To use a baseball term, women need a much higher VoRP than men just to earn respect. There is no place for an Eric Byrnes in female sports journalism. It's Albert Pujols or bust.

Selena Roberts first made headlines in mainstream sports media in 2006 as the bulldog behind the New York Times' investigation into the Duke lacrosse rape scandal. Embolden and undeterred, Roberts, armed with a sense of indignation that would have made Bill O'Reilly proud, led the charge against the accused lacrosse players. She condemned the accused before anyone had access to facts, and she condemned them over and over again. Seemingly using the athletes as effigies for an entire culture of misogyny in sports (on their own, her arguments against the glorification of inappropriate expressions of masculinity in sports are valid and well-written), Roberts ultimately discredited herself. She took what could have been a thought-provoking investigation into the dangers of sport and the brotherhood mentality and turned it into a baseless condemnation.

When the dust had cleared and the original accusations were dropped, Roberts had, unintentionally, garnered sympathy for the athletes. In doing so, she also discredited herself as a sportswriter. Her overreaction and refusal to acknowledge fact before what many saw as a personal agenda did nothing to help the image of women as smart sportswriters capable of brilliant and objective analysis.

This is not to say that Roberts is to blame for the public perception against female sportswriters or the difficulty involved in gaining respect. Society clearly needs to evolve from its backwards notions of women and sports. But Roberts, with her modern-day brand of yellow journalism, has done more harm than good for a group that needs to bring the cleanup hitter to the plate every inning simply to break even.


jvf said...

Amen, girlfriend ! You are absolutely right. And whether it is about Rodriguez, Schilling, Obama, or Gingrich--tabloid journalism poisons the well and tabloid sports journalism perpetrated by a woman perpetuates the stereotype of the empty-headed, celebrity driven non-serious sports fan--you know, the stereo-type women have had to deal with for decades...( even in their own livingrooms with their fathers, husbands, and brothers.)
Good job pointing this out ! Thanks for the great insight and the excellent writing. Keep it up !

Anonymous said...

Well Done. Selena may be among those writers just as anxious for fame and fortune as those whom they attack for such eagerness. It's difficult to believe that writers such as she (or a he)are interested in truth when facts remain unchecked and scurrying for a briefly opened window of opportunity is more urgent than the truth itself.
Thanks for an extremely literate, lively reflection.

YankeeJosh said...

That was one of the best written pieces I've read in a long time. You managed to capture my feelings on Roberts exactly. She's a TMZ writer posing as a sports journalist and that discredits not just women but all sports reporters.

Likewise, you hit on the Duke case. She brought up some valid points, about the culture of the "wall of silence" but always came at it with an agenda. I've been struggling to figure exactly what about it bothered me and you hit on it.


Pun said...

Yes, exactly. As if there weren't already enough reasons to dislike Roberts, the horrible image she has given women sports writers is just awful.