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How The Treatment of Women Sportscasters Foretold The Rise of Trumpism

by Ethan Tussey

It is well known that Donald Trump successfully campaigned into the United States presidency on a wave of inflammatory rhetoric that called on racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic tropes. Despite promises from Trump that he would become more "presidential" after his inauguration, two years into his term, the president has not ceased attacking his opponents' physical traits and intelligence, rather than simply arguing their ideas and policies. Trump's arguments against women and, in particular, women of color have been especially ad hominem, with comments comparing them to animals as well as remarks about women's faces, bodily functions, and weight.

While Trump's brand of rhetoric -- part and parcel of what is known colloquially as Trumpism -- had seldom been demonstrated so publicly by a US politician prior to 2016, in my research on gender in sports media, I found that many highly-visible women sportscasters found themselves the target of Trumpian attacks prior to the President's inauguration. In the above example broadcast in 2014, Boston sports talk radio host Kirk Minihane can't refrain from further insulting Erin Andrews as he apologizes for calling the Fox Sports sideline reporter a "gutless bitch" for conducting what Minihane believed to be a half-hearted interview. Barstool Sports' David Portnoy's longstanding feud with ESPN personality Sam Ponder, which also dates back to 2014, is another example.

Although Minihane was suspended for a week, and his show lost sponsors as a result of his attack on Andrews, Minihane was permitted to return to the airwaves. Dennis and Callahan -- the show on which Minihane was a co-host until 2018 -- remains one of the two highest-rated morning radio shows in the city of Boston, despite the show and its station's lengthy history of sexism and racism. Meanwhile, Portnoy's readers/disciples, known as "Stoolies," have happily obliged his calls for them to continually harass Ponder online.

As I have written elsewhere, the treatment of women sportscasters is not unique to sports media but owes much to a method of representation that is contradictory in its emphasis on appearance. Note the radio hosts' brief acknowledgment of Pam Oliver's demotion, considered by some to be a sexist and racist transaction by Fox Sports, as a way of contextualizing their sexist discussion of Andrews. Still, the continued success of media entities like Dennis and Callahan and Barstool Sports, despite their histories, shows us that the mediated treatment of women sportscasters was at least one of several canaries in the coal mine that is our culture's political environment.

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from minihane apology (2014)
Creator: John Feitelberg
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Posted by Ethan Tussey
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