October 11, 2002

Rooney Talks 'Common Nonsense'

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I’m a fairly easygoing person; it takes a lot for someone to really get me upset. Sure, I can get riled up like the next person, but only sheer acts of incompetence provoke my ire…

Like when Andy Rooney, the octogenarian contributor of “60 Minutes,” says in an interview on the “Boomer Esiason Show” on MSG, “The only thing that really bugs me about television’s coverage is those damn women they have down on the sidelines who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”

If that wasn’t enough, Mr. Rooney clarified his position: “I mean, I’m not a sexist person, but a woman has no business being down there trying to make some comment about a football game.”

Pretty strong words for a guy who has been chided by CBS on numerous occasions because he didn’t know what he was talking about. In 1990 Rooney was suspended by his network for making racist statements.

I also might be behind on the definition of sexism, but isn’t a generalization about a gender usually considered sexism? But being a woman, I probably have no business writing in column trying to make some comment about his words.

Thus far, many women sideline reporters have declined to comment on Rooney’s comments, taking the high road through this muck of pre-political correctness male chauvinism. But perhaps one ought not fault Rooney; the nationally-recognized personality was born one year before women were allowed to vote. This women-in-the workplace mentality is just too much for him.

It’s not that women sideline reporters make vapid statements about football, it’s that Rooney can’t stomach having his games served to him in a female voice. There are and have been many good female football reporters.

I’m sure Jill Arrington, whose father, Rick, played quarterback for the Eagles, and Lesley Visser didn’t pick up any tidbits while she was covering football for the last 28 years. And behind Melissa Stark’s blond hair and blue eyes lies a person completely ignorant of all male sports. Never mind the years she spent working through the ranks of ESPN.

Maybe Rooney’s presumption about women wasn’t intended to harm. After all, shouldn’t women go back to the kitchen to serve their husbands?

Rooney’s opinion has probably been well-established before Visser became the first woman to walk the NFL sidelines, since he had already received his AARP card by that time. It’s easy to brush him off as an old man with set values, however absurd they seem.

It’s not as easy to ignore men who might agree with him. In a New York Times Magazine front-page piece on sports anchors entitled “Man’s Best Friend,” the author, Peter de Jonge, was skeptical of the possibility of a woman calling a football game. Ever since, I have been resigned to the fact that I will probably never see a woman sit in the booth for a professional football, basketball, hockey, or baseball game. But women did find their way into the work force, the armed forces, government positions; who knows when this next glass ceiling may crash? When influential figures make sexist claims — and I use the word influential in the broadest sense for Rooney — it makes that possibility more distant.

I often feel thankful that I’m at an institution like Cornell, where any kind of prejudice is not tolerated. I like to think that I’ve never felt any sexism directed towards me; still, sports journalism is a boy’s club. Rooney is only helping to reinforce that discouraging fact.

It is a myth, though, that women can’t cover football well; they can, along with all other sports. Just because Pam Oliver or Andrea Kremer cannot play in the NFL does not mean that they have no knowledge of the game. Chris Berman never lettered in football at Brown University — does that make him any less qualified to interview an athlete than Lynn Swann? No, it does not.

If experience on the gridiron does not affect the quality of coverage from a sports reporter, then the gender of the reporter should make even less of a difference.

All Rooney proved with his gross generalization is that he is a hypocrite, criticizing well-respected female sideline reporters while looking elsewhere for incompetence. He can start with himself..

Archived article by Amanda Angel