Women in male-dominated fields such as the military or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) often face prejudice because of their gender. These biases can include perceived weaknesses and can be both subtle and blatant.
During a press conference on Oct. 5, Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton laughed at a question posed by female Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue about the route of one of the team’s wide receivers, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” he said. This exchange has sparked a debate on female journalists’ roles in the world of sports. While many defended Rodrigue, saying she was simply doing her job and did not deserve to be laughed at, others, including former Seattle Seahawk offensive guard John Moffitt, took Newton’s comments as an opportunity to weigh in on women’s careers in sports journalism.
“Women don’t know football, most guys barely do,” Moffitt said in a Facebook post on Oct. 8. “Stop coming into male spaces and demanding respect … Women don’t really know the game, they are incapable. Yet in this society where a women can do anything a man can do and men can do nothing this is a rock and a hard place. Personally, I thought it was funny too!”
Newton’s comments and Moffitt’s social media rant are not only incredibly prejudiced, but also contain inherently broken logic. To say that a woman cannot understand and accurately report on football because of her gender is unsound in that there are many men and women who succeed in fields dominated by the other gender; while being a woman may give reporters a different perspective on the game, it does not mean that they are incapable of comprehending the sport.
The premise of Moffitt’s post is that women are coming into a male-dominated field (literally) and asking for respect where he believes respect should not be given. This is equivalent to saying that all women in fields such as STEM, military or ministry, and all men in fields such as nursing, fashion and early childhood education do not deserve respect simply because their gender may be outnumbered. Never mind the years of education and training these men and women have put into their respective careers and positions. Never mind the passion these men and women have for their jobs. If the world operated with Moffitt’s mindset, we may never have witnessed the breakthroughs of Sally Ride, the first woman in space, or Oscar de la Renta’s beautiful designs for many well-known women such as Jacqueline Kennedy.
Moffitt also implies that because women are “unable to play” the game of football, they are therefore unable to understand and accurately comment on the game. While football is traditionally a male sport, there have been plenty of women who have played at both the high school and college level over the years, including Becca Longo, who became the first woman to receive an NCAA football scholarship in April 2017. Similarly, in 2015, when the Arizona Cardinals brought on Jen Welter as a preseason/training camp coach, they hired the first female coach in the NFL.
Even though are are very few women who actually play football, Moffitt’s belief that women cannot understand the game because most do not play it is still untrue. Although they may not have grown up from an early age tossing the pigskin around with their brothers, this does not mean that a woman cannot be well-informed enough to understand what receiver routes are.
This is similar to an art collector who will never have the same perspective as the artist who spent days of their life producing a piece of work; this does not mean that the art collector appreciates, values or understands the art any less. It is a question, therefore, of perspective, not of comprehension. Just because a female reporter may not have the hands on experience that a seasoned NFL quarterback may have does not mean that she didn’t grow up loving the game, and does not mean that she does not have the knowledge to make an accurate comment on the sport.
Unfortunately, both Newton’s and Moffitt’s beliefs are not uncommon in many fields. While this discussion is only one example, female sports journalists face all sorts of prejudice in their line of work, including not being allowed into a locker room to interview players after a game. ESPN reporter Michelle Steele told ABC News these prejudices can be remedied by beginning to include more women in the professional sports structures, such as the communications department, to stop these comments from being made.
Although women in male-dominated fields and men in female-dominated fields will continue to deal with these biases, acknowledging that they have as much a right to be in their careers as the more prominent gender is a step toward equality. These men and women are simply trying to do their jobs, jobs that they are passionate about, and they are just as capable as anyone else.