Oh look, ESPN’s First Take features an “all-women’s special edition”. Let’s watch the Internet freak out!
That was my immediate reaction to learning the women of espnW’s The Trifecta podcast, Kate Fagan, Jane McManus, and Sarah Spain, would be joined by moderator Jen Lada, as fill-ins for the vacationing Stephen A. Smith, Molly Qerim and TBD co-host one week after the show said goodbye to longtime host Skip Bayless. Believe it or not, it was the first time in the show’s nine year history that women controlled the entire discussion for the full two hours. As such, this watershed moment in sports history, should’ve been met with nothing but praise and celebration. But…humans. And more specifically, male humans. Predictably, fans of the show did not disappoint. They relentlessly bashed the more than capable women with sexist tweets.
Here are a few of the lowlights:
— Page Kennedy (@PageKennedy) June 29, 2016
I love women but this #FirstTake is awful! Please don't do this again.
— Samuel Spencer (@sammeyodaone) June 29, 2016
These chicks just linked Manziel posting a selfie to Ray Rice punching his girl? Get them off the air #FirstTake
— Craig (@Craig__b) June 29, 2016
— WinstonRogersNelson (@W_R_R) June 29, 2016
These 4 women don't know shit about sports they need to take their asses home & cook #FirstTake
— Gëtrõ E$cobar (@True_Playa4Real) June 29, 2016
But don’t lose all faith in humanity. The reactions weren’t entirely negative. Here are a few of the more positive and encouraging tweets in support of the women:
I see Twitter folks all in their feelings over #FirstTake. Really people?
— Adam Cubbage (@DACubbage) June 29, 2016
Loving the all female First Take this morning! Great takes, lively banter. All four hosts on their game big time. #FirstTake
— Russ Rankin (@russrankinNJD) June 29, 2016
If you think sexism isn't a problem in sports media, click on the trending #FirstTake hashtag…
— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) June 29, 2016
— TJ Enriquez (@TBEnriquez) June 29, 2016
Even Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore joined the fun:
All female panel on @FirstTake ! More of that please.
— Larry Wilmore (@larrywilmore) June 29, 2016
It’s funny (not funny) how just 24 hours after the entire sports world mourned the loss of one of the greatest basketball coaches in the sport’s history, Pat Summitt, those same men were quick to tear down a group of women for using their own talents to breakdown barriers. Sorry to break it to you men, but women in sports are here to stay. As sports franchises and media companies are pushed towards embracing diversity and inclusion, what occurred on First Take yesterday will eventually become the norm within sports culture. Phrases such as “the first women” or “the first woman” to achieve certain milestones within the industry will become obsolete.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way stating that women are above criticism. As a frequent First Take viewer, I often critiqued Stephen A. and Skip’s perspectives, especially when Stephen A. swerves out of his lane and into a firestorm of controversy for his thoughtlessness on women-themed topics. And, as a carrier of XX chromosomes, I’m women enough to admit yesterday’s show wasn’t at all flawless.
The show began with a thoughtful discussion about the future of Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade. Should he stay in Miami or team up with his BFF LeBron James in Cleveland? Each panelist made valid and persuasive points. However, the show shifted into stereotypical land when the conversation turned towards Johnny Manziel and his recent antics. First Take dedicated multiple segments to this topic. Joined by ESPN NFL contributor and mom to NY Giants’ rookie Eli Apple, Annie Apple, the conversation evolved into a parenting-dominant discussion. Admittedly, parenting is a a fair angle considering the recent remarks from Manziel’s father, Paul, but let’s just say it didn’t help recondition chauvinistic fans who believe a woman’s only purpose in life is to cook, clean, and take care of the kids. Obviously, First Take isn’t a self-help forum used to reform womanizers, but the perception of five women sitting around discussing parenting styles is ripe for sexist rhetoric.
Also, the women’s takes on what’s next for Golden State Warriors restricted free agent Harrison Barnes was kind of a bomb. The lead in question about the rationale behind the Philadelphia 76ers offering Barnes a max contract was framed as a fill-in-the-blank question and completed with a Sarah Spain joke that ultimately fell flat. With the start of NBA free agency one day away, a topic is reasonable, expected even. However, the presentation of the question did not set the women up to succeed. I could be wrong, but Skip and Stephen A. wouldn’t have tackled that question by filling in the blank. I blame the producers.
And lastly, a woman of color rounding out the panel of experts, and not only as a guest contributor, would’ve been nice to see; especially on such a historic day.
Coincidentally, yesterday morning I stumbled upon a Blavity article recapping Tuesday’s trending topic, #hireblackwriters. The self-explanatory hashtag was a Black Twitter read on why storytelling by Black writers matter. In agreement, I shared the link to the story and expounded upon the notion to state, if we’re specifically talking sports, the industry must also #hireblackfemalewriters. Black women are raising the black athletes that are commoditized within this multi-billion dollar sports industry we love so much, and yet Black women remain underrepresented on sportswriting staffs all across America. So naturally, as I watched First Take this morning, it was impossible to ignore how the sports TV industry also has a ways to go. Annie Apple has a compelling personality and a knowledgable perspective. I’m enamored with her just as much as the next person. If you follow her on twitter, watched her interviews, or read her blog, the reasons behind her overnight rise to a national media darling are rich and plentiful. But trust me, she is not an anomaly. There are hundreds of Black sports moms (and knowledgeable Black sports women experts) who are equally as enthralling, articulate, intelligent and dedicated to the culture as Apple. But because the media’s gatekeepers aka white men, don’t give them opportunities to express themselves or share their stories, Apple is viewed as a diamond in a rough. Instead of recycling the story of Katina Thomas, mother to Denver Broncos Super Bowl champion Demaryius Thomas, or pushing the struggling single mother narrative on us, the media should diversify its media coverage by creating opportunities for women of color to contribute in a valuable manner.
As a woman, I was proud to celebrate the foursome of Fagan, Lada, McManus, and Spain for all of its awesomeness. Despite what the majority of the sexist remarks would lead you to believe, when it comes to discussing and debating the latest sports news, their individual points of view are just as solid as any male you’ve ever seen take a seat at the desk. And the more women are invited to add their voices, seeing women discuss sports on a national platform will become normalized.
Kudos to ESPN for transforming the face of sports television.
If you missed yesterday’s broadcast, but would like to see these women in action you’re in luck. Today they’re returning for an encore. Tune into ESPN2 at 10am to catch them live.