Radio host Don Imus is coming under increasing fire for comments he made last week about members of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. The day after the team lost in the NCAA championship game, Imus commented on their tattoos and called them “rough girls,” and later called them “nappy headed ho’s.”
For the record, I watched that game and none of the Rutgers girls sported any visible tattoos. That may seem like the most trivial point, but it is important. Imus was not responding to something he saw on a video highlight, he was spouting his preconceived conclusions about female athletes. Women can’t play sports and be feminine, and those who try should be ridiculed.
It’s been a recurring theme on the Imus show. His sidekick Sid Rosenberg called the U.S. women’s soccer team “juiced-up dykes.” He also said that he can’t watch tennis players Venus and Serena Williams because they are too masculine. Rosenberg called Venus Williams an “animal” and said the sisters are more likely to be featured in National Geographic than Playboy.
This kind of misogyny isn’t unique to the Imus show. Popular sports talk host Jim Rome constantly refers to players in the WNBA as “horses,” and makes derogatory comments about women golfers and other female athletes. While Rome seems to be more progressive than his peers on the issue of gay male athletes, he has been much less tolerant of lesbians in sports.
Imus responded this week with a half-hearted apology as he fought for his job. He insisted that he wasn’t a racist and pointed to his philanthropic efforts as a reason why he should keep his job. He’s a shock jock after all — he invented the genre — so the fact that he said something offensive shouldn’t surprise anybody. It’s what he gets paid to do.
But for more than a decade, he’s tried to mix the obnoxious humor with serious political commentary. All of the top journalists, from Thomas Friedman to Tom Brokaw, appear on his show, and any politician who wants a national stage makes a visit. But Imus can’t have it both ways. He can’t ask to be taken seriously when discussing the war in Iraq or autism research while he and his merry band do sophomoric comedy bits.
And while Imus claims that his latest gaffe was simply a failed attempt at humor, it was an accurate reflection of the views he has expressed time and time again: that women have no place in the world of sports. That’s a view that should have been discarded twenty years ago. It’s out of place in our society, and since that is how he feels, Imus has no place in the mainstream media. His views are retarded, in every sense of the word.
That’s the problem in my mind. Not that Imus made comments that were racist and sexist, but that he thought it was funny — that it was his job — to belittle and demean 18 and 19-year old women at their moment of glory.
I love the fact that women have an opportunity to play sports in this generation. Girls sports weren’t taken seriously when I was growing up, and I’ve come to learn what a remarkable loss that was for them. Young people can learn important lessons from sports, about teamwork and dealing with adversity and accepting defeat. I’m thrilled that my daughters get to grow up in a time when they can compete in athletics, and I look forward to a day we no longer have to listen to old men questioning their sexuality because they want to play.