Last week, WFAN sports talk host and Male Voice of Reason Mike Francesa said something about as enlightening as you’d expect from him when asked about the prospect of a female becoming a head coach in a men’s sport.
“The problem is there’s not gonna be an avenue for her to manage a major league men’s team,” Francesa told a caller whose daughter was a big sports fan and had asked if she might one day coach a men’s team. “First of all,” the Sports Pope pontificated, “Do you know how difficult it would be for a female to manage 25 men? Or 50 men? Do you know how impossible that would be?...It wouldn’t be tough. It would be impossible.”
Obviously, as Francesa so eloquently states, we can’t expect a woman to have the mental toughness to handle a roomful of professional athletes. That’s best left to the men, since they do it so well (yo Jeff Hornacek, Phil Jackson, Dave Joerger how’s player management going for you?).
He should have just thrown in a “and what if they’ve got a big playoff game and it’s that time of the month” for good measure.
The irony of the comments coming at the beginning of Women’s History Month was not lost on ESPNW Senior VP Laura Gentile, who grew up listening to Francesa while driving around with her dad.
“There’s just a certain generational element to all of this where he just doesn’t get it and he’s not exposed to women like [Spurs assistant coach] Becky Hammon,” said Gentile. “He’s not exposed to women who hold their own. I would have loved to have seen him say that in front of a Pat Summit. I’m pretty sure she could have coached men.”
Not surprisingly, Francesa did have something to say about the Tennessee Lady Vols’ late Summitt during his rant: that she couldn’t have coached in the NBA and wouldn’t have wanted to. “She would have said, ‘I don’t belong there,’” Francesa said. Well, at least he’s consistent. If no woman can coach men, that must include the greatest female coach in history too.
Earlier this month, Gentile and ESPNW rolled out a short film called “When I Play” featuring women playing sports such as soccer, figure skating and power lifting. The footage of women in various poses of athletic action is girded by a poem from ESPN senior writer and project creative director Allison Glock.
“Women across nations are still told in myriad ways…that we should not ‘play,’” writes Glock in a brief essay accompanying the piece. “We are chided when our bodies become ‘too big’ or ‘too strong.’…’When I Play’ is a film that directly and unapologetically celebrates who we are.”
The film went up on the ESPNW Facebook page last week and to date has been watched 1.5 million times.
The ideation for the film began last fall when Gentile began talking with Glock about her having a larger role on ESPNW.
“Allison and I were talking about the tenor in the country and the feeling women have that for as much progress as we’ve made, we’re still a bit impatient on the equity front,” Gentile said.
Glock shot the video in Atlanta using all female athletes and a mostly female production crew.
Gentile showed the film to ESPN President John Skipper and Executive SVP Norby Williamson, who both took to it immediately and worked to give it wide play across the network. It debuted last week on Mike & Mike and SportsCenter and then aired almost every hour of the day. Williamson helped coordinate with show producers and gave the talent background on the project so they could help introduce it.
To whom it may concern…the film starts off while showing a pair of feet gliding along on a skateboard and the door to a boxing club swinging closed. What I am doing here is not for you.
Gentile admits that in the current social climate, where nearly every act is seen in a political context, ESPNW walks a fine line between advancement and advocacy.
“It’s certainly a delicate time to navigate,” she says. “On ESPNW we want to reflect our audience and the emotions of our audience and the thoughts and feelings at an interesting time in our country but we also have to understand our place. We’re still a sports media platform.”
That may be true, but the message in the “When I Play” video is pretty clearly reaching beyond sports.
What I am doing here is not for YOU. The ambiguous pronoun sits out there a little uncomfortably. Is it talking to all men? To a patriarchal power structure in sports? One that asks women to interact with sports but recognize that it’s still predominately a man’s sphere? Gentile explains it’s not necessarily meant to exclude men from the conversation, but rather to invert the power structure. The video clearly creates a world in which women interact with sports on their own terms.
There is a subset of people who it’s most certainly not for: Mike Francesa and other Sports Popes just like him.