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Madden: An overreaction to women's sports

Saturday, July 27, 2002

To: Sports Editor,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I initially hesitated about writing a letter to the sports editor, what with me being a semi-occasional employee. But, considering the barbs and brickbats that have been hurled my way on this page, I felt it might be nice to have at least one missive that actually approached literacy.

I'll get right to the point: The P-G sports section is great, except for its all-too constant attempt to prop up women's sports. This was never more evident than Thursday, when a story about a girl kicker trying to walk onto Penn State's football team made the front page of the sports section.

The girl in question, Stephanie Weimer of Serra High School, showed better news judgment than those who run the paper when she declined to be interviewed for the story. About reading said story, it turns out Weimer is not even a preferred walk-on. She will not attend Penn State's camp. She will merely show up a week before the season starts, kick once and be told she didn't make it.

In short, Weimer is nothing more than Notre Dame's Rudy in a sports bra. Unlike Rudy, Weimer will not get any sympathy snaps at the end of her "career." In fact, she will not even get to practice a single day with the actual Penn State team. We all know Joe Paterno, and homey don't play that.

Check out this quote from JoePa in another publication: "I told her, 'I have reservations about encouraging you. ... If you were my daughter, I would cringe.' "

So, do you think she'll make the team?

Weimer's claims to football fame are her career-long 36-yard field goal and the fact that she once hit a field goal in overtime. Wow. Roll over, Tom Dempsey, and tell Jason Elam the news.

The purpose of this missive is not to denigrate Weimer's gridiron accomplishments. She was an all-conference kicker in boys' high school football. That's good for a guy, let alone a girl. But Weimer has zero chance to make Penn State's football team. She merely is part of a token cattle call of walk-ons who will be cut instantly. So why was this, er, "story" on the front page of the P-G sports section?

Don't know for sure. I don't run the paper. If I did, I'd pay me more. But the P-G seems determined to give liberal space to women's sports in the name of equality. That's fine, as long as events in women's sports generate equal interest and have equal news value. But, except for very rare occasions, they don't.

So, by trying to give women's sports equal coverage, the P-G comes off as condescending and patronizing. So do a whole lot of other news outlets.

But gee, Weimer works so hard. She went the extra mile to rehabilitate a knee injury.

Yeah, her and hundreds of other male football players who also have zero chance to walk on to a major-college football team. But you don't see them on the front page of the sports section. Weimer's story did not get equal treatment at all. It got preferential treatment.

But that's OK, because that's what women's rights advocates really want. Not equal treatment. They want preferential treatment.

When girls play boys' sports in high school, it's cute. They've come a long way, baby. They deserve a chance just like everybody else, right?

But let a boy play girls' field hockey, and he's considered a brute. "That's silly! Boys shouldn't play the same sports as girls." That's true. They probably shouldn't. But if there isn't a boys' field hockey team, the guys have every right to compete with the girls. Equality has to work both ways.

Women have tried to infiltrate men's sports for years. How many have made an impact? None.

Some women's sports have achieved great popularity. The results of women's tennis have great news value. You can put Venus and Serena Williams on the front page of the P-G sports section as many times as you want. Those two have earned their place there, even if John and Patrick McEnroe could jump out of the retirement home and beat them silly in a doubles match.

You can put women's soccer on the front page as often as you like. After all, the U.S. victory in the 1999 women's World Cup sold out the Rose Bowl and hastened a women's soccer revolution in this country ... er, wait a minute. No, it didn't. Nobody at all cares now. Sorry. Bad example.

Wait, I got it. Women's basketball. The WNBA. OK, so maybe the NBA forces its advertisers to support the WNBA, and maybe the WNBA television package is directly tied into the NBA's, but people still care, or at least that illusion is being created, and perception equals reality, or so the WNBA hopes.

Look, forget women's sports. Or stick women's sports on the back page where they belong. Give the people want they want. Not what you want them to want. To force irrelevant, unimportant and manufactured stories about women's sports down our throats is insulting to the reader and to the subjects of the stories.

Also, tell the paperboy he keeps missing my porch.

North Side

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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