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Madden: Arrington flaunts freedom of choice

Saturday, August 17, 2002

This week, I would like to defend a woman's right to doff her clothes and pose for a magazine. Followers of this space will hardly be surprised.

Jill Arrington, a reporter for CBS Sports, is under siege because she posed in the pages of For Him Magazine in a very conservative state of undress. Arrington shows a little leg, a little cleavage and not much else.

Arrington's photo spread could have appeared in the pages of a fashion magazine and not raised an eyebrow. But FHM is considered a men's magazine -- Playboy Lite is a good way to describe it -- so Arrington stands accused of shedding her journalistic credibility along with a modicum of attire.

Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

Arrington's job consists largely of conducting interviews arranged by minions who do her legwork. Arrington reads from a list of questions concocted by minions who do her research. Arrington's responsibility is to ask the questions accurately and professionally -- and to look good for the camera. Not every female sports reporter on TV is drop-dead gorgeous, but none of them are Quasimodo, either.

Arrington got her job, at least in part, because she's very good looking. Her critics seem to think that's OK, but that it's not OK to pose for FHM.

Help me out here: Why is Arrington allowed to look hot for one camera, but not for another?

CBS doesn't seem to mind. They didn't stop Arrington from posing for FHM, and they haven't disciplined her after the fact.

This isn't the first time Arrington stands accused of exploiting her sexuality.

Arrington was once lambasted for (gasp!) wearing a "revealing" tank top to do sideline interviews. I put the word "revealing" in quotes because said tank top simply wasn't revealing. Take it from someone who loves to leer: You couldn't see anything.

All told, Arrington's career as a sex object is pretty lame. Between the FHM layout and the tank top on the sideline, it doesn't even have the sizzle of Britney Spears pelvic-thrusting her way through a Pepsi commercial.

Robin Roberts, the veteran female sports reporter for ESPN/ABC, is one of Arrington's harshest critics. I imagine it's easy to bash someone for cavorting scantily-clad on the pages of a magazine when no one has ever asked you to do the same.

Arrington's career choices are none of Roberts' business.

Maybe Arrington doesn't want to grow old on SportsCenter. Maybe she wants to go into other forms of entertainment -- a la Craig Kilborn who, thankfully, never dropped the laundry for a Nikon -- and hopes posing for FHM will aid and abet that.

One of Arrington's critics in the media said that "[having] embraced using her good looks for personal promotion is hardly the preferred attribute for someone trying to be accepted as a serious sports journalist."

What the heck is a "serious sports journalist" anyway? It's only sports.

Real journalists report on matters of life and death. On war, politics and social upheaval. Sports journalists give you the latest scores and the accompanying window dressing.

Real journalism matters. Sports journalism doesn't. By way of evidence, I'm told the Washington Post never even considered pulling Woodward and Bernstein off the Watergate story in favor of covering the Redskins, even though George Allen's "Over-The-Hill Gang" was one of the NFL's better teams in the mid-'70s.

So if Arrington wants to pout provocatively for FHM, so be it.

Arrington's critics give absurd reasons for not blasting other women who use their looks to be successful in sports TV. It's OK for Jillian Barberie to flirt buxomly through Fox's pregame football coverage because she's only the weather girl, and therefore a mere entertainer. It's OK for Lisa Guerrero to be risque on Fox's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" because that show is filled with sexual innuendo.

I don't buy it. It's all sports TV. Exploiting sex appeal should be acceptable for everybody -- or for nobody.

(I wouldn't blame Guerrero, by the way, if she ripped off all her clothes and began frothing at the mouth and barking like a dog in front of the camera. Having to work with the utterly talentless Tom Arnold would logically excuse any number of indignities.)

Roberts points out that ESPN/ABC's Melissa Stark and Suzy Kolber are both attractive but don't flaunt it. That's true, and that's their decision.

But to me, women's liberation will never be complete until women in any walk of life are allowed to do whatever the heck they want without being questioned or criticized.

Jill Arrington is very attractive. She decided to flaunt it. They call it freedom of choice.

It's the ultimate liberation.

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

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