Less of This:
A wife of a former baseball pitcher attempted to rob her estranged husband at gunpoint this week. While this story should certainly be covered, it should not be covered like this: "The curvy wife of form Mets pitcher Kris Benson...." or this "She is now cooling her high heels in an Atlanta-area jail...." Domestic violence is not a trivial matter and should be reported in a way that conveys the seriousness of Anna Benson's crime. Objectifying and demeaning her is unnecessary, unprofessional, and sexist.
This coverage of this incident also brought to my attention the reality television show Baseball Wives on VH1 (2011-2012). I was appalled in January when I stumbled on the website www.athleteswives.com. It turns out that people have been interested in athletes’ wives for a while now. According to Google Trends, Google searches for the phrase really became popular around 2007. I'm not sure what prompted the spike in interest in January 2006, but my guess is The Real Housewives of Orange County reality show, since it was announced that month. (Getting a jump start on American interest in the topic, a British television drama called Footballers' Wives aired from 2002-2006.)
So, who are these people Googling athletes wives? Well, apparently they are people from Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, California, Texas, and Florida. But why those states? Two of the players’ wives featured on Baseball Wives were from Illinois and New York, but the rest do not match as an explanation. There are likely other reasons, perhaps linked to more local or regional sports-related stories such as coverage of Joe Paterno in Pennsylvania.
Coincidentally, this week controversy erupted when a BBC broadcaster critiqued the appearance of Marion Bartoli, the winner of this year’s Wimbledon women's singles title.
“Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight.’”
While this overtly sexist statement is appalling, it's not surprising. It is quite common for male sportscasters to spend time conversing about women's looks. Back in January of this year, an ESPN broadcaster announced, "Well, I tell you, you quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women! What a beautiful woman!", while the camera panned to the girlfriend of a quarterback during a college bowl game.
More of That:
Fortunately, there has been some pushback to this sexism. Both the ESPN and BBC broadcasters apologized for their commentary due to the outraged response from their audience. Fans shouldn’t have to tell the sportscasters that objectifying women is wrong, but it is heartening to see a response from the public that these actions will not be tolerated.
Also this month, former baseball player Milton Bradley was finally sentenced to three years in prison for perpetrating domestic violence. He's been arrested for domestic violence multiple times for threatening to kill his wife on multiple occasions, swinging a baseball bat at her, strangling her, and threatening her with a knife, among other things. Despite shocking and appalling statements from Bradley's attorney, in addition to Bradley's own minimization and denial, he was found guilty of: four counts of spousal battery, two counts of criminal threats, and one count each of assault with a deadly weapon, vandalism and brandishing a deadly weapon.
Unfortunately, jail will likely only bring a temporary reprieve from Bradley’s abusive actions. Despite my mixed feelings about incarceration as the answer to domestic violence, his sentence at least brought some accountability and a message that his behavior is not tolerated.
Furthermore, one of my favorite organizations, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV), hosted a “Refuse to Abuse” fundraising event with my favorite baseball team, the Seattle Mariners. The Refuse to Abuse 5k fundraising walk/run will take place at the Mariners’ stadium and supports WSCADV’s work. Unlike the images on www.athleteswives.com, the Mariners and their significant others played an active role in getting the message out about healthy relationships. The players' wives took to Twitter to share their photos from the event. We definitely need more of that.