Thursday 19 April 2018

Sinead Kissane on sexism in sport: 'Is it so hard to believe that women might just love sport too?'

Chris Gayle's inappropriate behaviour during a live TV interview with Mel McLaughlin highlights how sexism isn't too far from surface in sport

Reporter Mel McLaughlin’s controversial pitchside interview with West Indian cricketer Chris Gayle
Reporter Mel McLaughlin’s controversial pitchside interview with West Indian cricketer Chris Gayle
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

The day after Ireland's defeat to Argentina in the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, I had just come through arrivals at Cork Airport when a producer of TV3's RWC coverage rang me.

He said there were a number of media outlets looking to do interviews with me after what happened in Paris the night before and asked me if I was interested in doing any. "I don't want to be in the news," I told him. "But you are the news," he replied.

I was pretty sickened when I found out that Setanta analyst Matt Williams called me a "work experience girl" on live TV after I asked Ireland head coach Eddie O'Sullivan in a pitch-side interview if he would be reconsidering his position.

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O’Sullivan was reportedly omitted from the travelling party by new club president Nicolas Brusque, as a response to defeats in the opening three games of the ProD2 campaign

I knew the seriousness of the question to O'Sullivan so I wasn't completely surprised by the reaction. However, I didn't expect the fact that I was female to be dragged into it. I was also warned by a colleague not to look at some of the comments about me personally online.

But of course I did. And it was all there, questioning who the hell I thought I was, what I could possibly know about rugby, how I was just an attention-seeker looking for my five minutes of fame and wanting to make a name for myself etc.

Did I think the nature of some of the reaction would have been the different if it was a man asking the questions to O'Sullivan? Damn right I did. Did I love, as was claimed, the extra attention that came my way? No, I hated it. Why is it that the motive for a woman being a sports reporter is questioned more than it ever would be of a man? Is it so hard to believe that women might just love sport too and want to report on it, you know, the same as men.

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The most grating part of cricket player Chris Gayle's live TV interview with Australian TV reporter Mel McLaughlin earlier this week wasn't necessarily when Gayle undermined McLaughlin by asking her out on a date which he topped-off with his "don't blush, baby" seedy comment. The real sickener for me was the sniggering that could be heard in the audio from the studio while the interview was taking place.

Morons like Gayle will always climb out of the woodwork of their private strip-club at home and expose their ignorance to the world. What was really distasteful was the gleeful rubbernecking that seemed to be going on in studio with McLaughlin's three male colleagues. As soon as the interview came to a shuddering end with Gayle's creepy laugh, presenter Mark Howard panted: "One of the most extraordinary interviews you'll ever see on network television! Mel McLaughlin with an amorous Chris Gayle as she scurries off with bright red cheeks".

Excuse me? Where was the immediate calling out of Gayle's comments by McLaughlin's colleagues who are supposed to have some modicum of sense between them compared to Gayle. Jane Austen would have been impressed with Howard's damsel-in-distress description of McLaughlin with his "she-scurries-off-with-bright-red-cheeks" line. But Howard's own sense and sensibility went missing in action here. And calling Gayle "amorous"? Let's make this clear. Gayle wasn't flirting with McLaughlin. This wasn't a case of undying love being expressed to the nation. He was humiliating her.

Howard later said on air: "On reflection, I don't think that's appropriate for what's required in that format." Oh, well, bravo Howard. You and your colleagues were happy to have your laughs at McLaughlin's embarrassment first - just like the tweet that appeared on the TV station's account with the hashtag #smooth about Gayle before being deleted - before someone, somewhere finally realised that what Gayle said what deeply inappropriate and so ye all switched on some common sense. "On reflection" doesn't bail out the original sniggers.

Discrepancies like this are everywhere. Especially in the media. During the week I was reading an opinion piece on a random international website about Gayle's comments. I scrolled down and underneath it was an article with the title: "The beauty of these news anchors will drop your jaw". There doesn't appear to be any thinking not to mind any joined-up thinking when it comes to what some media outlets want to promote or otherwise.

I'm glad McLaughlin's embarrassment over Gayle's comments was plain to see. While it would have been pleasing to see Gayle publicly marinade in shame for his comments, I'm glad she didn't hit back with a cheap put-down which probably would have glazed over the issue and flooded social media with #girlpower tweets. Doing pitchside interviews at a game shouldn't come with a Law of the Jungle warning where only the fittest survive and a woman encroaching on male-only territory should be able to handle everything that's thrown at her, including unwanted advances. In our list of follow-up questions, do sideline reporters now have to add "what to say if the interviewee makes a pass at you live on air"?

What rubbish. Your playground is our workplace. Your jibe is our reputation. Your joke is our embarrassment.

As a female TV sports reporter, I am not a professional taker of offence. I don't hang around waiting to be offended so I can smugly whip off an opinion piece like this. I don't particularly like writing these kind of articles but then I read comments slating the reaction to the Gayle controversy with women being told to "lighten up" and "stop being so uptight" about a bit of flirting which completely misses the point.

It is precisely the fact that Gayle was so casual and flippant with his remarks which is why they needed to be highlighted. The casual comment thinks it can get away with it and has "it's only a bit of fun" as an alibi. You watch closely McLaughlin's embarrassment and tell me again where the fun is.

I have never had to put up with that kind of interview that McLaughlin had to deal with this week. But some general comments about female sports reporters continue to amaze me.

So just to be clear; I, as a female sports reporter, don't like being known as a "female" sports reporter. I like being able to do my job without my gender being brought into it. I look forward to the day when I no longer feel I have to write pieces like this and when I stop getting asked by other interviewers what it's like as a female working in a male-dominated environment.

You need to know that us "female sports reporters" are able to take a joke and have the craic just as much as our male colleagues. You need to know that we're not in it for the five minutes of fame. You need to know that women love sport too and want to report on it the same as men. Imagine that.

Irish Independent

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