ESPN 980 hosts disciplined for transgender discussion

December 11, 2012

Last week, my former colleague Eric Prisbell wrote a story for USA Today about Gabrielle Ludwig, a 6-foot-6, 50-year old junior college basketball player in California. Ludwig, as Prisbell wrote, is “a transgender – someone who is taking hormones but has not fully transitioned to another gender.”  She formerly played college basketball — three decades ago — as a man, and told Prisbell she wanted to re-enter the sport to set an example for others.

“If the example I can set for the kids who are transgenders in high school, for the people who hate transgender people and for those learning to deal with transgenders, transsexuals, if they see me as a normal person and we are not the bogeyman and love life and raise kids just like you, maybe some of this mystery of who these people are will be taken away and there can be more blending into society,” she said.

ESPN980′s Sports Reporters discussed this story last week, as they often do with well-publicized national tales. But the discussion was not exactly in the same spirit as Prisbell’s story.

That’s a man, baby,” Chris Knoche said near the beginning of the discussion.

“This photo won’t help you if you’re in the car, but let me give you the reaction of Knoche and Czabe: tattooed, big biceps,” Andy Pollin said.

“Oh my God,” Knoche said. “That could be a Russian chick….So how does this work? You lose testicles and gain eligibility?”

“This combines the worst of both worlds,” Steve Czaban said. “One, granting out of age eligibility, which should never happen….I think all college athletics should have an age limit, and it should be something like 25. That’s No. 1. No. 2, the whole gender-bender thing. You know, whatever you’ve got to do to scratch that inner itch or quell those inner demons, that’s fine. But don’t go playing sports then.”

“I completely agree,” Knoche said.

“And don’t go playing sports, saying but I’ve got the rights of everyone else,” Czaban continued. “Yeah, you’ve got to the rights to live as a human being with other people respecting you and everything else, but athletics is different. And a man’s body and a man’s DNA is different than a woman’s. That’s why we have separate leagues for separate genders.”

“I don’t care how loose the rules are in that junior college league, that’s just not supposed to happen,” Knoche said.

“I mean, if Knoche had eligibility, he would not give up his testicles to go play women’s basketball,” Pollin joked. “He’d think about it, though.”

“So what’s the net-net of the story, because I’m not gonna read it,” Czaban asked.

“The net-net is she/he has had a lot of problems in his/her life….” Pollin said.

“I think it is the politically correct term,” Czaban said.

“Whatever [the term] is, and this basketball is helping him/her to transform his/her life into a better life, such as it is,” Pollin concluded.

You can listen to the full audio here.

LGBT activists picked up on this exchange, and were not amused. “The horrific comments by ESPN Radio’s Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin show a level of disrespect and harmful rhetoric that is inexcusable,” Helen Carroll of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told Out Sports.

“ESPN980 hosts go on a ridiculously offensive transphobic diatribe. Disgraceful,” Patrick Burke of the You Can Play project wrote on Twitter. “140 characters isn’t nearly enough to cover the mental, physical, and emotional issues facing trans athletes. The therapy, the hormones, the surgery are all incredibly intense and are not things that are undertaken lightly. This is not just throwing a wig on an athlete and letting them play women’s sports. The competitive advantage idea is not backed up by science, research, etc., and is a stupid and facile argument made by simple minded people too lazy to research. And while I’m glad these morons are suddenly concerned with protecting the integrity of women’s sports, which I’m sure they’re huge fans of, find me one person in the world willing to cut their [private parts] off to win a women’s community college basketball championship. Just one.”

Pollin began Monday’s episode of the Sports Reporters with an apology, saying, among other things, that no human being should ever be called an ‘It.’

And in response to inquiries from multiple media outlets, ESPN980′s Vice President/Programming Chuck Sapienza released this statement Tuesday:

 “We strongly believe two of our employees crossed the line when discussing a transsexual person on their program last Thursday. Such intolerance and insensitivity will never be tolerated by this company. Due to the nature of their conversation, the pair have been temporarily removed from ESPN980′s Sports Reporters program.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · December 11, 2012