ESPN’s female commentator complaint form survives a decade


Call it the “Pam Ward Complaint Box”

Behold one of the great artifacts at the juncture of sports journalism and gender politics. Right there, on the left, is a screenshot of the ESPN.com Web site. Or at least a dark recess of it.

It’s one of the drop-down menus for ESPN patrons who have gripes about the sports behemoth. It provides all kinds of options, just about all of them perfectly legit, such as “Overall coverage,” “Camera Angles,” “National Anthem.”

Now have a look at the entry in blue: “Commentator — dislike female commentators”

That almost sounds like an exhortation, as in Please click here to express your disaffection for the women on our staff. It’s a boneheaded move, one that ESPN has handled with all the appropriate words:

We apologize for the mistake on the viewer response form template. We’ve been an industry leader for more than 30 years and are extremely proud of the leadership role we continue to play in providing high-profile opportunities and assignments for female commentators — from SportsCenter anchors to play-by-play announcers, analysts, reporters and more. We appreciate that this matter was brought to our attention and it was addressed and deleted immediately.

Find me a news organization that deals with public criticism as well as ESPN.

Though the round-the-clock sports-news company gets its deserved criticism for the chauvinistic template, it has a co-conspirator in all of this, and that would be millions of misogynistic college sports fans.

Those fans, after all, inspired ESPN’s complain-here-about-women dropdown in the first place. The network’s Pam Ward in 2002 became a regular play-by-play announcer for Big Ten matchups. USA Today at the time called it a “pioneering” move. Big Ten zealots, however, called it something far different. Far more frequently, too, via complaints registered on the ESPN site. So frequently, in fact, that someone at ESPN felt the need a decade ago to break out all the slams against Pam Ward into their own virtual hive. The box is labeled “Commentator - dislike female commentators”; truth-in-labeling standards would dictate a different moniker: “Pam Ward Complaint Box.”

Now for the second failing of sports fans everywhere. For 10 years, no one saw fit to complain about this templated outrage. It wasn’t till Tuesday that Megan Soisson, a student journalist at the University of Pennsylvania, happened upon it. Says Josh Krulewitz of ESPN: “The mistake dates back some time and clearly no one flagged it externally and no one flagged it internally. The first time we were aware that it was living there was when it was brought to our attention this week.” Sports fans may never recover their good name.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.

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