Shannon Eastin: On Blogs, Broads and Beautiful Irony

By John Gorman

Before I begin, I know what you’re going to do.

I know you’re going to screenshot this post with some of the cheesecake-y, WAG, Kate Upton, “Girls are good for one thing” eye-candy posts below and to the right of this column, and you’re going to call me a hypocrite. Of course you are; that’s fine. I don’t run the site, I don’t run the algorithm that spits out ‘related posts’ or ‘best of the web.’ I don’t even know the people who do.

So far, I see “Megan Rossee : Michael Phelps’ Girlfriend.”

And “Gallery: Beautiful javelin throwers of London 2012.”

And “The Hottest Female U.S. Olympians. {Paid Distribution}.”

I’m sure there are more. I’m just a lowly columnist, out here trying to prove a point. You wanna start beef with me about what I can’t control? Tweet me.

Yesterday, a post on “Total Packers” ripped replacement ref “Shannon Eastin,” who will become the first female ref to call an NFL game, when the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers face off Thursday night. It was a sexist, classless poor attempt at gender-based humor which caused as much of an uproar as a blog that does as much yearly traffic as Deadspin does in a day can cause. It’s been taken down now, and replaced with a note of apology, which we’ll get to in a second.

From our own Michael Terrill’s post on August 6:

Eastin has experience referring at the college level as she has spent time calling games in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. It will be interesting to see how she does, as I am sure she is excited for the great opportunity while also being a huge part of history.

It should be noted Eastin’s road to this point has been a bit bumpy as several officials did not like idea of a female taking their place on the gridiron. Reportedly, nine officials turned down the opportunity to train her to take their place, which forced the NFL to step in and take their company-issued laptops back.

As you can see, sexism (and social injustice of all kinds, but sexism in this case) pervades sports – but as writers, we have the opportunity to critique and correct it when we see it. One mind changed is one battle won.

But, very often in Blogfrica – and it’s creeping into mainstream media, as well – we perpetuate sexism in the interest of “serving our audience”, which is just a Customer Service euphemism for “pageviews.” Note my examples above.

But when you go out of your way to apologize for being sexist, it’s best of your letter of apology doesn’t include some sad and ironic ‘related links’ posts that detract from, negate and ultimately discredit the apology, to wit:

Michelle Beadle’s “probably screwing” someone, and there are “broads” of all kinds. From Packers Broads to Matthew Stafford Broad! Broad! Broad! Broad!’

Only the simple-minded, or those who are truly pig-headed and are reading the apology just for the sake of curiosity or completion, are going to read that apology and conclude, “Welp, they really mean it. I guess all is well.”

But … must … keep … scantily … clad … women … on … site … IMPRESSIONS. CLICKTHROUGHS. zOMG!!1!!!

I’m not stupid. I know images of attractive women sell, and that it’s in blogs’ very nature to exploit their beauty for our own self-serving monetary and fame-seeking gain. Worked in media for a bit and one of my bosses once told me, “The one thing guaranteed to sell more of anything: art, music, television, magazines, you name it – is women. Images of attractive women. Everywhere.”

Four years ago, I did an interview piece with a lovely young up-and-comer for a sports media site. I asked a myriad of questions pertaining to how to got to where she was, what her career was like and what she enjoys about what she did. It was a very thorough profile piece much like this one that avoided passages like (sic, from Total Packers, again):

 Is she as hot as she used to be? At 39, the answer is no, but she’s not bad. And let’s be honest, she’s a pretty nice catch for a meathead like Urlacher.

The linebacker obviously has something for used up blonds. He previously dated Paris Hilton, which tells us something else. He obviously has something for chicks we’ve all seen naked, as well.

She asked me if I wanted some exclusive photos to post, and I obliged. To my surprise, she went Maxim on me and sent some bikini shots. I figured that was endorsement to go ahead and use them, so I did.

The column ran, and did two things within 24 hours:

1. It made her the “It Girl” of the Blogosphere for a time and helped her take her career to that nebulous ‘next level.’ She cordially thanked me.

2. Although over a quarter-million people clicked, and we received inbound links from hundreds of sites, it confirmed to me nobody read the piece, they just looked at the pictures.

I was proud of the work I did, but I didn’t feel as though my career was ‘made’ that day. I know the directors of the site were stoked. They promoted me to lead writer and managing editor.

And as websites like Uncoached, Busted Coverage and SportsByBrooks (which, to the latter’s credit, moved away from softcore and more to College Scandal Rumor HQ) zoomed up the Alexa Rankings, and my site sputtered and eventually fizzled out, the temptation was there to awkwardly peddle lady-pics and paternalist frat-boy humor like the site’s PR department.

But I didn’t. And you know why? Not because I have some strict moral doctrine by which I must abide. I’m crass, crude, vulgar and tactless in real life. I’m not perfect or even close.

No, I did it because as writers, we have an opportunity to make the world more equal, more pleasant, more just and more classy for everyone. We have an opportunity to take journalism, creative writing and media to a higher plane, and improve the world in which we live. I know, it’s lofty and preachy for someone like me to suggest, but if I have a choice between cutting down a group of people to lift up myself OR lifting up a group of people who’ve been cut down, I’m going to choose the second option as often as I can.

And if I have to do it by calling out the hypocrisy and irony behind the ‘Total Packers” apology, and hope that maybe 40 people read it, then so be it. They’re not sorry, and if you’re even marginally intelligent, you wouldn’t have needed to read this to know it.

But, life goes on. Sexism will continue to run amok so long as there’s an audience for it. Those pieces will still run on the side and at the bottom of my columns. Pieces like:

Paulina Gretzky’s Bikinis Keep Getting Smaller

The Hottest Beach Volleyballers At The Olympics

Brooklyn Decker Defends Erin Andrews Breasts

And it’ll be that SEO-friendly, content-farming magic that’ll probably send a few of you to my columns, where you’ll read me and think, “That fella’s a sanctimonious prick who thinks because he’s got a platform and an idea, that he’s somehow qualified to take the moral temperature of our society.”

And you’d be right. I may not be qualified. But I’m giving it a go, because if I’m allowed to make crude jokes about female refs making history, then I’m also allowed to decry those who do. Since I’m sure not a ref or a woman or a history-maker, then I guess I’m equally qualified to do both.

But I have a choice. And I made mine. What’s yours?

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