Criticized for Being a ‘Woman Announcer,’ Jessica Mendoza Shines Anyway (USA)
Jessica Mendoza is a former All-American softball star and an ascendant voice among ESPN’s stable of major-league baseball announcers. On Tuesday night, she earned another distinction when she became the first woman to call a nationally televised playoff game. But as much as the history-making moment excited many fans, it also revealed how stubbornly sexism persists in male-dominated sports.
Colleagues who have watched Mendoza’s rise commended her debut. Before the Houston Astros bested the Yankees, 3-0, in the American League wild-card playoffs Mendoza called, several female ESPN journalists voiced their support, emphasizing that people should focus on her knowledge of the sport and her qualifications, not her gender.
“It wasn’t a question of her being capable, but she was entering a space where there just haven’t been a lot of opportunities for women,” said Jemele Hill of “His & Hers” an ESPN radio show. “I couldn’t be prouder of her.”
But, as it usually does when women participate in sports commentary, some of the conversation on Twitter told a different story. Some viewers were apparently unable to get past Mendoza being a “woman announcer,” and that they were being forced to listen to her.
One viewer was surprised that Mendoza, a veteran athlete, appeared to know what she was talking about.
This sort of response is not new. Several of Mendoza’s female colleagues face similar critiques and slurs on a regular basis, as do male sports announcers and journalists of color. But it’s women who regularly receive comments about their performance (usually couched with an “I’m not sexist but”) while at the same time being graded on their looks. “Why is a woman allowed to do play-by-play for N.B.A. basketball?” is among the more printable critiques of Doris Burke, a veteran ESPN basketball commentator who praised Mendoza’s debut.
It’s hard not to think that Mendoza earned her place in the broadcast booth. She is an Olympic gold and silver medalist with a smattering of other accolades — a batting and home-run record-holder at Stanford University, a four-time All-American outfielder — who in August earned praise for her analysis of a Sunday night no-hitter alongside a fellow analyst, John Kruk, as he fielded text messages from friends asking why a woman was in the booth with him.
“I have a lot of friends in softball who texted me during the game and said, ‘How awesome is this?’” Kruk told The Times.
This summer, Mendoza replaced Curt Schilling, who was suspended for sending an anti-Muslim tweet, to become a regular part of the network’s broadcasting lineup. Since then, much of the praise about her has centered on her knowledge of the game and ability to speak with authority when things get unpredictable. But even as Mendoza’s experience is hailed by her colleagues, critics still question whether her experience in softball is enough.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Mendoza addressed those critics directly, calling the mind-set and strategies shared by baseball and softball “identical”:
“My college coach was a baseball guy,” she said. “So why is no one questioning why a baseball player is coaching or analyzing softball when the reverse happens? To the average viewer, it’s not just like ‘This is a seamless crossover,’ but for me, it’s all I’ve known.”
Last year, as female journalists faced an onslaught of slurs for speaking about Ray Rice’s abuse of his then-fiance, a professor of sports media at Oklahoma State University discussed with Mashable the irony caused by pervasive sexism.
“Many of the guys who sucked at organized sports and stopped playing at younger ages wrongly believe they are better than high-level female athletes in those sports,” Edward Kian said. “You see and hear this in the gym regularly, and it is laughably pathetic.”
ESPN appears to be pleased with her work. The network is done televising playoff games this year, but Ben Cafardo, a spokesperson, said in an email that Mendoza will continue to be a postseason fixture: She will appear on the network’s “Baseball Tonight” to provide analysis.
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