It’s always nice—and more than a little surprising—to see sexism denounced in the sports world. Last week, Andy Gray and Richard Keys, two of Britain’s top soccer commentators, found themselves in hot water because of a sexist off-air exchange (damn those hot mics! every time!) they made during a English Premiere League match. And when footage of two more incidents in which they made sexually inappropriate comments was leaked, they both lost their jobs at Sky Sports.
In the original exchange (which you can listen to here) Gray and Keys claim that the assistant referee Sian Massey every woman everywhere doesn’t understand the offside rule.
Well, somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.
Yeah, I know. Can you believe that? A female linesman.
That’s exactly what I’m saying. Women don’t know the offside rule.
And, at the end of the clip, they do my very favorite thing that misogynists sometimes do: dismiss the existence of sexism and say something sexist, in the very same breath, while keeping a straight face. “Did you hear the charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yep, do me a favor, love.” Really, dudes? Remember all of 5 seconds when you said that “the game has gone mad” because women, who just can’t seem to grasp the simple offside rule, are allowed to be referees? As Brady said: “I think this just sums up everything I said in my column.”
In the aftermath of the scandal, three former female employees spoke out about the “culture of bullying and sexism” at Sky Sports and Gray and Keys were criticized by many as “dinosaurs” and their comments deemed “prehistoric.” And although they did have a few defenders who claimed it was all just humorous banter, I think it’s largely because the comments couldn’t easily be dismissed as a joke that they were so widely condemned. If Gray and Keys had been laughing, I bet they’d have gotten away with it. But since they were obviously dead serious, they came off as the bitter, sexist men that they are.
To really tackle the culture of sexism in sports, we need to clearly draw the connection between these moments of humorless sexism—which most people easily recognize as wrong—and the subtle, more insidious sexism that’s often cloaked in the friendly guise of casual banter. As one of the women who worked at Sky Sports said, “But as long as everyone is laughing and it’s a joke it’s all right isn’t it?” This episode should teach us that it isn’t. Because it’s always a joke, until they think the microphone is off, and then it’s just real.