During yesterday’s Washington Nationals broadcast on MASN, Rob Dibble issued an “apology” for allegedly sexist remarks made during a game earlier in the week. Because his comments happened to fly under my radar screen, I wound up reading the apology (expounded upon in a blog entry) before knowing the offense. Usually, when someone evokes the “weak attempt to be humorous” defense, it’s time to duck and cover. After getting up to speed on the incident, however, it seems as if the one most owed an apology is Dibble himself.
Before delving into the matter further, let’s get one point out of the way. Rob Dibble does seem to exude a macho persona and his commentary is often tinged with jock speak that does very little to inspire contemplation. For that reason, it would be easy to believe that Dibble is a male chauvinist who graduated from his cave into the Nationals’ broadcast booth. So, even after finally reading the entirety of his comments, it was not surprising to see the severity of the reaction to them. In a touch of irony, the harshness of the criticism seems to be at least as much a reaction to the messenger as the message.
In her very fine blog, Amanda Rykoff not only offered her own strong reactions to Dibble’s comments, but also provided a succinct round up of similar responses from around the internet. The general consensus of those weighing in was Dibble is either a “jerk”, “raging boor” or an “insufferable blowhard”. What’s more, aside from the personal attacks, many of the reactions to Dibble’s comments seemed to imply both a more sinister meaning and forceful expression than are evident from the transcript. For example, does anyone who listened to or read Dibble’s comments really think it was a “rant”, as the title of Rykoff’s post suggested?
Announcers should never criticize fans in the stands. Considering the price of tickets, any form of behavior that is respectful of their fellow fans should not elicit a critical response from an on-air personality. There is no reason to subject any fan to needless public ridicule. For that offense, Dibble’s apology was warranted. Having said that, much of the reaction to Dibble’s comments has been over the top.
Yes, Dibble did evoke a gender-based stereotype (women loving to talk and shop), but the criticisms of his comments seem to imply he somehow suggested that women do not belong in the ballpark. That could not be further from the truth. Dibble’s ill advised comments were directed at two specific fans and in no way suggested that such behavior applied to all women attending baseball games. Considering Dibble’s outspoken style, if two men were seated in the first row yaking away all game, it is reasonable to think he would have also been critical.
Unfortunately, in our society, we play to stereotypes quite often. Half the standup comics on TV base their entire routines around them. The reason some of them are funny is because many are harmless, like suggesting that women like to shop, men never ask for directions, etc. Dibble’s comments resorted to this basic comedic formula, but as he mentioned in his apology, it was a “weak attempt to be humorous” and inappropriate for a baseball broadcast.
Another point made in many of the critical responses was that men’s behavior at sporting events goes unnoticed by those in the broadcast booth, but again nothing could be further from the truth. Remember the glee expressed about the guy on the cell phone at Yankee Stadium taking a foul ball in the face? I am sure Dibble would have loved that as well.
An even more pertinent example occurred earlier in the week during a game in Houston when the now infamous Bo Wyble moved out of the way of a foul line drive, which cleared a path for the ball to strike his date in the arm. The evasive maneuver immediately inspired one of the announcers on the Fox Sports Houston broadcast to declare that “chivalry was dead”, but the station didn’t stop there. For much of the inning, the focus shifted from the field to the unhappy couple. Eventually, Patti Smith, the network’s roving reporter, caught up to the pair and cheerfully provided Wyble with a pair of sunglasses (he said he lost the ball in the lights) before calling him a chicken and suggesting to his date that she might want to rethink his willingness to “stand by her in the future”. All of the comments were meant to be in good fun, but the reality is their humor was tinged by gender-based stereotypes. After all, would the same reaction have occurred if the pair were both men or women?
At the risk of sound insensitive, the excessive reaction to Dibble’s comments is akin to “crying wolf”. Dibble has a forum to defend his actions, so he doesn’t need anyone to rally to his cause, but the real harm from the over-the-top criticism is it diminishes the impact of future outrage when it is expressed in response to more sinister behavior. Gender bias in sports is a real issue and absolutely should not be ignored. Almost as important, however, minor incidents should not be blown out of proportion. Otherwise, more responsible criticisms might be tuned out as just being noise.