When radio shock jock Don Imus derided the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s” the day after they had played in the NCAA Division I championship game in April 2007, capping an improbable season and play-off run with a powerful showing of heart and skill, it wasn’t so shocking.
The comments sparked a firestorm. Sponsors deserted Imus. CBS and MSNBC yanked his show. Pundits intoned. Sports radio hosts went wild, some criticizing him but others defending him, claiming the women had probably heard worse from the stands. What was the big deal, anyhow?
Imus’s trash talk triggered expressions of public outrage about the racist nature of his name-calling. Somewhere in the background, with a little less fervor, we heard about gender.
It is easier to talk about race in sports. The deplorable treatment faced by black male athletes like football talent Kenny Washington and baseball star Jackie Robinson provides a clear wrong. We accept that we should judge athletes based on their skill, character, and performance—not the color of their skin.
On the other hand, female athletes, particularly successful women playing the “male” game of basketball, draw a muddier defense. They may shoot from the perimeter, box out, pass and play with a drive that makes watching a thrill, but there remains a